Walking in a winter wonderland is good for the soul

The heating guys have been here. They insist that our system is “balanced” — their word, not mine. They tell us that we’re wise and sensible people to have the whole system checked before the real bite of winter kicks in.

We beam. Like first-graders who’ve gotten stars on our spelling papers, we bask in our preparedness. Bring on winter. We don’t care when the “official” date on the calendar comes. For us, winter begins when we shiver on the way to get the morning paper and realize that our teeth are chattering … inside the house. So much for the balanced heating system.

And that’s when we hunker down to — ahem — “enjoy winter,” which may be the ultimate oxymoron.

Despite being a December baby myself, despite ancient images of snow dusting the world with beauty and stillness, despite efforts to stop my incessant whining about cold ears, cold hands and cold feet, I am most definitely a child of spring and summer. Winter makes me wince.

Still, my husband and I have zeroed in on one survival tactic that actually works for us. And it’s free. We walk.

Even on days when the weathercasters gleefully announce wind-chill factors that are downright frightening, we resolve to get out there and prove our mettle.

Unless ice makes walking sheer folly, we don our most hideous outdoor gear: his overstuffed navy down jacket, my matching faded gray one, layers of sweatpants, double-gloves and our most bizarre winter hats.

By now, we have assembled winter walking wardrobes that frighten small children and cause grown-ups to stare. His ski mask is downright ghoulish — but warm. My woolen headgear that crawls down over my eyebrows and encloses my neck may even be worse.

It takes a few minutes just to stuff ourselves into the number of layers that these winter wanderings require. And if a jacket zipper gets stuck in it all, we’re doomed. But generally, once we’ve attended to the “uniforms” of our rambles, off we go.

There’s something downright defiant about walking into the wind on days when cabin fever is suffocating us.

There’s something triumphant about putting one foot in front of the other as if to say, “Take that, winter!”

The fringe benefit of our walks? Our heads clear, the cobwebs lift and we see the neighborhood that has become just a blurry image from a car window.

Every now and then, we even run into an inhabitant of our little corner of the world who’s also willing to face the elements. We try greeting one another through mufflers and face masks and barely get out a grunt. But there’s a look in our eyes of triumph — it’s us against the elements.

My husband and I talk more on these rambles than we do inside. I can’t explain why. I also can’t explain how, but these winter walks do something wonderful for our souls. We step back inside feeling that we’ve been on a tiny vacation from the tyranny of stuffy indoor air.

Our post-walk treat?

Great gulps of cocoa and cookies. We’ve earned these indulgences, we convince ourselves, wondering later why our winter walks have not resulted in the loss of a single pound. Seems the calories burned/calories consumed ratio is somehow off. But on the first really frosty day, we were out there. Decked out in our crazy gear, we made it all the way to the main street of town and back again.

Back home, as we defrosted ourselves and dove into the cocoa and cookies, we realized that winter was barely upon us, and that a huge chunk of it is coming, like it or not.

Yes, it’s a long, long way to May, and the sight of buds pushing through the earth. It’s arctic air and biting winds before we revisit our shorts and bathing suits. So, we’re definitely stocking up on cocoa. And the richest cookies we can find. ••