Changing the benchmark
Feb. 15, 2016
by Ivan Raconteur

Maybe we just need a new paradigm.

I reached that conclusion recently after talking to a colleague about mountain climbing and surviving in extreme conditions.

This has been an extremely mild winter in Minnesota, both by Minnesota standards and compared to what has been happening in other parts of the country. We didn’t experience any seriously cold weather until January, and the snow has been minimal.

That hasn’t stopped me from complaining, at least a little bit, about the weather.

With each passing year, the cold seems to seep into my bones more than it did the year before, and that sometimes makes me irritable.

On top of that, I am less active than I once was, which means I’m not engaged in as many seasonal activities such as cross country skiing or snowshoeing, which can make the season fun.

It bugs me that I can’t leave the house without a coat and gloves.

I’m tired of the cold wind blowing down my neck.

I’m sick of having to negotiate treacherous ice patches every time I walk outdoors.

But, after talking to my colleague, it occurs to me that I may have been using the wrong paradigm.

You see, I have been comparing the weather now to the glorious weather in the spring and fall, when it is warm, but not too hot, making it a joy to be outdoors.

I’ve been comparing it to the sun drenched days of summer, when I loafed by the lake just soaking up the rays.

To make matters worse, I have been taunted lately by the people behind the scenes at Facebook, who keep shoving photos in front of me to remind me what I was doing at this time last year (when I happened to be on a tropical cruise), and asking if I want to share those memories with my friends.

Naturally, even a mild winter suffers in comparison.

My colleague mentioned that he got through a couple of winters reading about an outdoor adventurer who spent his time climbing mountains and enduring extremely harsh conditions.

Compared to those hardships, a garden variety Minnesota winter doesn’t seem so bad.

I began to think that, instead of dreaming of paddling in a tropical lagoon, or lounging in a hammock between two palm trees sipping mango daiquiris, maybe I should be thinking of the other extreme.

Jack London springs to mind. Stories such as “To Build a Fire,” and other things London wrote about the Klondike region and the people who lived there, make activities like scraping a windshield or walking across an icy parking lot seem positively mundane.

So far, I have not been chased by hungry timberwolves across a parking lot, and I have never worried that I would actually die while I was scraping the frost off a windshield.

If I start reading about real winter hardships in other parts of the world, it’s possible I might be less irritable about conditions here.

Perhaps winter will even pass more quickly, and then we can get on with spring.

There is always someone who is worse off than we are, and if we remember this, things on the homefront may not seem so bad.

I may have to brew some hot chocolate first, though. London’s graphic descriptions of guys slowly freezing to death in some remote and lonely place are enough to give me a chill even on the hottest day in August.

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