This winter has been pretty great to me. I've been on some beautiful, epic ice walks and I've eaten lots of free winter greens. The weather has been both too cold and fine enough for pleasant outside exploration which is a wonderful complement to my recent literary wanderings. Last winter I took a taxi to work instead of biking or walking, and behaved like a bee. I kept warm by avoiding the outside and snuggling under blankets. Unknowingly, I had been preparing all year for a cold, wet winter with a my reading choices. This year with the help of books I have adjusted my perspective and I'm coming to appreciate the season.
I read Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson in January. Using color logic, like I sometimes do, would cause one to assume that the red planet is warm. Actually it takes many weeks traveling away from the sun to get there and there are no life forms to create greenhouse gasses. It is covered in ice and incredibly cold. In the book it is the first time humans have been on the planet and all of them are scientists. There is a lot of exploring to do, data to collect, and infrastructure to build in straight-up cold weather. Wearing thermal suits that keep the effect of the temperature to almost equal winter in Siberia, these people are cold weather bosses and completely inspirational. Lately, in wool and mittens, I have enjoyed examining local cold mosses and lichens I have never thought to notice before. Stanley predicts that these life forms will be first step to creating livable conditions on Mars. The Mars Trilogy has not only changed my perspective on winter, but on many aspects of planet Earth.
At the suggestion of a good friend I read Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing. Before batteries, in the time of Morse Code and wooden ships, people went to Antarctica and barely survived or died trying to cross the continent. The men aboard The Endurance were on such a mission, but were forced to make do on an iceberg during the Polar Night before even making it to land. The book is based on interviews and journals of the sailors, scientists, and the 19 year old stowaway whose ship was crushed by an ice sheet in the Arctic Sea. The real life characters and incentives reveal themselves beautifully in the way only personal letters from that time do. So much Wetness! So much snow! So much frostbite! Reading this book and empathizing with that experience turns 20 degree New England weather balmy and safe.I’ll never be attacked by a tiger shark, while walking on ice near the Conneticutt river, but I will be wary. I won't have to make the decision to keep or kill my dogs and I won't have to burn fish blubber for heat. Winter camping for me could get never be so grimy, but after reading Endurance I will always remember the black grease and frostbite on the flesh of that crew.
Then in December, I learned about my favorite author, John Muir. This man was the original environmentalist and directly responsible for any federal nature preservation. He loved the snowy mountaintops with all of his heart and soul. His prose are majestic and vividly spiritual and at the same time scientific, observational poetry. The thing about Muir that inspires winter fortitude in me is his ruggedness. He would set out for multiple day hikes with no coat, no blanket, a loaf of bread, and some tea. He would make a bed in a pine tree, wake up all night keeping up a fire, and spend the next day climbing a rock face with his bare hands. After reading Muir, a walk in the woods is quite a holy, exciting thing. I often look up phrases that he uses and I when I do my world becomes a bit more like his.
I am truly grateful for ability to read. Stories and books have always had enormous impact on my life. Just recently on my quest for winter, I went back to The Snow Queen. As an adult I was able to hold the weight of Anderson's images of ice, glass and mirrors. I recognized the metaphors of snow, spring, and growing up. As a kid I heard the story of a little girl who goes through the woods to find and rescue her friend in the Snow Queens castle. As a person finding reasons to go out in the weather I'll say, "That little girl's love didn't waiver to some cold, why should mine?"