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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
As I’m recording this it’s the season where we hear the 12 Days of Christmas on repeat. If you’re not familiar with the song, bless you. On each of the traditional 12 days of Christmas, the song writer gets a gift in the number that corresponds with the song. Among them are five golden rings, seven lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing and a partridge in a pear tree. Lovely.
I often think about the gifts I’ve received through my outdoor time. There are definitely more than 12 of them. And they do not include a partridge in a pear tree, golden rings or lords-a-leaping. Now that I’m thinking about it, though, I’ve definitely seen and/or joined any number of ladies dancing. So I guess that’s a thing for me.
The gifts of my outdoor time are more intangible. Since three is a nice number, that’s how many of my favorites I’m going to share with you today. And I’m going to focus them on winter, since that’s the season I’m in as I’m recording this.
Winter, I should mention, is a very harsh and dramatic situation here in Alaska. The darkness is dramatic. The wind is dramatic. The swings in weather are dramatic. The way the sun when it does come up and sets shines with these glorious purples and pinks on my nearby mountains is dramatic. My attitude about all of it is dramatic.
The first gift is gratitude. Without the drama that I experience every time I step outside I would never really know the gratitude that comes for the things it has given me. I am grateful for the light when it shines. I am grateful for the stars I can see in the darkness of the sky above. I am grateful for friends and neighbors, most of whom I have met only because my outdoor exploits. My small town recently hosted it’s fantastic December holiday festival and while a sick kid kept us from really enjoying it the way we usually do, I did pop down for the parade.
There was something truly magical about seeing so many familiar faces milling around, wading through snow and braving a day that started at -10 to enjoy the light and warmth felt by simply being with people you love and celebrating the hope and peace of this season. It was like watching a hallmark movie set around you, but with way more jackets. I don’t if you’ve ever noticed this, but Hallmark movies rarely include people wearing seven layers so they don’t freeze to death. Lots of flannel and dogs, though.
You may have heard me say this before, but if I had never started looking for ways to get myself outside, I never would’ve become so involved in my little town. By involved I actually mean just showing up for stuff. When you show up you become a familiar face. One thing leads to another, and suddenly you are known. And being known is one of the best gifts in the world.
So that’s the second gift — the gift of being known. My known-ness is not exclusive to one type of community, either. I have my winter friends — the people I run into when I go skiing or stop at the local ski store to grab some new wax or get advice on the best way to keep my skis well-maintained. I have summer friends — the people I see on the trails when I go hiking or the campground hosts who year after year bring their little white dog and golf cart to the campground and keep the peace while selflessly cleaning the bathrooms. I have my running friends who materialize at races throughout the year and keep me company during our weekly running club workouts in the summer. We wave at each other from under layers in the winter and stand and chat when it’s warm enough. They ask my family and upcoming plans, I ask about theirs. We are known to each other. It is a human connection given by spending together in a place we all appreciate — the great outdoors.
My third gift is a little more personal. It is the gift of courage. Like the lion in the Wizard of Oz being handed his certificate, I just needed someone to tell me that I had it so that I could use it. When I go outside and try things that feel scary, I receive the gift of courage. It is the feeling that I absolutely CAN do the thing that’s uncomfortable or unpleasant. Sometimes that thing is stubbornly skiing in -6 degrees because it’s the first day the lift is open, and so help me we are using those season passes. Sometimes it is bravely remembering that even when there as aspects about any given task or job that I don’t love, this too is season that will pass just like the seasons of cold and darkness. It’s the courage that it takes to know that some seasons, like the deep cold dark of winter or even tough family situations, are for fighters and that I can be one. It’s the skill of believing that if I truly want something, I can pull myself out of the hole and do my best to achieve it, roadblocks notwithstanding.
I hope over this season of giving and gratitude you take some time to appreciate and lean into the winter gifts of spending time outside. Ill be out there braving the cold running, on skis or during a very snowy walk in the woods. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.