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Embracing Winter Solstice

 

Embracing Winter Solstice

H. Bradford

1/21/17

In an earlier post, I discussed feeling down about winter and some strategies of overcoming seasonal shock (as I prefer to frame winter blues).  Winter does come as a bit of a shock.  Thankfully, I have adapted to winter and there are even some days that I thoroughly enjoy it.   Today was one of those days.  It was the winter solstice today, so I woke up eager to make the most of the day.  I wanted to celebrate the shortest day of the year.  In a way, there is something almost instinctual about wanting to put the darkness behind me.  It is a primitive drive of yearning for light and warmth.  Yet, here we are- still very much in the early half of winter.   I could hardly sleep- even after coming off of eight consecutive midnight shifts.  This is how I made the most of Winter Solstice.

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This photo was actually taken last week during a snow storm- but reminds me of hardship and beauty of winter.


 

A Winter Walk:

After doing a few errands, I went for a winter walk along the Lake Walk, a paved path along Lake Superior.  The temperature was about 28 degrees F, so comfortable enough to make outdoor activity easy.  The lake itself is still open and was deep blue and wavy today.  There were others out and about, jogging and walking as well.  Although the clouds were heavy and gray, there was a prettiness to the day.  Winter seemed to have a weaker grip on the Northland today, despite yesterday’s fresh snow.  There are many people out to challenge it.  Even ducks and gulls actively defied winter by floating on the steely waves.  As I looked back at the Lift Bridge, taking in all of the gray and white, I felt happy.  That summer version of myself- that person who begins dreading winter around the 4th of July- seemed weak and foolish.  It isn’t so bad!

Yoga:

I have not been to a yoga class at all this year.  I know this because attending yoga classes was one of my many New Year’s Resolutions last year.   Well, 2017 isn’t over yet!  Two of my co-workers from the domestic violence shelter met me for an hour yoga class at Essentia Health.   It was my first time attending fitness classes there!  Also, this month the fitness center is offering discounted day passes.  A day pass only costs $3 and gives a person access to the fitness center, fitness classes, pool, and sauna!  Wow!  I purchased 20 passes and may buy some more since it is such a great deal.


Anyway, the class was perfect!  The fitness studio has large windows which overlook Lake Superior.  Since the class began at 4:15, I was able to watch the sunset (or at least the dimming of the light and transition to darkness).  The room itself was dimly lit, illuminated by battery operated candles.   Throughout the class, the instructor adjusted the heat.  Needless to say, the room had a warm, peaceful ambiance that perfectly matched the quiet, thoughtfulness of winter.   I can’t say that I was awesome at the class.  But, I really enjoyed the bear pose.  This also seemed symbolic of winter- as bears hibernate in the winter (spare an angry bear that attacked three people in Northern Minnesota two days ago).   The Greek word for bear is Arctos- which we find in the word “Arctic.”   While Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are easy to spot year round, because they are circumpolar constellations, they are more easy to see in the winter because of the darker and longer nights.   Thus, bears are very deeply connected to winter.   The class itself had some challenging moments, but was generally relaxing.  I felt the class feeling that I had purged my insides of a lot of stress and negativity.

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I thought a lot about bears and winter during the yoga class…

Sauna:

After the yoga class, I used the sauna at Essentia.   There is really something special about saunas.  Because I am mostly Finnish, I feel that taking a sauna harkens back to some distant, primitive part of myself passed down from generations.   In the deepest reaches of history, there were distant relatives who 2000 years ago took saunas- back when they were a sacred and ritualistic part of life.  Of course, sweat baths are not unique to Finland- so they are a tradition to many people.  On the solstice, it is a way to embrace warmth and feel renewed.  It is a way to reconnect with the past.  I expected that I would be disappointing by the sauna at Essentia, but I found that although it was small- it was pleasantly hot.  Unfortunately, I had a meeting to run to- so I was only able to enjoy it for about 15 minutes.

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A Finnish wood carving of a Sauna scene.

