Winter Bound

Narrow River, Winter’s Day.
All the leaves are brown or gone and the sky is gray. JAL

Winter bites with icy lips. The northern hemisphere has socially distanced itself from the sun as far as its axis permits. January’s early days of winter echo Kenneth Grahme’s rules of animal-etiquette; winter is the off-season when no animal is “expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active.”  

Hibernating is how bears deal with the stress of cold weather coupled with meager food sources. Thankfully, humans can adapt quickly to biting polar weather by donning layers of cotton, wool, and down clothing. Flora and fauna fashions are as abundant as Door Dash food deliveries so our closest connections with bears are when we’re naked or defecating in woodlands. The common northern exposure excuse for hibernating is simply, “days dawn frigid and nights fall early.” It’s not as if northerners are standing night watches on the Pequod fully aware that below decks in a dank, frigid berth “Ahab and anguish were stretched out together in a single hammock” going mad as they rounded the howling Patagonian Cape. Whaling is as out of fashion as wearing fur and scientifically, humans literally don’t have the proper guts to hibernate. NASA and Elon Musk are working on that problem as they ponder ways to induce hibernation in astronauts bound for Mars without having their bowels explode all over the capsule.

Space Works/ rendering of hibernation vaults for long-term space travel.

People aren’t equipped to hibernate because they are designed to shiver. Shivering, that involuntary tooth chipping response to being cold, prevents our bodies from chilling like bears and skipping winter. Unless you are an astronaut or billionaire buddy of Bezos, the better choice is to toss the torpor, as Henry David Thoreau did, and take a walk, get out on the water, stomp around in the first snow, or “pluck the nut of the world and crack it in the winter evenings.”

It’s nice to pick up a good book, sip a hot cuppa, and pause. Solitude offers assurance of self-contentment. Staying in for the evening with kith and kin is initially comfy like snuggling between Eddie Bauer flannel sheets but, as Captain Ron advised, “if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen out there.” We need to go a little nuts and round winter’s horn without going all out Ahab. The earth is heating up and nobody knows how many shivers are left in our timbers. Give winter a peck on its frosty cheek, hoist the mainsail and chart a course to the vernal equinox. Cruise through winter and you’ll sail right into spring.


Hoarfrost on the rigging of S/v Carina. Photo by Leslie Linkila

Winter in the Midwest is a little long. Our fleet is tucked away for the season of Hunkering Down. Our bodies, like our boats, become vessels for ultra cold matter. Everything within and around us takes a time-out and seems to pause. As the Mercury dips we have less energy to move about. It’s a quiet season. We gather around hot soup and blazing hearths. Winter is the time of books with many pages, layers of clothing, brisk walks, chills, shivers, and a sense of loss because warm sunshine has forgotten us. Looking at deep and silent snow after a blizzard it seems that everything is at rest.

Seemingly still on the surface yet always in motion below.
Ex Libris @ Sioux Harbor, Mississippi River. JAL

Nothing could be further from the truth. Nature never rests.

Nordic Explorer who adventured in the North and South Poles. Photo by AMLD

There are scientists whose life work involves trapping and cooling atoms to absolute zero. Much like the Norwegian Helmer (“Helly”) Hanssen, they are explorers of the deep cold ranges in our world. Ultra cold atoms are gateways to new fields of exploration involving infinitesimally small particles found in color, light, stuff, and all living things.  These particles are a primary source of motion in the universe yet they are minuscule and can never be observed directly. Scientists use complex mathematics about the ultra cold to learn how it works. They’ve discovered that everything, down to the sub atomic level, is eternally in motion thus anything that matters is perpetually changing.

All of the atoms, cells, bones, and organs that compose human bodies move constantly in the form of waves. A wave is a type of motion that’s described as a phase that takes place over space and time. Essentially, we’re in a continuous state of disequilibrium, always moving, always seeking stability that doesn’t really exist. We’re surfing the universe on the waves of time and light.

Narragansett Beach, RI. Photo by JAL

Just ask a teacher to describe a classroom of pubescent middle schoolers and you’ll learn more than enough about waves and human development. Teachers know that the wave effects on human development are chaotic, seemingly random, and transformative.

Surfers intuitively sense that they at one with waves – and that waves are part of their core being. Surfers use their understanding about the speed and length of waves in order to ride the lip or fly off a crest. The wave energy within us creates a flow of changes that affect how we move and where we go, physical and emotional growth, and the transformative life phases we surf from birth through death. Ripples to tsunamis – sooner or later the waves crest, grow quiet, evaporate or reach a shore. Waves within kids crest, barrel, and crash as they breakdown the shores of childhood and build up the coastlines of adulthood.

During winters when warm air drapes itself over cold water the conjoining forces bring forth fog. As the air temp plummets, tiny water droplets huddle together according to the rules of ultra cold and form hoarfrost. Standing aboard our boat we can’t see where we’ve been or what lies ahead. If we look closely at where we stand in this moment, we can learn new things that will allow us to discover the kind of person we could become this new year. We are energy, connected to light, and always in motion. The days will get longer so don’t be afraid to chill out and keep moving.

Ultra Cold Gnome Norway bound this January. JAL