Weathering the Dark Days

Surviving winter for solar powered people takes some creativity

As a solar-powered being, it’s no surprise these short, dark days wear on my psyche. The cold is manageable. I’ve spent decades gathering gear and understanding how to stay warm. The snow is bearable to some degree; as long as travel isn’t required. There’s nothing to do about the dark, but to make the best of it.

Step into hygge-hood?

For the past several years, as winter approaches posts about the Danish tradition – actually lifestyle – of hygge litter social media. While this concept, which the closest explanation is the art of coziness, relaxation, and enjoying life, is appealing to many, it makes me twitch. I’m not a bundle up in a blanket, sip cocoa, and watch Netflix type of person. That sounds like a sick day.

What I do take advantage of during these long nights and short days are activities I should do, but often don’t when I’m up and running from dawn to the late dusk of the summer. When I pop out of bed between 4-5 a.m. (because I cannot stand just lying there ), I immediately turn on YouTube to watch Yoga with Adriene while I drink my powdered beet drink, or what I like to call, the blood of my enemies. After yoga it’s time for coffee.

Winter is tea time

Since being indoors more is inevitable at this time of the year when it’s well below zero and blowing 30 mph. And one of the best parts of winter is there is usually something brewing on the stove because I’m far less likely to walk out of the house allowing it to boil down to twiggy bits.

My chai tea addiction

The more aromatic option is a homemade chai tea that is stand-by throughout the season. This is a recipe I learned from Yoga with Adriene. It’s simple, warming, and uplifting even in the dark days. To 2 quarts of water, I add:

20 black pepper corns

16 cloves

4-5 cinnamon sticks

2 inch piece of ginger, washed and sliced into pieces

16 cardamom pods, slightly crushed

Typically, chai tea is flavored with honey and cream (or half and half), but it doesn’t have to be. The tea is delicious on its own, so I only occasionally dress it up with honey and sometimes both, if I’m feeling particularly indulgent. Truthfully, if I added honey and half and half to the amount I typically drink, there is no way to ski enough to burn off those calories!

Looking for cold-weather workouts

Enjoying cocoa at a snowshoe hike to Memorial Falls

But it’s not all sipping tea during the long, cold months. We have snowshoes, and I’m making a list of places to take the kids in our Nature Club, as well as working on some more challenging outings with the grown up girls. The first trek on my list is Porphyry Peak in the Little Belt Mountains. This lookout at the top of Showdown Ski Area is a beautiful place to visit during the summer, so I’m looking forward to seeing it blanketed with snow.

Exploring Lake McDonald

We also like to make at least one trip to the west side to Essex and West Glacier during the winter to take advantage of the remarkable skiing opportunities on Forest Service land, as well as in Glacier National Park. Depending on the snow conditions, it’s a toss up between snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, but it’s always a beautiful and quiet time to enjoy the area.

Soaking in the winter vibe

While we’re in the area, it would be ideal to pop down to White Sulphur Springs to soak in the world-class hot springs. One of my goals is to experience all of the hot springs in Montana, but at the moment White Sulphur is my favorite. They are clean, but with that wonderful sulphur smell (I actually like it), and have 3 pools of varying temperatures. Whether it’s a day trip for a couple of hours in the pools, or an overnight stay at the hotel, soaking is one of our all-time favorite wintertime activities.

New bindings for the cross-country skis

While snowshoeing can take you just about anywhere, I really enjoy cross-country skiing. Roughly 25 years ago, National Geographic Television bought me Bushwacker XT Trak cross-country skis geared to haul gear off-trail looking for mountain lions. They’re wider than traditional cross-country skis with a metal edge, making them handy for either breaking trail in deeper snow or cruising on a groomed course. When I had issues with the boot staying clipped into the binding during one of our first snowfalls this year (since it started at the end of September), I considered buying a new pair. Then I noticed the prices. Ouch. Plus, I really like these skis.

Thankfully, a friend recommended that I take them to Bighorn Outdoor Specialists where they could put on new bindings. By the end of the day, Chris had the skis ready to go. At the moment, I’m using my old boots, which I don’t love because my feet get cold regardless of how hard I’m working, so I am saving for a new pair. Now all we need is snow! (I can’t believe I’m saying about that.)

Taking winter a day at a time

The New Year’s first hike

I don’t hide that winter is my least favorite part of the year, and I fully admit that I regularly check prices to Phoenix. Even a long weekend in Arizona would help diminish the dark season blues. But I’m also determined to make the most of every day by focusing on the best of the indoor activities, along with kicking butt outdoors at every opportunity.

And so it begins

Friends endlessly tease me because they know I don’t like winter for a multitude of reasons. The first is it prevents me from hiking. I spend all winter making plans, but become frustrated when the reality is months away. Gardening is also fairly limited, as well as being able to feel my hands or feet.   To round it out, the roads are often terrible, which wouldn’t be so bad except that I see a whole lot of people out there who obviously failed physics. And – here is a little piece of advice –  just because you have a big 4WD truck doesn’t preclude you from the physical laws of nature.  But since winter is seemingly unending (another reason I grouse so much), I do try to make the best of it.

Winter Solstice

We kicked off the season by celebrating the Winter Solstice with lights around the patio and a fire in our little portable fire pit. Knowing the days will soon grow longer gives me hope. 

Serious winter weather tagged along with the official start of the season, so we’re doing our best to enjoy it. The boys are making snow forts using one of the tree containers as a mold. If this weather holds, it will be impressive because they are far from finished.

This morning was particularly frosty and beautiful. Even Kelo was tinged in frost, yet was toasty beneath his blanket. He was standing in the sun when I sledded the bucket out to feed, and I’m sure his warmed, soaked feed makes him feel good even when it’s so cold.

Frosty boy

In the afternoon, Sam joined me for about an half an hour on his new skis. The blue sky is stunning and, although we had a slight breeze and only 9 degrees, we were still plenty warm. After dropping him off back at home, I continued for another 40 minutes using it as an exercise time as much as just being outside. With so many big hikes planned for 2018, I need to grab every moment of training, even when I’m too big of a chicken to brave the whackadoodles on the road. 

So far I’m keeping my spirits up despite the short days and cold. As long as I can get outside to enjoy our beautiful area, ticking down the days until the sun – and hiking season – returns will be bearable.

The sun will gradually stay with us longer now!

Early morning glide

Winter is here. With over 18 inches of snow on the picnic table and a forecast of more on the way, there’s no denying that this is the new normal for the at least the next 6 months. This morning was a clear -4 F with new snow, a full moon, and no wind. Time to bring out the skis. 

After donning the layers of cold weather gear, and sledding Kelo’s warm food down to our neighbor’s, where he now stays, I clicked on the skis and headed out while it was still quiet.

Deer tracks told the story of their evening travels, skirting along homes and down the road as if they own the place. The moon was full and bright, although I can never snap a satisfactory picture of it, and I’m amazed how the snow sat in the trees. In a land where most of the snow we see blows sideways, it’s a beautiful sight. 

The sun gradually illuminated the horizon with the Highwoods to the east of us, and by the time I returned home it was fully light. Breaking a sweat, enjoying a quiet morning, and being outside is on the top of my list of a good way to start the day.