Embracing Winter Solstice
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.
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!
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.
I thought a lot about bears and winter during the yoga class…
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.
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.
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.
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 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.