#185 My Winter’s Discontent

My Winter’s Discontent.

Dull. Repetitive. Endless. Mind Numbing. Isolated

My ruts are running so deeply I feel lost and way over my head. I’m a “go look at the view from the top of the mountain” type of observer and have never had much tolerance for routine or repetition. Thankfully this trait came with a bonus—I have also been really good at keeping myself occupied, My love of puttering and organizing have always kept boredom at bay. Now, the challenge of these bitterly cold days of January are draining my abilities at both seeing long range and staying engaged and occupied. i suspect you are fairing far better than I, especially if you have been living with dearly loved others.

In the first Covid-present winter, the one where we actually began to recognize we were in worldwide trouble, the challenge was to suck it up and do what was right to keep ourselves and others safe but the actual first Covid winter was when the scientists and the medical and public health professionals knew their worst fears were about to unfold. So that makes this Covid Winter #3 and we are depleted and exhausted. But perhaps this is not your experience. if so, is there a chance I could learn from you?

Do you remember that small window between our vaccinations and the beginnings of the Omicron Variant, that almost home free card we thought we possessed which would open our lives back to allowing movement, travel, hugs, and blessedly sacred contact ? That promise, that surge of vaccination hope brought family gathered around Thanksgiving dinners and sped us along toward the current torrent of cases and the realization by many of us who had only known a friend of a friends who had contracted the virus. Now, friends, family, or even ourselves, have contracted the virus. We may have direct knowledge that counters that “it’s like a bad cold” crap. We are seeing breakthrough cases with dire consequences. There is explosive contagion. There is no guarantee whatsoever of an ending to this plague, only continuing evidence that this is one nimble virus determined to stay alive, migrating, and altering it’s invisibility cloak so that reported symptoms almost feel concocted they are so varied. Only they aren’t (concocted, that is). The ways in which this virus can affect a human body challenges the most knowledgeable medical practitioners and it will most likely take researchers years to see the whole picture.

Will a month from now, out of the bitter cold and icy wind grip of January, bring hope and change? Can we hang on until whatever needs to happen, actually happens? 

Throughout this time of pandemic I’ve questioned which age group has taken the brunt of it’s conditions. For a long time I believed it was the young children and the teenagers who had paid the heaviest price. Now I find myself believing it is possible that we elders have lost the most because we have run (or are running) out of time. Three years is a long time when every precious bit of mental and physical health are attempting to hold on. There are nearly daily reports of the passings of those illustrious and great great but it’s not only the greats who are passing in droves. 

Perhaps a leaner, less populated planet is required. I offer no Balm of Gilead, nor can i suggest a magic elixir. My apologies to those who want lightness and laughter as I’m out of both. I crave conversations about serious subjects, examinations of thought that deepens and broadens the sense of existence and the inevitable “why”. This seems as good a time as any to dig deep and ponder.

#184 External Heat

External Heat.

As there seems to be in every part of our lives for a couple of years since the pandemic tossed us all out of our usual orbits, the intensity of this particular January is not yet letting up. It was 1 degree last night with a 30-40 mph wind, as cold as I’ve experienced elsewhere where that kind of weather was routinely anticipated. This morning sea smoke was blowing faster than the moving waves beneath it, while off shore gusts were pushing additional sea smoke perpendicularly against that flow. It was beautiful to watch because there was brilliant sunshine and iridescent waves.

I have taken to speculating if this beautiful house by the ocean was built as a summer residence or if the timing of the build put it before the awareness, so hard earned in the oil crisis of the 1970’s. The windows on the north and west sides of the house are single paned and the insulation is not up to current standards. I know that because those winds flow through the walls. Forced air heat cannot possibly keep the house even remotely warm under such conditions. The gas insert in what was a wood burning fireplace has a electrical blower but that room also has a cathedral ceiling with a long since dead ceiling fan and that room is the location of the one thermostat for the whole house. Using the fireplace means the heat generated from it is the cause of no heat getting to the other rooms in the house. In addition the room where I sleep has two heating ducts neither of which is operational. It may be the coldest room in the house also because the staircase to the basement level of the house which has loads of leaks with zero weather stripping and large gaps above interior doors off the garage spaces runs right next to my room’s entrance.

As an aging person my body has lost its ability to generate heat. Recently in an AARP publication there was an article that stated older people need to live where the temperature is in the 68-70 degree range. I know a number of older people attempting to live with their thermostats set at 62 degrees or lower. At 62 hypothermia is a possibility but heating costs and environmental concerns far exceed the possibility of using fossil fuels to keep a living space that warm.

From having lived in even colder geographies than coastal Maine my wardrobe still contains a number of thick wool sweaters and I’ve a good number of sets of long underwear which can now be worn in public as leggings as well as under those sweaters. Wool helps even if my drier skin is now itchy upon direct wool contact. None of the usual merchants carry wool goods any longer with the exception of occasional wool socks popping up. I speculate on possible reasons for this wool garment shortage and have settled on the cost and availability of wool as well as having the skills to care for wool garments, hardly a toss in the washer-dryer thing. Climate change does not mean the need for warmth has passed. On the contrary, it is meaning that climatic conditions are becoming more erratic and more extreme, with wild swings of both colder and hotter.