The County Board Meeting:

I raced from the sauna, dressed, and drove back to the Superior government center for the county Board Meeting.  I literally ran from my car to the meeting room- with less than five seconds to spare before the meeting started.  I guess I took up a bit too much time at the sauna.  The reason for the race to Superior?  Well, the County Board was scheduled to vote on a resolution regarding the cut to 25 programs at UW-Superior.  I  have missed other meetings due to my work schedule or conflicting events, so it was important that I attend today.  I arrived in time to listen to the Chancellor of UWS defend the suspension of 25 academic programs, comparing them to products that were not selling.  I felt incensed by her words, so I volunteered to speak.   Mind you, I had no intention to speak before the board nor had I prepared ahead of time.  So, I just stepped up to the mic and spoke from my experience.   I am an alumni of the sociology program (a program that is being cut) and went on to get a Master’s degree in sociology.  I wanted to make the point that education has qualitative value that is hard to measure.  It is more than a product, like Big Macs or ceiling tiles- it enriches the human experience and our communities.  This issue is bigger than UWS.   UWS is symptomatic of a larger, business model of education that seeks to shrink education- or for there to be less education or fewer people with access to education.  The vote was an opportunity to take a stand against a larger trend in society wherein education is diminished.  I know that I did not collect my thoughts perfectly, but I was proud of myself for speaking up.  In the end, the County Board voted 13 to 3 in favor of a democratic process for determining which programs are cut.


Bentleyville:

I have already visited Bentleyville three times this winter, but I thought that it would be a great way to celebrate winter and add some more steps to my step counter.   So, after the county board meeting- I went home, debriefed about the meeting with my roommate, then returned to Duluth to stroll along the light displays.  It was my best visit to Bentleyville this season since it was far less crowded.  I felt that I could take my time and really take it in.    Bentleyville is free-with free cookies, marshmallows, and hot cocoa.  I love it, since I see people from all walks of life wandering around and enjoying the lights together.  Granted, I think that I am the only solo adult who haunts the holiday display.  Most visitors are families and couples.   Oh well!  Once again, I enjoyed embracing winter and the darkness by surrounding myself with light.

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Trivia:

Twice a month, I get together with friends and play trivia at Pizza Luce.  Tonight, I was short on a team- so I joined up with a group of UMD students.   We didn’t win at trivia- or even get third place- but it was still a fun time.  My friend, Jenny, arrived a bit late and joined the team.  While this wasn’t specific to Winter Solstice, it was still a fun addition to my day of celebrations!


The Samovar:

The grand finale of the day was opening a package that I received the other day.  I ordered myself a 1988 Soviet Samovar from Ebay.  This may seem like a frivolous purchase, which- it is- but I enjoy drinking tea and have a fond memory of drinking dozens of cups of tea from an antique samovar at a dacha during my first trip to Russia.   My hosts seemed so proud of their samovar- which was old enough to be heated with charcoal.   My samovar is electric.  I pulled it out of the package, while my roommate, Lucas- a lover of antiques- watched the pieces emerge from newspaper and packing plastic.  It was beautiful.  It was perfect!  I had looked over several Soviet Samovars online.  Many were ordinary, with a bronzed finish.  This was one special because of its black and gold enamel folk motifs.  It did not seem as industrial as the others.  Because of the folksy currant and golden leaf design, it seemed that it was timeless.    I have never been to Russia in winter, but to me, it seems like a place where Christmas, cold, and darkness must last forever (owing to the old/new calendar, continental climate, and latitudes of some places).   In a way, this object seems to resonate warmth as it invokes Russian history and culture- and quite literally, it creates warmth by heating water.  It is only a material thing, but it was love at first sight!

Well, there you go!  It was a pretty great day!  Maybe winter isn’t so bad after all.

