How learning to respect the seasons has made me healthier.
My father has always been tuned in to the weather. Every morning, he’d be one of the first ones up, checking the weather reports on the news and reading the paper. Now that he’s retired and an active Facebook user, all of his online friends can also benefit from his re-posts of weather updates.
The worst scenario, he aimed to teach us, was to be caught in the elements unprepared. Never too hot or too cold, and keep your hands, face, and feet protected. My mother, a nurse who spent many years in the burn unit and saw the unfortunate consequences of inadequate winter gear on the appendages, reinforced this sensibility.
Yet, up until 2009 or 2010, I’d say, I didn’t fully absorb this message. If it felt too cold outside, instead of purchasing the right gear, I’d just stay inside to read a magazine or watch TV. Too hot? I’d rather enjoy the air conditioning. I remember one sad summer when I was maybe 12 or 13, and my mother pleaded with me to go outside and help with her garden. Being a tween and it being too hot, I felt, it was best to stay inside, talk on the phone with my friends while watching our favorite shows, and eat Doritos.
No wonder it took me so long to truly enjoy the outdoors. Avoidance is one surefire way to create both fear and unnecessary anxiety.
Curiously, I also married a man who shares my father’s keenness for weather watching. Kyle’s morning report includes road conditions, impending snow, and a discussion on whether or not I should let my car “warm up” before getting on the road. He’ll also give me a rundown of the afternoon report, so I can plan for my commute.
I find it charming from both of these men in my life, but I also wonder why I seemed so indifferent to the weather all these years, especially when I live in a state that has all four seasons (sometimes three-and-a-half, depending on how long the winter lasts). Was nature really that uninteresting?
The more I’ve learned to understand my body, the more I care about my environment. These past few years of working on my weight loss, I’ve started enjoying sunny days — instead of dreading how much I’d sweat, which would surely be a lot (I still sweat, but much less since I dropped the extra weight). When the snow falls, I get excited to snowshoe. Even the rain, which suggests a nice break to read a book or nap, means greener grass and rosier flower petals.
Being more in tune with nature has showed me other perks:
- I sleep better. I wake up easier. Although I’m still working on my sleeping schedule (the conclusion of March ends Sleep Awareness Month, but my work continues!), I’ve noticed a shift in better-quality sleep when I spend more time outdoors and when I exercise. And try as I might to sleep in on the weekends, I can’t fight the morning sun shining in through my window. The sunrise wakes me up, and I’ve been spending my quiet mornings reading.
- I understand my own energy levels and needs better. When it’s really hot, I can feel my body move at a snail’s pace. The heat is draining, and I allow for more lounging. If my body needs rest, I respect that. Those images of neighbors on their front porch, drinking ice tea and fanning themselves on hot nights? Completely sensible and necessary.
- I have a greater appreciation for farmers and healthy food. Fresh, organic strawberries in the winter in Minnesota can run upwards of $8 (California friends, I know that’s pretty standard). In the summer, I can buy them for $3 or $4, or I can pick them fresh at a nearby orchard. Eating seasonally makes sense, to both my wallet and my taste buds. The St. Paul Farmers’ Market stays open year-round, but in the winter, the farmers are selling mostly meats, root vegetables, apples, and an assortment of wreaths and mini decorative pine trees. (Pictured at right: Me on our visit, January 2012.) few years back, I went with my friend and chatted with a farmer helper from Farm on Wheels. He had just turned 21, but I was shocked at how mature he seemed. He spoke eloquently about his products and their farm practices, and I couldn’t help but think how opposite my 21-year-old self would have been compared to him. He seemed to have an innate value for the importance of hard labor, and showed pride in the rewards his farm reaped. I really admired that trait, and grew a new reverence for farm life. (Read more from one of my favorite farmers here.)
Can a better me come from loving and respecting the environment surrounding me? Most definitely.