Urban walking offers many opportunities for encounter with nature, which, as it happens, will be the recurring theme of these Friday posts. Some of these opportunities come around less often than others, blizzards being one of them. If, when offered the chance to walk in such a storm, you are quite sanely inclined to say, “Oh psshaw, I’ll stay indoors, thank you very much,” you may want to think again, because you’ll almost certainly be missing out on some magical things:
On this particular night, the wind was blowing snow in near-perfect diagonal, parallel lines across the sidewalk. And that sidewalk, which had – only a short day before – politely escorted joggers and cyclists along well-thought-out-lines-that-curved-just-so, was now a vague, white expanse stretching only into snow and wind and mystery.
Waste not a good blizzard.
Here’s how to take a walk in one:
1) Wait for a Dark and Stormy and Perfect Night.
For example: last Monday, the incoming snow of Juno was slowly progressing from the day’s earlier, foreshadowing flurries into an increasingly steady stream of blowing, gusting snow. This type of emerging weather pattern, along with the obsessive checking of the National Weather Service website, are excellent ways of knowing that a blizzard is heading your way and to start preparing for your walk.
2) Dress Appropriately.
If you can’t get over your excited anticipation for this blizzard – snow will forever be great cause for wahoo!-ing for this Oklahoman – try distracting yourself by thinking through Appropriate Clothing Options.
Keep in mind you may be at a disadvantage here if, like me, you were raised in a place where dramatic interpretations of “winter” include showing off your new parka when temperatures take a plunge below 55 degrees. So plan carefully and be realistic.
I chose to wear multiple, non-cotton layers, a Gortex shell, my shiny red it’s-walking-time boots, and my trusty it’s-walking-time attitude.
3) Bring a Friend.
You’ll find that most of my posts here will relate to solitary walking, as being outdoors alone and in mostly silence is part of an emerging practice of meditation and contemplation, one which I hope to write about and share as I explore where this walking takes me (geographically and mentally and spiritually).
However, walking in good company is always lovely and on the night of the blizzard I met a friend for this walk and was delighted to share the experience with someone who, like me, enjoys walking for walking’s sake, is strangely excited by strange weather, and revels in what happens to a bustling, alive city when a blizzard comes town.
Also, in severe weather, it’s just safer to have a buddy.
4) Ask Good Questions.
You won’t get many opportunities to take a long walk through a blizzard! So while you’re at it, be thoughtful about what you’d like to know and learn on this walk. Think of a few questions you’d like to ask, such as: So, what does happen to a bustling, alive city when a blizzard comes to town?
Answers will be different for everyone, but mine was: The city becomes silent and still. It retreats. And while it curls up into itself to stay warm and dry, the weather unfurls itself and becomes alive: a frozen, whirling, whooshing thing that howls its way into existence, consumes, disrupts, transforms, and howls its way back out again.
5) Think of some of your Favorite Poetry.
Or music. Or art. And/or compose your own. Adding a creative context and framework can help you to more fully grasp the experience in ways that regular old structures of language and thinking can’t possibly do.
As we walked along the Charles River, Robert Frost’s famous lines came to mind:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
We were not in the middle of a vast swath of woods of course. But along the river, and across the water and into the city, we watched the snow fall. Two unseen, solitary bystanders, a land transformed. A whole city to ourselves. Indescribable.
6) Pay Attention!
Now, one of the Very Amazing qualities about such storms is that they offer only fleeting moments of opportunity. There is only so long that one can stop and admire a blizzard and only so many times that a blizzard stops and invites one to admire it. It thus becomes extra important to stay in the present moment, pay attention, look around, and soak up as much of the unique magnificence surrounding you as you possibly can.
On this particular night the wind was blowing snow in near-perfect diagonal, parallel lines across the sidewalk. And that sidewalk, which had – only a short day before – politely escorted joggers and cyclists along well-thought-out-lines-that-curved-just-so, was now a vague, white expanse stretching only into snow and wind and mystery.
And, oh, the trees! Ghostly, shadowy things. Craggy, ghastly things. Stalwart, majestic things. Stretching black into an orange sky. Trees don’t look like that very often. It’s worth seeing.
7) Write it down.
When you get back home, and you’re snuggled into pajamas, and you’re ever so grateful for warmth and showers and hot chocolate, and you’re succumbing to the strong urge to snooze, take a little time first to write down what you saw and felt and experienced during your walk in the blizzard. You’ll be happy you did. Blizzards can transform you, too, you know.