I’ve never been much of a winter person. I don’t like having to get all bundled up to go outside, and camping in frigid temperatures for me usually means a miserable sleepless night.
I have gone snowshoeing a couple of times, and alpine skiing a few additional times. I briefly organized monthly trips to a local nordic center. Each full moon the center would line the groomed trail around a nearby frozen lake with luminaries. The moonlight reflecting off the snow gave the whole world a kind of silver aura which seemed particularly magical after a couple of hot toddies.
But if I’m being honest, those monthly trips were more social events than moonlit escapes into nature. It wasn’t the kind of thing I ever seemed inclined to do on my own. Winter for me, as for so many people, is spent predominantly indoors. It takes special circumstances to lure me outside for any significant length of time from December to March, and I always reserve the right to cancel on account of the weather.
Experiences accumulate like fat during the other three seasons of the year. During the winter this stored energy is burnt off in various essays and a few other creative pursuits, for better or for worse. Time is spent trying to stretch the supply of experiential material hopefully accumulated during the warmer part of the year when the only item of clothing not technically optional was a pair of hiking boots. Winter was ideally made for research, typing up and reviewing notes, and scribbling short grey days and long cold nights away.
I have a table at a local pub that I use to get through the colder months. Generally I visit it only one day a week, though two has not been unheard of. Weekdays are preferable to weekends. Monday or Tuesday are the best.
The bar is usually pretty empty early in the week. Just about everyone else has a liver exhausted from a weekend of over indulgence and is back to their regular 9–5 routine. I’m blessed (or cursed) with a routine that is out of sync with most of the employed world, and so can’t tax my liver on the same schedule.
Regardless, I like having the pub almost exclusively to myself. Sometimes there’s just me and the staff huddling nearby for their weekly meeting. There’s a plug for the computer, and I bring a backpack filled with notes and books to fill the afternoon while casually eavesdropping to learn which beers and liquors were most popular over the course of the previous week.
The TV in the corner behind the bar provides a mild visual distraction, though I can’t hear it over the music. The setting is familiar, but not too familiar. The bartenders have come to know me and to expect I’ll be staying a while. They are polite but respectfully keep their distance knowing the only interruptions I expect or will long endure are those necessary to keep the pints coming. It’s as though I’m a fixture, and I like it that way.
Though my regular Monday and/or Tuesday table would seem about as far removed from nature as one could get — especially being situated, as it is, at a window overlooked by a busy city sidewalk — it plays a similar role. The pub, like treks into the nearby mountains and deserts, provides the occasional necessary change of scenery to keep the creative process on track.
It is often said that the discipline a daily routine imposes is essential to every would be writer, artist, scholar and/or scientist. But everything is poison at a certain dose. Creativity requires breaks from the usual surroundings, even if these changes are themselves a predictable part of a regular schedule. If five or six days are spent working largely alone staring at the same four walls, introducing the mildly unpredictable ruckus of a pub and some different faces to look at now and then can lubricate the gears a little. Of course the beer helps too.
But now it’s mid-March. In just a few days spring officially gets underway. This may qualify as a fifth season of the year: the anticipatory season. Thoughts increasingly turn toward the chance to really get away. The eyes begin to scan the nearby mountains more and more to assess how much longer the snowpack will interfere with the chance to go for a hike.
Text messages with particular friends during these final days of winter inevitably include the possibility of near future day hikes and camping trips. We know that many of these will never take place. A lack of time and resources will squeeze the possibility out of most of these schemes before they have a chance to become reality.
But that’s not the point. Just imagining weekends or even whole weeks away is itself a kind of mini vacation. Researching new places to go on the internet and sharing the findings with friends that likewise find sitting around campfires, scrambling over rocks, or climbing unfamiliar mountain peaks intoxicating brings its own rewards. Indulging these fantasies is essential to maintaining the outward appearance that we are fully engaged with reality that polite society generally expects.
But at least a few of these fantasies will materialize into experiences more tangible than bucket lists and daydreams. “Wisdom often wanders,” Robert Moor writes in his book On Trails: An Exploration. “St. Augustine, Siddhartha, Li Po, Thomas Merton, Maya Angelou — the insight of each was deepened by wild and meandering youth.” I’m not exactly youthful anymore. Nor do I claim to be particularly wise. That said, I’m looking forward to leaving this winter’s pub table for another season of wandering of both the imaginary and real variety. Perhaps in the process I’ll get lucky and gain some wisdom that will make its way to paper next pub season.