Don't Hibernate This Winter

©. K Martinko -- The author enjoys snowshoeing when it's bitterly cold.

Learn to love this harsh yet spectacular season.

Last year my mother met a couple that had recently immigrated to Canada from India. They walked into her art gallery and looked around at the painted scenes of winter in Muskoka, the rugged region of lakes and forests where my parents live. The man told my mother that they liked Canada but didn't know how to cope with the cold. He gestured at the paintings. "How do you do it? The cold just gets into my bones and I can't go outside."

She told him what I've heard her tell countless people over the years. "You must get outside. Invest in a warm coat, warm boots, snow pants, well-insulated mitts. Then find activities that you can do in the cold. Go walking, skating, skiing, or snowshoeing. If you don't stay active, you'll be miserable, cooped up indoors all winter long."

I had a similar exchange last week with someone from Toronto, who was quizzing me about winter here in Bruce County, on the windy shores of Lake Huron. She asked, "Is it as awful as I've heard?" I told her it's what you make of it. Forcing yourself to get out and enjoy the frigid, blustery, snowy weather is the best way to cope with the winter blues. I don't think she believed me.

For years, I've lumped people into two categories – those who like winter and those who don't. Most, it seems, fall into the latter group, but now I'm starting to think that those who don't like winter just don't know it. They haven't found a way to relate to it. They view it as a harsh and inhospitable season, rather than a doorway to adventures they've never had before. They do not yet appreciate its profound silence, its monochromatic beauty, the invigoration and exhilaration that comes from spending time in its presence.

I've written a lot about the importance of sending children outside to play in winter, but this should apply to adults, too. There is a tendency to hibernate as soon as winter sets in, but this means one gets even less sunshine, exercise, and fresh air than usual, increasing the risk of seasonal affective disorder and cabin fever. It sends a damaging message to kids that winter is unpleasant, to be endured, not enjoyed.

This year, let's change that narrative. A beautiful entry from a blog called Today We Will Play will help inspire:

"Go outside and stand with your face into the wind. Breathe in the crisp, fresh air and let it sting your cheeks. Experience this, not hunched over with your head down, grumbling crabbily with a scowl on your face, but instead looking out at everything before you.
Go outside when the snow is falling. Let the flakes get caught in your eyelashes. Listen to the soft crunch of your footsteps as you walk. Catch a single snowflake on your mitten and study its tiny beauty. Build a snow person when nobody is looking. Actually, build a snow person especially if someone is looking. Lie on your back in the snow and make a snow angel. Let yourself be transported to a time when these things came naturally."

On a practical level, spend the money on good winter gear to make sure you're warm. Buy the best you can afford. (Read: A Canadian's guide to surviving frigid winters) Then seek out activities to do, whether it's family skating on weekends, daily walks, cross-country skiing at a provincial park, or downhill skiing lessons. Look for secondhand equipment (skis, snowshoes, skates) at thrift stores or online.

Plan group outings with friends, like picnics, campfires, or ice fishing. Go out at night to look at the stars. See if you can view the Northern Lights. Try winter camping, if you're really daring, or rent a Yurt somewhere. Be a tourist, visiting places like Quebec City, Montreal, or Banff, in the depths of the winter. Wander the snowy streets and duck into warm restaurants as needed. Book a stay at the chilly Hotel de Glace.

Look up winter festivals in your region. In Ontario, I love the annual First Light event at Ste. Marie among the Hurons, the Dorset Snowball Carnival, Winterlude in Ottawa, the frigid Groundhog Day celebration in Wiarton, and a slew of maple syrup festivals in March. There are many things going on if you're willing to leave the coziness of your house, bundle up, and get out there.

Give it a try. Get out there. You have everything to gain from learning to love an additional season.

"Don’t give up just because it gets a little harder. The winter months might be a little darker, and you might have to dig a little deeper to find your motivation, but don’t hibernate."