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Beating the Winter Blues

Beating the Winter Blues

H. Bradford

11/30/17

It seems that winter came early this year.  Although I have lived my whole life in either Wisconsin or Minnesota, winter still arrives with shock and disappointment.  This year, it seemed to begin on October 27th with our first snow storm of the season.  The following weeks remained fairly cold and that initial snow didn’t melt until mid-November.  Daylight Savings Time, which sets the sunset back an hour, only seems to worsen the onset of winter, since suddenly it is dark at 4:30 pm.  I escaped for two and a half weeks to warmer climates, so this only added to my “season shock” this year.  (I have coined my experience season shock- which is like culture shock- but about seasonal adjustment).  Yes, upon returning home after visiting my brother in Texas- I felt demoralized by the cold and darkness.  He will be moving back to Minnesota next year.  I wanted to warn him not to.  It is miserable here.  This place is a cold, dark hell.  In some mythologies, it might be akin to the imagined land of death- white, sterile, and quiet- where bones crack in the cold, snapping like icicles off ledges.  My work schedule of night shifts makes things worse- since I live in the the long dark space between sunsets and sunrises.  I felt crabby, lethargic, and disappointed.  Well, I really don’t want to be that way!  So, here are some things I have done to make the most of winter and try to changed that attitude.


Bentleyville:

Each year, Duluth features a free light show- with free cookies, hot cocoa, popcorn, marshmallows, costumed characters, bonfires, and more!  I have gone twice already this year.  Perhaps, this will even be the year that I finally try to volunteer there.  While winter isn’t awesome, I will say that the darkness creates the canvass for stunning light displays.   I can relate this to the concept of Metaxu (from Simone Weil and Plato), which roughly describes things that separate us in some ways but connects us in others.  Darkness separates us from the visual world.  Night is bothersome since it makes it harder to enjoy the outdoors or do activities that we might enjoy during the day.  In this case, while darkness connects us to the beauty of light displays.  These displays would not be a pretty in daylight.  So, in this way, the darkness connects us to beauty and light.   Plus, there is so little that is free in capitalism!  You can’t complain about free cookies, hot cocoa, popcorn, and wholesome fun!  I think that Bentleyville is wonderful.

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The Night Sky:

Following the same logic as the last point, the darkness of winter and the long nights make it an optimal time of year for stargazing.   While I have not gone star gazing yet this month, I do plan on rescheduling a Feminist frolic for the planetarium and trying to catch the Northern lights (which are predicted to make an appearance early next week).  So, one great thing about winter is that it is a nice time of year for enjoying the night sky.


Birding:

I was a little sad to see all of the birds migrate.  While I was on my trip, I was reminded of all of the birds that were gone for the winter.  I even saw some of the species of birds which had migrated south!  However, on Sunday I drove to Two Harbors to hike around and do some geocaching.  I actually saw quite a few birds.  There were a few Common Goldeneye ducks, diving and bobbing in Agate Bay.  I watched them, getting a closer view than I’ve had of that species.  I also saw a NEW species of duck- a female Harlequin duck.  I was surprised, since I didn’t expect to see many new birds this winter-if any at all.  I think that it was a good reminder that there are still plenty of birds around.  On December 9th, the Sax Zim Bog will open to winter visitors and host a few birding/nature hikes.  I hope to attend.

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Geocaching:

I tried geocaching for the first time in March.  While it isn’t the most educational hobby, it is fun to search around for these hidden treasures.  I am not great at it, but it does bring a sense of accomplishment to me each time I manage to find a hidden container.  While I don’t do it all of the time, I decided to go geocaching on Sunday in Two Harbors and Monday at Pattison State Park.   Today, I found my 100th cache.  I think that winter is a great time to geocache since there is less foliage and vegetation to thwart my view of the caches.  Also, there aren’t any wood ticks.   It is also a nice hobby for winter since it doesn’t compete with birding as much (since there are fewer birds out and about).

