Thursday, November 1, 2012

To wear a hat

Prepare to enjoy winter

These days when the sun rises we're often looking at it through wet, dark, dead branches and blue-gray clouds that hang thick and heavy in a low, half frozen sky. The need to scrape car windows has become more frequent with each passing week, and through town, people's chimneys are piping warm smoke from wood stoves. By the time you read this, it will officially be November, and the crease of cold and darkness is only going to deepen from here.

This Sunday we end daylight savings time and turn our clocks back by one hour. The change will make our mornings darker but our afternoons last longer, at least for a little while. Unfortunately, by the time we get around to Christmas and New Year’s, there will be so little daylight left during our waking hours, that we'll hardly be able to justify getting out of bed for our ration of natural sunlight each day.

The fact of the matter is that this is what the onset of winter looks like in the Northwoods. It's not always such an attractive or jubilant ordeal, and some days I can't stand the thought of shuffling between work and home in the dark. I also tend to fall into the trap of letting the cold keep me inside more often than not, and that really dampens my spirits.

Over the past couple years I've learned a few new techniques to help dreary days, but first among them is simple: get outside. I have talked about this before, a lot, but the flavor and attitude of each season up here can't be fully appreciated without spending time outdoors. Now, in the summer, I'm all for running around half naked for 16 hours a day, seven days a week, but when it comes to these colder months, time outside takes a little more preparation, which is what I want to address this week.


First and foremost, and this can't be stressed enough: wear warm clothes. I do not care what you look like, but you must dress in warm layers if you're going to enjoy being outside for any substantial length of time. I swear this is the single, biggest, easiest step you can take to helping yourself enjoy being outside in the cold. I'm embarrassed at the common sense of what I'm about to say, but it needs to be done.

Wear appropriate footwear. Shortly we can expect mixes of rain, snow, and sleet. Don't be foolish; get some decent boots for your adventures. Nothing will end your hike quicker than cold, wet feet. Dress yourself in layers of clothing, then you can remove one layer at a time if you begin exerting more energy and start to perspire. You do not want to perspire, not if you're going to be out for very long. That sweat is meant to cool your jets, but in the cold air it's going to be a lot more effective and may result in dropping your body temperature too much once you slow down your heart rate.

Always, always wear a hat (or at least bring one). You can take the hat off if you get too warm. Yeah, maybe it will mess up your hair, but that's a priority thing, and I'm telling you that your hair is not as important as your body heat. Get over it. As human beings, we lose more body heat through the top of the skull than any other part of the body. It's your choice: hypothermia or messy hair.

Along the same line is the importance of gloves, or mittens if you're a fan of less dexterity (or it's sub-zero out there). Important to enjoying whatever outdoor adventure you chose is being able to use your opposable thumbs. Lets face it, it's hard to get much accomplished when you're the guy or gal who refuses to take their hands out of their pockets (not to mention frustrating to anyone you're with).

These hard freezing nights in November set the stage for a special kind of morning. Those are the mornings we get to wake up to a fresh white blanket covering everything - the most pristine substance on this planet - snow. Now riddle me this, what's better than an early morning walk in a fresh and peaceful snowfall? Be ready beforehand this year; it will be even more mesmerizing if you're not freezing your butt off.

“Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind.”
- Louis Pasteur

See you out there,

A Woodsman in Training

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