Outdoor Diary: Welcoming Back the Light In the Midst of the Hard

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Humans Outside podcast Episode 78

Are you ready to welcome back the light in the season of hard and dark? This week Amy and the family visited another state park cabin as they celebrated Winter Solstice — the darkest and shortest day of the year — and contemplated the challenges and gifts that the darkness can bring.

Some of the good stuff:

[:30] The feelings of winter

[1:00] The test of winter in Alaska

[1:30] Another weekend at a cabin

[2:20] The lack of motivation and SAD

[3:17] The celebration of Winter Solstice

[4:00] This week’s outdoor hero: the Luci inflatable solar lantern

Connect with this episode:

Follow us on Instagram and share your outdoor life with the hashtag #humansoutside365.

Here’s an edited transcript of this installment of Amy’s Outdoor Diary. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Welcome to the season of trying.

That’s how winter feels to me — a season of extra effort where I have to remember why I want the things I want, why I have the goals I have and why spending what feels like a humongous effort to find and put on the layers and get outside in what I’m certain will be very unpleasant temperatures is actually worth it.

Because it’s winter. And the winter is a season of extra effort and trying.

Winter in Alaska really tests how much I mean the things I say. All outdoor things sound like a good idea when it’s sunny and 65 degrees. Even outdoor things in the cold sound like a good idea when there is no cold. But we come around the corner to windy at 5 degrees fahrenheit, that’s when we know if I really mean the things I say.

Those are the moments when extra outdoor time sounds OK — but extra pie inside sounds better.

It’s that extra effort that is top of mind for me right now after spending part of our weekend at another public use cabin here in Alaska, this time in Alaska’s Chugach State Park next to Eklutna Lake. You’ll remember this summer we spent an afternoon kayaking on the lake on a brilliant and warm afternoon, and then camped there with our church. Booking a cabin for the weekend before Christmas sounded brilliant at the time. What’s not love?

Well — it’s a whole different season now, clearly. And while there really is nothing to dislike about getting out to somewhere so truly beautiful in falling snow or in radiant sun, it’s hard now. There’s the half-mile from the car to the cabin that you must haul all of your gear. There’s the 15 degree cabin that has to be heated — and in the meantime the water in the dog bowl will freeze. There’s all the layers and gear that must be packed and unpacked for this adventure.

And — and this is what I really want to mentioned here — there’s the lack of motivation. Because while everything is harder in the winter due to just needing more and requiring more, we also have just under 5 hours and 15 minutes of daylight each day right now. And we know that when there’s a lot of darkness, everything is mentally harder, too.

No matter where you are in the U.S., the dead of winter brings less light — and it can be hard to deal with. If you’re really struggling with this, you might be dealing with something called SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depression that comes to many people with the darkness of winter. Feeling the weight of the darkness — really, an actual personal darkness — is not shameful. It’s actually pretty normal. And with all of the chaos in the world right now, things might be even harder.

If that’s you, please don’t think you’re alone – you’re not – and please don’t be afraid to reach out to a provider or medical professional for help.

Meanwhile, we’re also celebrating one of the best days of the year — no, not Christmas. When you hear this on or after Dec. 22, Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, will be just behind you. Winter Solstice is a day to celebrate the return of the light. High-fives, guys, we got through the shortest day of the year and we can now welcome back the light in the sky and feel it grow in us.

The hard will remain hard for a few months, but I can promise you two things: we can get through this, and doing the hard things anyway — sometimes not just in spite of them being hard but because they are hard — is worth it, just like getting outside itself is always worth it.

Speaking of light, while we were at the cabin over the weekend I was reminded how very much I love this inflatable solar lantern we have. I actually have no idea how we ended up with this in our gear box, and we’ve never tried to use the solar charging feature, since when there’s sun enough to charge it, we don’t actually need a light. It’s pretty lightweight, though, and you charge it with a USB. Then, in the cabin, you blow it up and it works as a pretty bright, long-lasting lantern. It’s been a staple of our cabin adventures this year. You can see a link to it in the show notes.

I hope you find the light this week in what I experience as a season of hope — Christmas, solstice and a time to welcome the light into our lives. You provide a light in mine. I’ll be sharing our outdoor time in photos on Facebook and Instagram just like always, and you can tag yours with #humansoutside365 so I can see them, too.

Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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