Does owning your own home help? Yes or no, depending on your retirement income and backup funds. When younger and far more mobile did you include the possibility of pandemic conditions where staying in your own space 24/7 was going to be a requirement? If you kept up with newer technologies in HVAC you may be better prepared than most. Heat pumps are being installed everywhere but I’m not knowledgeable enough to know if they can help during severe bouts of cold and heat. Wood heat is now a no no in many places because of particulate pollution. I carry permanent lung damage because of smoke inhalation along with fond  memories of being that warm on -20 degree days plus the marvelous experience of cooking on a wood fueled kitchen range.

There are wisely sound folk now living in net zero houses. Not nearly enough of them. Are those houses toasty? 

I’m doing what I can but on many days it is not enough so I climb under covers with an electric blanket mid-day.

How are you getting through this winter?

#183 Still


Not much moves outside
between three and four
in the morning 
when it’s 4 degrees.

I’m up wandering the house
in the darkness,
the cold air in the room
is finding its way
under the covers
keeping me from sleep.

I tuck my bare feet
under the kitchen cabinet
next to the heating duct
blowing hot air
from the furnace,
after checking the unheated porch,
with the frigid tile floor,
just wanting to see if it is
below freezing out there.
Almost. Not quite.

There’s cloud cover tonight
no stars
but instead
a bright moon
How can it be so cold
with overcast skies?

In the early gray morning 
the little birds will come
to the feeders needing fuel
to stay warm.
I hope the hawk stays clear
so there will be
no more fluffy pale feathers 
in clumps to sweep up
along with
the empty shells
of sunflower seeds and peanuts.

The birds, 
hawk included,
need protein 
We humans need
the sweet juice
of oranges 
or grapefruit 
or lemons 
shipped from warmer places, 
miracles of modern life.
Our bodies need
vitamin vibrant citrus
in these long days of winter 
especially this year.

This new form
of virus seemingly 
passes through walls
so once again
we huddle alone  
day after day
without knowing
what comes next.,

#182 Self-care

Self Care.

I missed posting last Friday. I doubt you noticed. Even I barely noticed which I’m using as a measurement of just how difficult this January is becoming. Covid is now reported by everyone with whom I am in contact—friends, family, neighbors, loved ones. It seems to be everywhere, swirling through closed doors, through walls.

Our human proclivity to get stuck in previous modes of thinking is up against a highly nimble virus. As the pandemic began we struggled to change what we knew and what we did so when the developing Omicron Variant was described as “highly contagious” we thought we understood what that meant. Did we foresee this?

The last nearly two years has been a steady buildup of challenges with politics turning dire in tandem with the expansion of the Covid-19 virus. At the same time climate / weather / environmental pile-ons are turning impressive. This morning it’s 4 degrees with a wind on Maine’s southern coast which is not that common. This does not appear to be one of those Januarys when we can think we got away with something.

The intensity is bringing a lot of us to our knees wondering what we can do to counter the onslaught, to find ways to ease up and have a moment or two here and there to recharge or reconnect if only for a little bit. I am longing for connection to nature’s warmer, softer, easier moments.

I have some thoughts on the subject so here are my ideas of some ways to allow yourself a tiny reconnect.

The first suggestion is to go to your local grocery (or online for curbside or delivery) and choose a glorious piece of fruit, not the kind that comes in bags, but an individual piece, particularly an organic one, an “are you kidding me?” price tag piece of fruit you usually pretend isn’t even there. As this is definitely not local fresh fruit season suspend your restrictions concerning “rules”. It is citrus season and clementines, satsumas, cara cara oranges, and all the rest are available. Even better are the organic large dark red grapefruits (no I don’t mean the Ruby Reds but the really dark red ones, so red you can see the interior color even through their thick skins). Soon to come will be Sumo oranges. Haven’t tried these? Usually buy a bag of whatever is on sale? Just for this moment find something just for you that is enough to trigger a reminder of nature’s warmer, bountiful side. Allow yourself the pleasure of reconnect in the form of a small vitamin surge moment. Toss aside guilt or need of sacrifice. Forgo the bag of chips that would cost more anyway and wouldn’t taste nearly as wonderful.

The second or alternative suggestion is to buy yourself a flower, or a plant, or a bunch of flowers. It can require creativity to transport a live item safely home in frigid conditions but that’s part of the fun. Allowing yourself fresh flowers indoors in the winter is another way to reconnect. Flowers make me smile every time I looked at them. Put them in a spot on a table, close enough so you can whisper your thanks for their beauty every time you pass by. Think this is hooey? You might be surprised.

There are other less direct ways to reconnect with nature’s bounty of course. You can allow yourself an exploration of the “bath, beauty, and wellness” section of the store (or online) in the form of face creams, body lotions, soaps or shampoos that you would not usually consider. Remember these are not ordinary times and you are after a just a few moments of respite and a trigger for a memory of nature’s natural bounty. Walk past the cheap-normal-commercial-utilitarian stuff and head to the “boutique” section. If you are shopping in a health food type store you will have little trouble identifying where the treat stuff is shelved.

It is possible, even in these hard times, to bite into a crisp apple or a soft pear (you’ll have to carefully watch for the perfect moment of ripening) or a fabulous burst of citrus. It is possible a moment of contact with a bloom can inspire awe. The goal is to have a moment out of the daily presence of winter, to remind yourself that you have the ability to look out for yourself and provide an opportunity of forgetting all but one single out of time, out of pandemic, non-January, non-frigid weather moment.

What can you find to transport yourself if only for a pinprick of time, a tastebud of other, a eye view of beauty? Consider sharing.

Bask in what’s doable.