Let’s take a walk
Into the world
Where if our shoes get white
With snow, is it snow, Marina,
Is it snow or light?
Let’s take a walk
excerpt from the poem To Marina, by Kenneth Koch.
Finally, after an unbelievably fierce winter here in the northeast, change is in the air—daylight savings time has returned, giving us more time after work to be outside. And temperatures are edging up, most welcome in Boston where we got pounded with 105 inches of snow this year. A month ago, streets in Boston looked like this:
But now they look like this:
Not exactly pretty, but at least the driving is a bit easier.
One notable benefit of all this snow has been the instant access to great winter sports, even in urban areas. I’ve blogged about urban cross country skiing and also trying out new variations on skiing. In Ottawa, the Rideau Canal Skateway had a record-breaking 59-day season, which lots of people took advantage of.
My friend Teri, on a work trip to Ottawa, took the night picture, and even partook of some after-work curling—another northern winter activity (although here you can find out about the curling season, which in fact extends to May).
But all good things come to an end. The snow is melting, the late-day sun is beckoning, and it’s time to think about putting away skis, skates, snowshoes, fat bikes and cold-weather running wear. Time to bring out the road and mountain bikes, running shoes, and other springtime equipment. Samantha has gotten the jump on many of us already, restarting bike commuting.
You would think this would be deliriously wonderful news; it’s been a frigid and difficult winter, and I’ve not been on a bike in months. And I love to ride. But change can be hard—even positive change. It requires consciously shifting from one set of habits, one set of gear, one set of exercise partners and locations and muscle groups, to a whole different set. This happens for me on at least 3 levels:
Level one: logistical
Finding places to put the winter stuff while remembering where I stored the warmer weather stuff and deciding when to retrieve it is always a production. The cross-country skis, which lived in the back of the car all winter, are now in their transitional space (the hallway) awaiting being put away in the basement; repeat for lots of other gear and clothing. I also need to take my road bike for a tune-up before the season really gets going, etc. For those of us who are active and profligate about gear, keeping everything in its appropriate place in the seasonal rotation is a job.
Level two: physical
Changing sports or activities means also reminding oneself about the existence of muscle groups that may have been ignored for a while. This winter I skied and played squash, both of which use my legs, but in ways very different than cycling uses them. Lots of websites offer practical advice for ways to transition into spring cycling or spring running. The message seems to be this: start slow and focus on the basics. This is no news, but sometimes tough to stick with, especially on that first spring day when you are bursting with enthusiasm.
Level three: metaphysical
Change is unsettling. We’re used to our habits and the pleasures, associations, and even burdens that come with them. This winter offered up a host of burdens– endless shoveling, treacherous driving, super-long commutes to work, and high heat bills. But it also provided some opportunities and experiences that I’ll miss.
I now know the neighbors on my street much better through shared shoveling and snow-driving woes. To get one car unstuck on my street took representatives from Turkey, Japan, France, South Carolina, and New England; since then we’ve all waved and smiled when we see each other.
I also know some of my colleagues much better through carpooling to work. The MBTA commuter rail in Boston experienced massive failure, and we had to scramble to find rides for people to be able to teach their classes. I drove folks to and from school (usually a 50-minute one-way ride, turned into more than 1.5 hours) 3 days a week for several weeks. It was time-consuming, but we spent time talking and joking and complaining and enjoying each others’ company.
When public transportation was running, I used it (there was no parking anywhere– trust me). It was sometimes uncertain and often lengthy, but walking around town and taking two buses to get home felt like an accomplishment– moving through the city under my own power (there was lots of walking in sturdy boots this winter) and catching the bus reminded me of younger student days.
As for sports, with several of my women’s league squash matches were canceled due to storms and no biking possible, I had to improvise, often on skis, with friends. So we skied all over the place– in my neighborhood, at nearby parks, urban woods, conservation lands, groomed ski places– wherever there was snow cover. I renewed acquaintances with people I ran into who skate ski and bike race. All of this felt novel, improvised, exhilarating, a little scary sometimes (it tested and stretched my skills) and really fun.
But for now that phase of active life is done. I hope to hang onto some of the new habits– doing more regular carpooling and tooling around town on public transportation are good plans. For sports, it’s time to turn to spring activities, which I love. But it seemed fitting to note the passing of this extraordinary winter, in all its inconvenient and thrilling splendor. I’ll miss you. Except for the shoveling.