Tag Archives: Winter

Mindfulness During a Snowstorm

black and white photo of person walking alone on a city sidewalk during a snowstormJanuary is the quietest time of year in Ontario.

Life slows down here quickly once this month begins.Not only have the majority of the big winter holidays have passed by, the weather itself isn’t terribly conducive to driving anywhere even before this pandemic began.

The overnight temperature can dip to -25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit) or colder, and we often have sleet and snowstorms taking turns making slippery messes of our roads and sidewalks.

There is nothing like sitting next to the windows in my home and watching the snow blanket everything on those days.

Sometimes it falls so quickly that buildings on the other side of the street have been transformed into dark blurs of colour behind a shimmery white veil of snow. Anything past that point is so smudged beyond recognition that I wouldn’t know what it was at all if I weren’t already familiar with it.

My mindful approach to these days is something that started early in life. Let’s meander for a while.

Quiet Snow Days

These storms remind me of the years I spent growing up in a small town in Wyoming. Sometimes it snowed so heavily that all of the highways and other roads going into and out of town were closed. Residents were asked to only use local roads for emergencies, so almost everyone stayed home and waited out the weather.

two wooden cottages almost totally covered in snow
The snow was this deep in the nearby mountains, but not quite so heavy where I lived.

I was a slim, petite kid. For a while I remained just barely light enough to walk on top of snowbanks that had partially melted and then frozen again.

Those moments were pure magic and required no thoughts flitting through my mind at all while I carefully walked without leaving a trace in the snow.

These snowy days of the present also remind me of a massive blizzard many of us on the eastern half of North America experienced in the late 1990s.

It happened as my family was moving across town, so I had many opportunities to see the snow as my parents were driving and in the yards of both our old and new homes.

My siblings and I had our typical two weeks off from school for the Christmas holidays that year. It began snowing heavily right before we were scheduled to return to school. For the next two weeks, school was cancelled one day after the next.

Sometimes it would be delayed by an hour or two before being cancelled. Other days were so stormy that everything was cancelled immediately. I remember waiting quietly for the news each morning with no expectations since our superintendent was normally so reticent to cancel school despite how much time it took the county to salt and plow all of the rural roads that would bring students back to class eventually.

Once the announcement was made, there was often a moment of silence as I wondered how I should fill my time on yet another unexpected day since we were between semesters and I’d finished the homework we’d been given before Christmas break began.

Then a few of the members of my household would either drive across town to our old house to take another van full of stuff to the new one (if the town roads were cleared and salted recently enough for this to be safe), go shovel off the roof,* or put a previous load of stuff away.

*It was an old, flat roof in some places. That snowstorm was so heavy and never-ending my parents were afraid the roof would be damaged if they didn’t clear it off.

Snow Encourages Mindfulness

Even beyond these personal experiences, snow itself encourages silence. It dampens sound as explained in this post.

close-up photo of a snowflake Have you ever taken an outdoor walk during or after a big snowstorm? Whether you live in a big city, a small town, or miles away from the nearest neighbour, the world becomes a much quieter place after a storm like that.

All of that snow acts like insulation. Everything from bird chirps to the roar of a river (if it hasn’t already frozen over) to the rumble of a truck driving down the road is quieter than it normally would be.

Even the soft crunch of boots walking on fresh snow is quieter than normal.

If you’ve never experienced this sort of moment in time, I hope you’ll have a chance to try it someday.

The world is such a quiet, solemn place then that I find it easy to walk without thinking. Nearly all of the familiar landmarks in my area will still be recognizable during or after a big storm, but their edges are softened and muted.

I live in an urban area where it is pretty safe to walk outside even during the heaviest snowstorms, so sometimes I’ll go stand on the sidewalk (far away from the road) and watch the snow cling to everything from skyscrapers to my glasses.

In those moments, there is no need for words or thoughts. The snow will end when it ends. Until then, I sit indoors or stand outdoors and marvel at the feeling of snowflakes coating my hair, coat, boots, and every other surface they can possible reach in this corner of the world.

If you have snow where you live, how do you react to it?

A Photo Essay of Toronto in December

A bare tree branch with a nest in it. Each month I share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. This is the eleventh instalment of this series.

Click on February, MarchAprilMayJune, July, August, September, October, and November to read the earlier posts.

Other than the amount of snow on the ground, the scenery in December remains almost exactly the same from the beginning to the end of the month. You will probably notice a few differences between the photos in this post and the ones to come in January, but it won’t be as dramatic as it is in the autumn and spring.

It was a balmy 8 Celsius (46 Fahrenheit) and somewhat cloudy when I visited. Typical days during this month generally don’t rise above 2 Celsius (35 Fahrenheit). Snow is common now, but most of it generally melts before the next batch arrives.  This is not the case in January, so my final instalment of this series might need to get a little creative depending on how slippery the sidewalks are then!

