Contrary to Reports, Cold Weather Is Awesome
Don’t buy into the cold-weather/warm-weather binary. There is only outside.
Winter is coming, and like seemingly every other aspect of life this year, the coronavirus is turning it upside-down. Normally, mid-November is when we start worrying about having to go outside. Now, we’re worried out about having to stay in. And with good reason: The prospect of being cooped up till spring is depressing, even frightening. My wife and I just panic-bought a rowing machine.
But here’s the truth: The colder months, the next few months especially, are when we need to go outside the most. (Let’s start with our Thanksgiving celebrations.) Not just because being outdoors has numerous health benefits — although it does, from reducing blood pressure to improving mood — and not just because it’s the safest way to spend time with friends during the pandemic, which is also vital for mental well-being.
But because it’s absolutely beautiful out there. It’s always been beautiful.
I live in New York, and we average more than 150 hours of sun in January, or about half of all daylight hours, and that number rises steadily through February and March. (June, for comparison, is sunny two-thirds of the time.)
Cities themselves never look better than in winter, when the low southern sun floods their mica-flecked sidewalks. Try traversing yours on foot one weekend morning, poking into neighborhoods you rarely visit otherwise. If you pass a cemetery, stop in. They’re peaceful and full of history, and because many were built on hills (flat land being more valuable for farming in early America), they often offer wide vistas. Churchyards, school campuses, and botanical gardens are other good places to find solitude.
A friend took me on a walk in Brooklyn the other day to show off a little retreat he’d built. We went down an industrial cul-de-sac, over a wall of Jersey barriers, up a set of rusty railroad tracks, and there it was: a neat firepit of bricks set in gravel, sheltered by an old shed. He and some pals had lugged in the bricks and some firewood, too; on Halloween, they’d had a little gathering. The spot was rustic, sure, but it had views of water, bridges, and the Manhattan skyline. “If we get a nice day in January, let’s come up here and have a few beers,” he said.
We’ll probably have enough nice days to go on a two-week bender.
But if I could only recommend one winter outing, it would be to your nearest beach — ocean or lake. Beaches are one of the few places you can escape manmade noise in an urban setting, and they’re rich in natural wonders. Storms toss interesting stuff into the tideline; I’ve found fossilized oysters, wind-dried stingrays, and marooned-but-alive sharks on Rockaway Beach, mere yards from the subway.
Wherever you go, follow these tips:
- Pay less attention to the temperature than the weather when heading out. A calm, sunny day in the 20s is a lot more enjoyable than a gray, blustery day in the 40s.
- Don’t start out wearing all your layers. You’ll warm up after being active, and you want to avoid sweating, which will quickly chill you.
- Stash a down or fleece jacket in your backpack, along with a warm hat.
- Wear shorts under your pants if you’re going to the shore. Wading feels great when the water’s cold — a ready-made ice bath that soothes sore feet.
- Tuck a few garbage bags into your pack. You can lay them out like blankets to keep your butt dry if you need to sit down in snow.
- On a hike, if there is a breeze, face into the prevailing wind; that way, the wind will be at your back for the return trip, when you’ll be tired.
- And bring a friend. You’ll see neat stuff. You’ll wear yourselves out. And you’ll be truly glad, maybe for the first time in a while, to get back home.