Dry (!) December Walking=NW Winter Pleasures

Dec. Irv walks 016
All photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Walkers of all landscapes and weather, I just got back in, my heart is content, my face smiling in a cold leftover glow. I am more than ready to get back to work. What an excellent thing to have life and limb, to be able to exit the door and return with a fine satisfaction, full of invisible gifts.

As most know, I am a devoted walker, one who ramps it up and keeps the pace for an hour or so daily, if at all possible. And for over a week now, the sky has been an essential blazing blue. Temperatures have hovered between upper thirties and mid-to upper forties (Fahrenheit). No rain to speak of, maybe a few drops here and there.

This dry spell is almost unheard of in December; it should soon be raining, perhaps hailing or sleeting here in the Willamette Valley with rumors of flurries that make it down the Cascade Mountains to us. The drizzle is on a brief hiatus. Of course it is a certainty that rainfall will reappear, do its duty of keeping our vast forests and lovely yards emerald green–likely by end of week or so. Wetness then will slicks faces and hands, grow familiar, even feel like a transparent second skin; we are half amphibious after a couple of months, and for another four.

Meantime, it has been a wonder to be out and about in crackling bright gusts. Rarefied air. The clarity of everything out there is dazzling. So you would think this  a superior time for joggers, walkers, cyclists. Instead, there seems a scarcity of people. I am not entirely alone on my jaunts but I can state there seem fewer than on usual rainy days. So I power walk–and pause to snap pictures– with impunity, now free of skateboarders, runners and cyclists bearing down on me (though we adapt well to one another, usually). Less likely to have a dog dash in front of me, yanking the owner along with Herculean effort.

The thirties registering on the outside thermometer is close to riveting Northwest cold, true–cold enough to make my cheeks feel like pop sickles after a half hour. When that East wind blows, all parts of my face wish they might take cover beneath a wool mask. I am not such a fan of hats–I pull up the hood on a sweater (or on my rain jacket if it’s a drencher) but I’ve popped my old cashmere cap with the little moth hole onto my head more often or not. My nose runs and runs–sorry for that mental mage–and often I am out of tissue halfway through. My damp, half-frizzy hair is useless now but since cutting it to chin length-another post, perhaps–I care even less, smash it down. My eyes sting when attacked by biting gusts. And I have Raynaud’s, a condition that makes my hands (and often, feet) soon unbearably cold below 60. For safety and comfort I put on moderately insulated gloves as soon as it dips, and heartier ones for chillier conditions. (Indoors I wear finger-less gloves part of the year, especially when typing.)

As I write this, I am uncomfortably aware that Northwest winters are a breeze compared to Michigan’s, to Maine’s or Alaska’s, to those in Canada or Iceland and beyond. I do know the depths of winter. I do know and relish the memories of  being buried in snowdrifts before popping up and throwing snowballs. The romping about like a wild thing in it and doing fun sporting activities. And I recall the dangers and the inconveniences.

But this is here and now. It is my winter, Oregon’s months of pungent, wet earth and green shadows all about, of rampaging icy rivers that take my breath away with their beauty and snow-encompassed mountains above that call with singing winds and sleek, glittering mountainsides.

But given all that and the good and not so good here in the valley, what do I love about walking in the winter? Nearly everything. Discomforts are not that trying. This time of year is as chock-full of pleasant surprises as others. And being Christmas season, decorations are eye-catching additions to places and landscapes. I like the zing and zip of the cold as long as I am adequately dressed, and the body warming up so kindly as activity continues. How it feels to pull in piney-fresh, cool air. Even the reddening of cheeks feels cheery. The landscape shines differently in weaker winter sunlight, and shadows take on textures and shapes missed in other seasons. Maybe being raised in northern parts, I still sense mysterious earth’s re-tuning, its settling in for a long haul. I feel deeply at home outdoors. I am rejuvenated by sights and sounds, scents, tactile experiences–but also non-material ones.

Nothing quite impacts me as does nature no matter where I am. The ease of body through space, of mind given free rein to cultivate peace is priceless. It is a wellspring that nourishes and reshapes me into a fuller human being. This is happiness in its simplest–but not too simple–form. Taking care of myself in this way aids me in caring for others, and it provides greater resources from which to create. Writing ideas arise constantly when I walk–first lines, characters grabbing my attention, whole plots, a poem that lodges within. Problems present potential solutions. Spiritually there is no better antidote to being worn out or threatened by melancholy about the state of my country and our world. And of course, my overall health is rewarded and my cardiovascular system thanks me first, then the rest. I haven’t felt so terrific the past month–it is this or that as we age, let’s face it–and yesterday I was flattened while. Today I had to get back outdoors as walking unties body’s knotted spots, sweetens a stewing mind, and sets the spirit on a smoother course.

As I walked there came a conviction that I am in preparation for something lovely. Undeniably, winter brings hibernation for much and for a writer this is a benefit  as restful solitude, that cocoon of introspection, can well fertilize the brain and greater being. And I sense my winter will pare me down closer to the essence, bring forward truer needs and desires. I will make ways to call forth what is necessary but potent and, hopefully, more valuable to my writing and daily living.

I was recently surprised to discover I have written three posts a week for nearly seven years! Can that really be over a 1000 pieces written, pictures often additional contributions to the whole? I started with three blogs, each a separate genre; this continued on a few years. Those morphed into one–Tales for Life–that encompasses fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry (plus photography thrown in) on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I am grateful to have had this obliging spot on WordPress so long. I plan to stick to it albeit with some upcoming changes. More on this later.

Come along for now and see what I have seen recently. Enjoy a few random Portland (rain-free) winter shots and have a peaceful rest of  the week.

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