Let’s begin our virtual visit.

Landscape portrait of a World War II monument at a park in December. All of the trees are bare.

The first thing I noticed was how washed out everything looked there. It was the sort of day that was dark and cloudy one moment and weakly sunny at the next. I thought this photo captured that in an interesting manner.

A closeup of a World War I monument in a park. It's surrounded by scraggly evergreen bushes.

A closer and clearer look at this entrance to the park. The evergreen bushes in front of the monument have gone dormant now.

A muddy running trail at a park in December.

Mud has returned to the running trail.  I did see two brave souls continuing to jog there and sometimes running onto the sidewalk or to dryer bits of grass when they encountered the biggest puddles. (There would generally be dozens of joggers and walkers politely using the same space in the autumn and spring. I expect to see none at all next month).

Salt scattered on a sidewalk.

The sidewalks are now covered in salt alongside all of the leaves that have decorated them these past few months. They are almost always wet now, so the salt helps to keep them walkable for most pedestrians before the big storms of January make this a much slipperier place for a stroll.

A patch of dirty snow on a sidewalk.

However, anyone who has mobility issues should be cautious here in real life. Even relatively warm and dry days now include patches of snow and half-melted ice scattered here and there. The salt can only do so much, and it will only grow slicker over the next couple of months.

Skyward shot of tree branches against a cloudy sky

The canopy of rustling leaves is 90% gone now and the park is quiet. Last summer we couldn’t see the sky from this perspective. The clouds moved so fast that these photos also might look like they were taken on separate days instead of only a few moments apart.

A tree filled with dead autumn leaves

This sapling was one of a handful of trees that still held onto most of its leaves. A few of them generally retain at least some of their leaves until the end of winter.

A bird's nest in bare tree branches.

With that being said, this is what the majority of trees look like now. Yes, that includes the bird’s nest. Not all of them have old nests, but many of them do.

Two bird nests in the bare branches of a dormant tree.

Some of the largest ones even have two or more nests visible now. No wonder I heard birds chirping everywhere last spring and summer! I think it’s marvellous to see where the birds decided to make their homes eight or nine months ago.

Earlier this year I talked about how wet, spongy, and muddy the ground was as it thawed. You saw a photo of this on the running trail, but it’s something found throughout the park. I couldn’t walk on most of it without caking my shoes in mud.

 

A tree that lost half of its branches and a big chunk of its trunk in an early 2020 winter storm. It's dormant now.

Luckily, our tree friend that lost half of its branches was in a drier section of the park. It seems to have survived our first few snowstorms just fine.

 

A landscape photo of a tree that lost a third of its branches in an early 2020 winter storm.

The zoom lens on my camera helped me get this shot of our tree friend that lost a third of its branches. It still has a wet trunk and drooping branches. I’ve avoided walking underneath them for months now for safety reasons. Soon we will see how they will fare under the heavy ice and snow that coats everything in January.

Do you want to know two of the best things about visiting the park in December? I’ll give you a few hints.

A squirrel climbing up a sapling that has gone dormant for the winter.

This one might be a little tricky to see. Look at the sapling in the centre of the photo if you need help. Yes, that’s a squirrel! It was climbing so vigorously the whole tree was shaking a bit.

A black squirrel sitting on top of a knot of a tree.

There’s something about this time of year that makes squirrels slightly easier to photograph. This little black squirrel is sitting on top of a knot on the right hand side of this tree. I’d just seen it climb out of a hole in the knot. That must be where he or she lives.

My other favourite part of visiting the park now is something I tend to overlook the rest of the year.

A small patch of evergreen trees in a park.

Evergreen trees are one of the few splashes of colour between now and April. I sure appreciate their green addition to the landscape when everything else is drab and various shades of brown, black, and grey for months on end.

A landscape shot of trees in a park who have all lost their leaves and gone dormant.

Here’s another shot of the more typical deciduous areas of the park for reference.

A sidewalk in a park flanked by dormant, bare trees. The grass next to the sidewalk is covered in a thick layer of brown leaves.

Finally, this is what the famous walkway looks like after nearly all of the leaves have fallen.

The plan is to blog about this park again in the icy, snowy depths of January so that every month will have been accounted for. Then I hope to do one final post in the spring to see how our two damaged tree friends fared over the winter.

Take care until next month, readers!

Why You Should Commit to Your New Year’s Fitness Resolution Today

top view of person holding a red and white striped umbrella and walking on a thick layer of snow. Only their footprints and shadow are visible, not the person themselves.I find it interesting how we are all encouraged to over-indulge during multiple holidays from October to December only to be bombarded with weight loss and fitness ads come January 1.

