Frozen Falls, Bogs, and Beards

I know that January and February are the hardest months for a lot of people around here. They don’t like the darkness, the deep freeze, the boredom… And I get it. I also find myself longing for Spring. But I start to feel more hopeful almost as soon as the Winter Solstice hits. By the time Christmas and New Years’ celebrations have passed, my body already feels the effects of the lengthening days. I know it’s only two or three minutes a day, but still. It helps. My soul stretches out to fill the space created by the additional daylight. By this time of the year, I’m sincerely feeling happy and hopeful.

I also think that staying active through the deepest, truest part of Winter is the best way to experience the season. Winter hiking might actually be my favorite sort of hiking. I spent over two hours at the Nelson Kennedy Ledges State Park yesterday, with temperatures well below freezing and snow falling from the sky — but I hardly even noticed the cold. Because (1) I was dressed for it; (2) I kept moving, with my heart rate elevated; and (3) The woods and rock formations were just so, so beautiful! Even more spectacular than usual because of the snow and ice.

Hiking works in almost every season, however. Sledding, on the other hand, is more limited. I suppose sledding can happen any time from November through March (whenever there’s a few inches of snowfall). Still, that’s a limited window. So when we got a few inches of snow on Thursday, several Life Groups from our church bundled up, pulled together a few sleds, and spent a couple hours sledding down the hills on the front part of Kent State University’s campus. We had so much fun — especially with a “large crowd” of 20 or 30 students together in the time of COVID-19. An outdoor activity… where people naturally stay six feet apart from each other… and where mask usage increases comfort (instead of decreasing comfort)… It’s perfect for our current situation!

Ice-skating is an even more unique experience which requires a more narrow range of conditions. A nature preserve near our house has a shallow bog that can serve as a lovely little ice rink — but we don’t often get the sustained freeze to develop thick ice, nor does the snow typically stay away long enough to let the surface of the ice really harden. Whenever we can, however, my kids and I like to sweep aside the snow and make use of what feels like our own private ice rink in the woods.

The conditions finally coalesced this week. So we’re trying to make use of the frozen bog as much as possible before the next snowstorm and/or thaw.

Last but not least, this is the time of year when the magic of ice-beards happen. Part of the reason for that, of course, is that I only grow out a beard for two months of the year. But I’ve noticed that it also needs to be colder than 20 degrees Fahrenheit for a good condensation crust to form. But this morning, on a ten-mile run with friends, that’s exactly what happened.

I’m not saying that all of life is fun and fancy-free in the deep of winter. There are definitely headaches, like the one I got after sledding on Thursday, or the one that happened when I was stressed about getting to a meeting on-time while the driveway needed to be cleared. But I think there is a benefit to finding the bright side at this time of year.

With all that snow and ice on the frozen falls, beards, and bogs reflecting the sunlight and moonlight, it’s not that hard.

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