Spring is almost here and I can’t wait. Every day I check the extended forecast waiting to see the warming trend that means winter is officially over. There are some truly beautiful aspects of winter but there are negative ones as well.
I enjoy the first few days of winter. It’s a time to come inside and relax, curl up with a good book and a blanket while watching the landscape change from green and colorful to white. It’s a nice feeling to have a few days without work and just exist. Soon the novelty of it wears off and I begin to feel like a caged animal.
We are brilliant as a species. Just look at all we have created. We’ve learned to harness power and build amazing machines to both help us work and entertain us. But I am still part of the animal kingdom and living indoors for months at a time takes its toll on my well-being.
There is no other animal that lives in such an artificial environment for extended periods of time like we, and our domesticated pets, do. Sure there are the animals, such as mice, who attempt to move in to our homes to stay warm but on a whole we are the only ones who rely completely on a heated home in exclusion of all other environments when the weather isn’t to our liking.
A recent comment about animals in cages led me to realize what it is about this time of year that bothers me the most. I feel like that caged animal in the zoo. Sure I have the keys to leave the cage whenever I want but my body is not equipped to survive for long without central heating on a bitter cold day. With my physical limitations there is little I can do outside in the winter even if I should head out and I’m not one who enjoys being still for long.
I avoid visiting most zoos because I can’t stand to see the sadness in the eyes of the animals. I instinctively look at each animal and picture how they would be living if they were back in their natural environment. The last time I visited a zoo there was a highly advertised attraction, orangutans. It was this “attraction” that broke my heart causing me to break down in tears.
The cage was cement formed to create shelves the orangutans could sit on and a small pool of water they could visit. The entire space was divided into two rooms not much larger than the three rooms I live in. There were three females, several youths and one male orangutan in this space. The females looked defeated. They sat, heads hung low and did nothing until one of their off spring would come seeking to be held. I wondered how many of the people standing around me watching these beautiful creatures went home to veg out with as nearly a blank look as these orangutans had.
I was fortunate as a child to be introduced to nature. In those years children were expected to be outdoors so we were. I also camped for weeks at a time, six to eight weeks straight, where the sounds of modern life were non-existent. We had no televisions, no cars, visited no stores. The camps had shelters and we did have electricity for lights and the occasional radio but at night I would drag my sleeping blanket outside to sleep soundly surrounded by the nocturnal sounds of a natural environment. Returning home from these camping experiences took me weeks to adjust whereas arriving at camp I transitioned immediately into the natural state of life and felt at home.
Each autumn I make a list of all the things I can do during the winter months to keep me distracted from the confinement I will soon feel. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before I start putting those things off. There is an underlying feeling of being confined that expresses itself as a form of depression that I battle as the winter months progress.
As spring gets closer I feel my energy increase and those little jobs I’d planned to accomplish slowly through winter are now pressing me to finish them. I don’t want them nagging me when I can be outside so I rush to finish them now.
I have long joked I could easily live like a bear who goes into hibernation during the long winter. I wouldn’t mind falling asleep on the first day of winter and waking the next to find spring had arrived although at this point in life I don’t want to miss nearly half of each year as time is speeding up too much as it is.
It’s no wonder we have a society of people who find themselves depressed, addicted to substances and activities such as mindlessly sitting in front of a television screen or children glued to their video games. Many have never had the extended camping experiences I did to feel the difference between living in nature versus our modern environments. There is even a name for this Nature Deficit Disorder coined by Richard Louv. This paper on Nature Deficit Disorder covers the effects on the development of children who grow up absent immersion in nature and well worth a read.
In Life Under the Plum Tree, Ryan is experimenting with living closer to nature by living in a tent on a friend’s property. While this is in an urban setting, Ryan, is learning much of the same things I learned camping. It’s an experiment that while I am drawn to it’s not one I can adopt at this point in my life. It reminds me though of those backyard sleep overs we used to have, I wonder if there are any children who still experience a back yard sleep over with friends.
How do you spend your winters? Do you ever feel disconnected as you wait for spring?