To me, it makes so much more sense to continue on with the same healthy habits I follow the other nine months of the year and to build new ones than to throw everything out of the window between Canadian Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

I still have treats, and there are days when all of my exercise comes in the form of long – or even not so long – walks. With that being said, I do my best to stick to my regular habits as much as possible no matter what the date on the calendar says and to start my New Year’s Resolution a few weeks ahead of time for the following reasons.

Building Habits Takes Time

scrabble bricks that spell out the word "resolutions." Any lifestyle change takes time not only to turn into a habit but to preserve as a normal part of one’s routines.

Starting (or continuing) now will give you a head start on everyone making similar resolutions in a few weeks.

I don’t know about all of you, but I find it easier to stick to small changes in my daily habits if I begin them a few weeks before everyone starts talking about what they want to change about themselves or their lives in the new year.

Fitness isn’t a competition, but there’s something motivating about starting early to me. I like the feeling of already settling into the rhythm of a new habit before it becomes a common topic of conversation in my social circles. It’s not about winning. It’s about having the self-discipline to think about these things in advance and seeing what I can accomplish early on.

Many Different Types of Exercise to Try

black and white photo of woman dancingWill you be dancing? Lifting weights? Walking in a winter wonderland? Riding a stationary bike? Jogging? Playing sports? Something else?

What equipment will you need to purchase or borrow, if any?

What special workout clothing will you need to purchase or borrow, if any?

Which part of your home, yard, or neighbourhood will you be exercising in? If it’s property you own, does anything need to be spruced up or organized beforehand?

I prefer to keep things as simple as possible, especially when I’m trying something new out and have no idea if I’ll stick with that form of exercise in the longterm.

Whether you have a long list of things to accomplish before your first workout or you’re like me and prefer to wing it, these are considerations to start thinking about now.

It’s Great Stress Relief

woman sitting in lotus pose on a yoga mat at home

The holiday season can be a stressful time of year for many of us no matter what we’re celebrating.

One of the things I enjoy the most about sticking to a workout plan as much as possible and trying new forms of exercise when I can is the sense of relief I feel from these activities.

Working out is a chance to turn my brain off and live in the moment. Nothing else matter except that next dance move, yoga pose, kilometre walked, or set completed.

My goal is to get at least thirty minutes of exercise a day, but sometimes I extend a session or go out for another walk simply for the chance to focus on the way my body feels in those moments.

It’s often exhilarating.

If you make fitness-based New Year’s Resolutions, what goals will you be setting for this winter?

Why I’m Starting My Light Therapy Sessions Earlier This Year

A hand reaching up to touch a bright lightbulbI am not a doctor, and this post is not intended to be taken as medical advice. Please talk to your healthcare provider to see if light therapy lamps are right for you.

Last winter I talked about how much light therapy helps me with my winter blues.

When I stopped using it during our sunniest months here in Ontario, I wondered when I should start up again but decided to defer that decision until autumn.

This spring and summer were filled with the glorious light that lifts my mood every year. Like life for almost everyone else on Earth, they were also filled with the cancellation of many long-anticipated events thanks to Covid-19.

I smiled and made the best of the outdoor, physically-distanced activities that were still safe to do, but with autumn coming up I wondered how my mental health would fare once it was cold and dark here once again.

This isn’t meant to sound like a complaint, by the way. Cancelling all of those festivals, parades, and events was absolutely the right thing to do from a public health perspective. I’m also grateful for my good physical health, safe home, and all of the other advantages I have that so many others do not.

And yet there is also something sad about missing out on almost everything you love about spring and summer only to begin the plunge into another long, dark cold season. This became even more true as I read about the cancellation of Halloween on Church and our mayor discussing the possibility of cancelling trick-or-treating as well. My favourite holiday will either be cancelled altogether or is going to be nothing at all like it was in the past.

At this point, I suspect every upcoming holiday will be celebrated virtually, within the same household (or small social bubble), or not at all until enough people have been vaccinated against this disease to stop it in its tracks.

There’s nothing I can do to change things like these. What I could do was start using my light therapy lamp earlier this month as soon as the first faint whispers of autumn appeared in the form of dark, cloudy days.

A blue lamp that is turned on and releasing light against a plain white wall. I’d forgotten how bright it was. That one little lamp fills the whole room with light and still has some left over to spare.It doesn’t emit heat the way the sun does when you’re outside on a bright summer day, but it otherwise feels something similar to that experience.

(Yes, I purposefully picked photos of dimmer lights for this post. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s eyes).

It’s still a little too early for me to feel the effects of it, but that also means it should start working long before November arrives and we start seeing sunsets before 5 pm.

