Old Man Winter has been taking a bit of a respite this seasonthere have been none of his usual passionate tossings about of ice and snow and none of his usual winter spells wielded by thin white fingers of still air timelessly locking a single moment into frozen capture. I’m hearing the whispers of tulips and ‘daffies timidly poking their slender green caps up out of the earth. “Too soon,” I tell them. But they just giggle softly and continue their gentle upward motion. The squirrels are fat and unrushed, jolly almost, as they nose lazily about under the pines. “Do not become complacent,” I warn them. They scamper off flicking their fluffy tails at me. No sign of the ground hog at least who lives under the shedthe hallmark of warm nights and lush, wavy greennessbut he’s a shy fella’. I hope he stays asleep for now. I do not trust Old Man Winter…simply because Old Man Winter sometimes hides only to jump out when you least expect it.
Usually by this time in January, my winter running gear has seen its fair share of dark, cold landscape. In winters past, by this time in the season, I have learned to run through those spell-binding frozen moments of time when there is no sound but that of my feet hitting the gravel, and it feels like I am the only person living in an ice-locked world. Usually by now, I have mastered the subtle art of running over invisible ice, left mischievously for me by O.M. Winter himself. I have trudged through snowy trails and over snowy embankments, and I have slipped and sometimes fallen on the hidden, frozen puddles of water beneath. My hands have burned from cold and then turned numb by the sharp bite of negative-number wind chill. I have had my very breath vapor freeze my facemask into a hardened, salt-encrusted black shield, icicles forming on my eyelashes while tiny rivulets of sweat freeze and hang from my pig tails.
None of this has happened this winter’s running season…at least not yet. Last week, I wore shorts while running and my pale legs turned pink from the cool exposure. This week, I’ve worn nothing but Capri tights and long-sleeved shirts on my runs. Is Old Man Winter watching with distraction, perhaps disinterest? Maybe he is on sabbatical this year, taking a well-earned break from the last couple of years where he truly outdid himself. Or perhaps he watches with malicious intent. Will we pay in spades next month for daring to wear shorts in January? Will he strike when we least expect it?
Regardless of O.M. Winter’s inattention to us, the sun still makes her low quick arch across the sky, as if this part of the planet is but an afterthought to her. But, distant as she is, she still sets with a magnificence that is nothing short of a gift from God. “I am not able to shine on you as much, but I will give you these radiant colors each night as I set,” she says. I greedily accept these gifts of radiance on my evening winter runs…even if I am wearing shorts.
As much as I love the feel of the cool air on my skin in combination with the unencumbered feeling of running without all of winter’s running garb, I miss Old Man Winter this yearI miss his starknesshis contributions to the endless, rolling Pennsylvania woods, hills and fields of white, gray, brown, and black. The sky hangs so close that sometimes I feel I could swim right up, but without the wintry quiet stillness, the ice and the snow, the cold, sharp, intense feeling of airelements of a winter’s natureI feel like I am missing something nature longs to tell me.