20 degrees in Oklahoma and several inches of snow. This is unheard of for us. We’re not quite sure how to handle this! High winter drama for an Oklahoman.
None of us here in the Southern states are really ever ready for the genuinely cold weather. We don’t have the right clothes. In fact, quite a few Oklahomans don’t actually own a heavy winter coat and wouldn’t be caught dead in a hat. The pipes in our homes freeze at just a whisper of cold. And, even though we all claim we do, none of us really knows how to drive when there’s snow on the ground. Even those, like myself, who grew up in the North and learned to drive in all types of conditions have forgotten everything we ever knew. The first time I ever drove on Oklahoma’s “black ice”, I put the car in a ditch.
No, we in Oklahoma suffer when it’s cold. We tense up permanently. Run in our skimpy jackets from the car to the buildings. Can’t quite get over how uncomfortable we are. And definitely can’t stop talking about it.
For the life of me now, I can’t remember how I managed the first 30 some years of my life living in the Great Lakes states. So cold. The winters so long. So much snow. Just thinking back now about walking on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I can feel that strange sensation of frozen hairs in my nose. I can smell warm damp wool clamped up to my face as I breathe through a scarf, my mouth wide open. I can remember all too well the constant on and off of layers, from long underwear to stocking cap.
It Used to be Different
My recollection of those first 30 years is peppered with memories and images of snow.
Standing on tip toes at the kitchen sink as a Cleveland school kid, watching the snow come down and praying with a child’s fervor, “Dear God, make it keep coming so much there’s no school tomorrow!” Praying for more and more and more and more.
Walking to school as a teenager in the cold early morning before the sun came up. This was my own secret time, when a sensitive adolescent could be alone and a part of the incredible beauty and quiet that envelope everything on a snowy early morning. I would tell myself I should hurry to get there in time for some pre-class activity like a piano lesson or a club meeting. But the neighborhood streets were empty at that hour. I could meander down the middle of the road under a high canopy of trees, their branches heavy with snow. Gazing through those branches, I glimpsed the stars in the cold sky, in my own world, as if I, and only I, got to do this.
How easy it is to summon up happy college memories of skating outside on Wisconsin’s frozen lakes under bright moonlight, the air so cold we could hardly breathe. There was a certain thrill to venturing out at midnight in such conditions with skates and layer upon layer of wool. Just the right amount of danger.
I remember one spectacular snow storm during my very first winter as a young teacher in Holland Michigan, a town that seemed to get a healthy dose of snow nearly every day. The town braced that night for a bigger than usual storm that started in the afternoon. Inch piled upon inch as we all retreated to our homes. It was clear we would be snowed in tight by morning. But for me, the night was too beautiful to resist with snow falling so heavily and so fast. Just as I had done as a kid in the early morning hours, I donned my long wool coat with its giant hood and snuck out to walk again under the trees and a heavy sky. I trekked down an abandoned street feeling the cold and listening to that special sound that falling snow can make. A swish in the air all around you. Damp and cold and soft. The air becomes so still, it’s almost as if you can hear each flake. Snow holds such a presence when it falls this way, I somehow expect it to provide warmth. On that night, it enveloped and comforted me.
I loved the snow. Loved the quiet and personal drama of it. But that was then.
Now I live in the South where snow is not as welcome. Kids still love it of course and pray for it as much as we did I’m sure. And there’s still nothing like a good hill covered with snow to bring folks out with all sorts of makeshift sleds.
But now that I’m older and live in a place less prepared for snow, it can feel genuinely more dangerous. Be careful not to fall. Will the pipes freeze? Can I find those old boots I used to wear? Do I even still own a heavy wool sweater? We brace ourselves for snow here in a way that’s different from what I used to know. We’re a little afraid of it. And as dramatic and beautiful as it can seem, truthfully, we dread going out in it. Gone the adventuresome spirit of my youth it appears.
Yoga to the Rescue
But here’s the thing. Despite the snow, my favorite yoga class is on for today!
Yoga has become such an integral part of my life that my desire to practice overrides my reservations. Yes, for yoga, I will venture out once again in the snow. Besides, yoga has a way of cutting through our concerns. Might yoga melt away this cold as it melts away so many other things? I head out into the snow.
It comes as no surprise that there are only three of us there. And we’re certainly proud of ourselves! The room is freezing of course. It’s a large open space with a wooden floor in a small strip mall that undoubtedly has very little by way of insulation. There’s heat but it doesn’t offer too much protection against the powerful draft coming from under the door. It doesn’t help that my mat has been in the car. It’s ice cold too.
But bravely we start. Slowly – very slowly – we begin to warm up. Familiar poses take over, grab our attention away from this frost that has so preoccupied us. We move very gently and easily. Our moods lighten a bit. The room warms somewhat. Now we flow, stretching and bending and stilling ourselves for an hour or two.
And as so often happens in the magical practice that is yoga, when we finish we are whole again. Balanced, integrated, quiet. We laugh about how tight and constricted the “dangerous” snow had made us feel, how we were scrunched over trying to defend ourselves against – what? The unfamiliar cold for sure. The change of routine. The unexpected discomfort, drama or annoyance. How differently I used to look at it all!
But yoga has brought us back to the center, back to balance and back to joy.
Quietly, happily, we put away our props and bundle ourselves up. As I step outside into the cold, I look up to see the snow falling and I listen for a moment to that almost sound-less sound that the snow can make. I stick my tongue out to catch a few flakes just for old time’s sake. I welcome it just as I did so long ago and remember – thanks to yoga – the particular lightness and beauty of snow.