What creative ways are you planning to celebrate upcoming holidays?  If you also have a light therapy lamp, when did or will you begin using it this year?

A Photo Essay of Toronto in March

Note: I wrote this post in early March before Toronto began shutting down businesses and public places in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. There were no restrictions on travel, spending time near other people, or park usage at the time of my visit. What April’s post in this series will be like still remains to be seen. I will do my best to visit it again if I’m still healthy and we’re allowed to walk through the park at that point. 

This is the second instalment of a monthly photography series I started back in February. Each month I will share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year.

As I mentioned last month, this is a slushy, muddy, and unpredictable season that has only grown sloppier and more unpredictable as climate change has disrupted our traditional weather patterns.

The  interesting thing about this part of the year is that we never know in advance what to expect. Will there be a blizzard? Will we have sunny, spring-like weather? Everything can change in a day or even over the course of a few hours while winter is slowly giving way to proper spring weather.

It turns out that the temperature on March’s visit was 10 C, exactly the same as it was on the day I visited in February. That wasn’t so much as coincidence as me not wanting to do this photoshoot when it was 0 C and raining outside. Ha!

Photo of a World War I monument at a Toronto park. There are bare tree branches in the background and dry steps leading up to the monument in the foreground.

The monument I blogged about last month had a reprieve from the snow and ice of February.

A dirt running trail at a park. Part of the trail is filled with mud and a little water.

The running trail I shared earlier has changed as well. It was less muddy when I visited it this time, although this is something that will continue to fluctuate quite a bit for at least the next month.

If you look at the background, you’ll see two people using that trail! Other than the reduction of snow piles, the biggest difference between last month and this one is that there were about a dozen other people and a few friendly dogs using this park during my visit.

Bare tree branches against a blue sky.

You’ll notice no changes in the foliage this time. Everything is brown and dead or dormant now. April is the absolute soonest I’d expect to see any greenery in Toronto, and it generally remains somewhat rare for most species until closer to the end of that month. Dead leaves on the ground.

You can still see leaves on the ground from last autumn.

A tree that is still covered in brown, dead leaves.

And some trees still haven’t released their leaves from last autumn. I hope this little one survived the winter.

A bird's nest in a dormant, leafless, tree.

One of the really cool things about March is that you can see last year’s bird nests in the trees. I’ve read that some species here return to the same nest every spring to raise another brood of chicks.

Sights like this aren’t possible once the trees have leaves again. You can hear the chicks peeping sometimes if you walk right underneath their home tree, but it’s hard to spot their nests in May or June. A dirty patch of snow on a sidewalk. There is a blue glove and many leaves stuck in the snow.

Yes, we still have snow here and there. If anyone is missing a blue glove, I know where you lost it!

Toronto can get snow in April, too, although it generally melts fairly quickly.

A photo of a park in March. The trees are bare and the ground is brown. But there is no snow on it.

We definitely have less snow than my previous visit, though. Look how clear the ground is. In month or two, I’ll be able to walk on it without getting mud all over my shoes. For now, I’m sticking to the mostly-dry sidewalk.

A dead tree. The top half has been shorn off and is lying on the ground. Was it damaged in a storm?

My final photo is a sad one.

One of the trees in this park didn’t survive our winter storms. I saw a couple of other trees that had sustained minor damage, but this one is unfortunately gone for good. The last time this happened, the city cleared away the stump and debris before planting a new sapling in its place several months later.

I hope to share photos of that new sapling whenever it arrives. If this happens after the conclusion of this series, I’ll write an addendum to it.

Stay Home and Read

A few days ago, Toronto learned that someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 had taken several trips on the TTC, our  public transportation system, after they began coughing and showing other symptoms of that disease. Our local media has been publishing many stories on the Coronavirus outbreak these winter alongside their regular winter features on… Read More

On Mindfulness, Light Therapy Lamps, and Being a Human Houseplant

My name is Lydia, and I’m a human houseplant. Or at least that’s what it feels like at this time of the year. You see, I get the winter blues. While other people are outside revelling in the snow, ice, and cold weather, I’m inside quietly counting down the days until spring. If winter in… Read More

An Exclusive Interview with Winter

Last year I interviewed spring and autumn. Today I’m back with an exclusive interview with winter! I’ll conclude this series with an interview with summer later on this year…that is, assuming winter eventually decides to concede their post. Winter: Hey, I heard that! Lydia: My apologies. I didn’t think you’d join us quite so soon. Winter:  Well,… Read More

3 Reasons Why You Should Try Mall Walking

Mall walking is a form of exercise involving people walking briskly through the long corridors of shopping malls before the stores open for the day when there are very few other folks about. This is the time of year when I begin to yearn for spring. It’s one thing to experience snowstorms in November and… Read More