The weather in Maine this morning looks like the zombie apocalypse. Here are the signs:
Dark skies, whipping rain, leaves being ripped from near-bare tress, an unseasonable humid warmth to the air, flashing emergency vehicles, college kids in flip-flops.
With the help of a friend, I re-decked my porch yesterday. At forty-six years of age, I’ve finally discovered the all-consuming erotic pull of power tools.
If my boss gives me the day off on Friday, I plan on re-plastering and painting my dining room ceiling.
My wife and I went to the hardware store last night after dinner and looked at tubs and lighting fixtures.
These are strange times indeed.
Winter is right around the corner, so that means it’s time for me to come up with my yearly list of survival strategies. Assuming the zombies don’t attack, I’ll try to continue with habits developed during past winters: getting plenty of exercise, drinking healing broths, wearing warm socks, being mindful of my dosha, taking the occasional sauna with friends, and when budget allows, going out for sushi and gelato afterwards. Winter in Maine turns all of us into the huddling masses. But there is hope. It’s early yet, but here’s what I’ve come up with. It’s a short list, but the less I have to strive for, the greater my chances of making it to March 2014 without hurting anyone:
1. Run more.
2. Eat one pomegranate per day.
3. Start downhill skiing (again).
That’s it. What are yours?
I’ve recently become enamored of the BBC crime drama Luther, starring Idris Elba (Stringer Bell from David Simon’s The Wire, and another in a long line of Brits pretending to be Americans and fooling us all. Andrew Lincoln, are you listening?) The series, now streaming on Netflix, is beautifully photographed, deftly plotted and brilliantly written. It’s also emotionally gut-wrenching, occasionally gory, and borderline psycho in a Silence of the Lambs kind of way. But what I’ve really zeroed in on lately is Luther’s sparsely-decorated bachelor pad. His bed is on the floor in the middle of the room. His windows have no curtains, allowing his psychopathic, part-time sidekick to peer in from a building across the alley. His closet appears to be a wheeled garment rack hung with perhaps three outfits, all in the same drab grey. I think he might have a microwave stashed somewhere, and a few teacups. In the four episodes I’ve watched, although Luther has slept a few times (and at least once with his ex-wife), he doesn’t appear to have ever changed his clothes. Strange to say that what his fictional apartment represents to me is actually a real vision of my retirement, minus the detective work. You won’t see me on the golf course or taking flying lessons in my old age. Probably all my wife and I will be able to afford is a one-room studio in some hip city somewhere, where we’ll keep our futon rolled up against the wall during the day, and where the kids, although we love them dearly, won’t be able to come home to roost for any extended period of time unless they bring a sleeping bag, a camping pad and a generous honorarium. Our virtual urban cabin will be close to the library, park, and gym, and within an easy drive of the forest and the ocean. What we will save on landscaping we will put into books, food, and wood-fired saunas. The blades of our green juicer will always be sharp.
A perfect vision of leisure. And I’m sure my wife wouldn’t mind if Mr. Elba was there to join us.
Psalm 91:6 says “You will not fear…the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.” But as winter approaches, I do fear what Christian monastics called “the noonday devil.” The creeping sense of sadness, lethargy, and despair that accompanies the season that is now almost upon us.
Andrew Solomon also wrote a beautiful, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful book on this very subject. Winter is the noonday demon of my year. The summer light is fading. The sun is going to ground. Like our brother bear, as mammals we humans may also wish to sleep these cold months away.
But we must resist the urge to hibernate, and instead find ways to fill ourselves with warmth and light.
I have developed a few strategies that help me, and may help you, through the dark, icy months ahead. First, we must keep moving. I had a friend in college who said that he gained weight in the summer, but stayed fit in the winter. The reason, he told me, was because during the summer he lounged around eating too much cheese and crackers and drinking way too much wine. Fair enough. But during the winter months (in his cold native Ohio) he spent his time skiing and ice skating to stay active and keep the pounds off. Myself, I wake at 4:30 am and head to my local YMCA for some running, weight lifting, rowing, or whatever else I can do to stoke the engine of my metabolism for the rest of the day. Even though the opposite would seem to be true, the more active we are, the more energy we have. So don’t pad your den; exercise instead. Even if it’s a walk around the block.
Second, although we have a temptation to eat heavy, comforting foods, for me the opposite is true. I need to stay light, both in my eating and my attitude. What I do consume, however, are warming teas and other homemade potions to keep my agni burning. My favorite is a very simple “tea” made from hot water and a blend of powdered ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and sometimes a clove or two. Ginger especially is good for maintaining energy and a robust digestive fire.
Third, we share an occasional sauna with friends at one of my favorite places on earth, and one I’m so blessed to live close to. I also use full-spectrum or halogen light bulbs in my home and at work wherever I can, to mimic natural sunlight.
Reading over what I just wrote, I guess my keys for keeping the demon and the sadness at bay can be summed up in three words: movement, warmth and light. Take that, you devil.