Image may contain: tree, plant, outdoor and nature  Just a photo from Pattison State Park, where I geocached earlier in the week

Winter’s Solitude:

On Monday, I went to Pattison State Park for hiking/geocaching.  I was the only at the park.  The park office was closed and the parking lot was desolate.  It was wonderful to haunt the park, wandering the trails as the only soul on the premise (there were park service people somewhere, but I didn’t see anyone at the park office and there were no other park visitors).  In the summer, parks tend to be busier.  The beach would be full of swimmers and the tables occupied by picnic-ers.   On Monday, it was only me.  It was wonderful.  I enjoyed it too much and kept reminding myself of the moral lessons of the Twilight Zone (don’t wish for people to go away.  You might lose your contact lenses).  It was a really enjoyable time.  This is something to really be thankful for- a whole park to myself!  I found a few caches and enjoyed the waterfall (the tallest in Wisconsin- though that doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment for a waterfall).

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Embracing the Indoors:

During the summer, I sometimes feel guilty for sleeping during the day after a night shift.  I feel like I am missing out on a beautiful, sunny day.   In winter, while I still feel like I am missing out on sunlight, this is unavoidable.  So, I guess that if nothing else I can embrace the season because the cold and darkness give me a good excuse to stay indoors.   In my ideal world, I would use this wonderful indoor time to write, read, study, create art, try to practice violin, do fitness DVDs, or any number of other hobbies that I could explore.  But, this is not my ideal world and I am not my ideal self.  I haven’t done many if any productive indoor hobbies lately.  However, I have embraced the indoors by taking advantage of indoor fitness classes.  While I am not a member at any gyms, I have gone to a few fitness classes with my coworkers Kaila and Katie at CSS.   I have attended a dance cardio class and a barre class.  I also try to do a ballet class through Sterling Silver Studio in Superior.   Since it is cold outside, I may as well embrace the indoors by attending indoor fitness classes.  Walking on a track or treadmill is no substitute for a walk outdoors, but it helps to combat the cooped up/inactive feeling that I dislike about winter.


Embracing Winter Hobbies:

Snow does allow for winter hobbies.  We don’t have any snow at the moment, but maybe later this winter I can go cross country skiing and snow shoeing again.  There are other winter hobbies I could try as well.  One of my goals is to try out a fat tire bicycle this winter.  We’ll see if I finally try one out this winter…


Embracing Warm Things:

One positive thing about winter is that it makes warm things far more enjoyable.  I can definitely say that soup, hot tea, hot cocoa, or generally any hot food or drink is much more pleasant in the winter.   Even if I don’t have a cold, Throat Coat is my favorite and most soothing hot tea by far.

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Embrace Seasonal Sweaters:

I like being warm.  A fun way to stay warm is with seasonal sweaters.  The other day, I went to Goodwill and bought a few seasonal sweaters.  By seasonal, I mean the sort of sweaters that an elderly woman might wear- with snowmen, mittens, cats, or cardinals on them- some are embellished with sequins, tiny rhinestones, and puff paint textures.  Having an arsenal of winter themed sweaters/sweatshirts helps me get into the mood of winter.  It is hard to be grumpy when you are wearing a sweatshirt of three snowmen sharing hot cocoa.

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I don’t own this sweater, but it represents the spirit of winter whimsy.

 

Season Shock:

The reason that I feel that I experience “season shock” rather than seasonal affect disorder is because my experience is more of an adjustment issue.    I feel that the transition to winter is disappointing because it means a loss of freedom, outdoors, health, light, and warmth.  It means that life is harder- since the weather is harsh, the day is short, the roads are icy, cars need to be warmed up, and illness spreads more easily.  Adjusting to the “new normal” of winter isn’t an easy process.  But, I don’t feel that for me, it is a form of depression.  To me, the difference is that when winter hits, I want to be active, I WANT to be outdoors, I WANT all of the fun of fall and summer.   Winter is an insult to my drive to live and experience.   When I am actually depressed, I don’t want to do anything….and don’t even want to want to do anything.   I think that by being intentional, setting goals, and taking advantage of the 40 degree weather we’ve had lately has helped me escape my winter funk.   But…we’ll see how it goes when the temperature continues to decline next week- and we see highs in the teens….

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