When The Pond in Winter Turns to Spring

A few years ago, I forced myself to finally read Walden. I hadn’t gotten around to reading it in high school or college and it seemed like one of those books I was supposed to read. I bought a copy while traveling for work, probably in 2007 or 2008, read the first 10 or so pages, and set it aside for several years. Books written in the 1800s are so hard to read, being full of long, run-on sentences that contain six different ideas. While I have been told that I talk that way (putting one idea into another and and then another, working my way deeper and deeper within the same thought), I don’t like that style of writing or reading.

I finally read Walden, after years of it sitting on my bookshelf.

So it took me forever to get around to reading Walden, and then another forever (or at least most of a winter) to actually read the entire book. It was good, but it wasn’t magnificent for me; it didn’t bowl me over the way that it apparently has for other people. [Sidenote: Instead, I’d recommend Braiding Sweetgrass which also contemplates the interaction of nature and humans; it was beautiful, and I had to read it in small, savoring bits because it was so breathtaking that I could hardly read a section without crying at something sad or beautiful or profound.]

But I liked Walden well enough and there were definitely many nice pieces of text that I underlined to save for later, and I expect that someday I will go back, reread the book, and think to myself: This book is amazing! Why didn’t I recognize this the first time I read it?!?

One thing that I like about Walden is that it is written as the year progresses, starting in the spring. Aldo Leopold starts The Sand County Almanac with the new year in January, but I think that if I ever write a book about this place, I would also be inclined to start it in the early spring because that feels like the new year to me. Because Walden starts in the spring, however, it means that the chapters describing winter felt really long and boring. There’s not a lot going on in the winter for Thoreau to observe (although he does observe more than the rest of us who tend to stay inside where its warm), and so there seem to be pages of detailed descriptions and long contemplation. During the near-final chapter The Pond in Winter, I couldn’t help but wonder: Will anything more happen before the book ends? 

Our pond in winter. Pretty boring, but at least the sun is out.

But there is one last chapter—Spring—that starts with the ice melting on Walden Pond. In the span of a few pages, the writing picks up and goes into rapid-fire descriptions of all of the changes that are happening: lake ice melting, ground thawing, a robin, geese, rain, and green grass. There is still plenty of cumbersome mid-19th century prose, but at least there is excitement—and many exclamation points!

This is how the end of Walden felt to me: There’s ice and snow. There’s still ice and snow. Let’s ponder all this ice and snow, and some Hindu gods too just because there’s nothing else to do. The ice is starting to melt now. The ice is going away. Hey, look at this. And this! And this! And this! And this and this! Spring! Ta-da! The end.

The ice is starting to melt (in western Massachusetts earlier this week).

And, funnily enough, I got to thinking about this today, because this is how life is feeling right now. We are currently right between “The ice is starting to melt now.” and “The ice is going away.” A week ago, I was feeling anxious and frustrated, which is really just being asymptomatic of cabin fever. [Another sidenote: This is why the tag Winter Never Ends is one of the most frequently used on my blog.]

Now that the trees are tapped and the ice is starting to melt, I’m feeling a bit better. Two nights ago, we went out to do some work on our land; I heard geese, and that made me so happy. Spring is not quite here yet, but in a few days I’ll be talking like this:  The ice is going away. Hey, look at this. And this! And this! And this! And this and this! Spring! Ta-da!

Happy spring!

p.s. As I was writing this post, I recalled a post from last year called Spring Starts a New Year and I wondered if I’d already written about some of these ideas. It seemed vaguely familiar—too familiar. Yup, I covered a lot of this same (frozen) ground year at pretty much the exact same time of the year. But I decided to keep going because this version is a bit different and captures my experience this spring.

Spring Starts a New Year

It took me years to read Walden—years to actually open the book after buying it and setting it on the shelf, and then more years to actually read it from front to back. The book starts in spring, near the end of March when Thoreau starts to clear the area for his cabin, and ends a little over a year later in early May with the trees beginning to leaf out and birds returning on their migrations.

While it took me a long time to read the entire thing, the winter season in particular dragged on. The reading was long, slow, and monotonous. In short, the reading felt a lot like winter. My favorite part of the book was the end of it—not just because I finally finished, but because the tempo changed. As winter turned to spring, the writing became faster and more upbeat. There’s more energy, more sunshine. Just like how it feels when spring really comes.

That the year starts in the spring feels right to me, more so than New Year’s Day, which falls closer to the start of winter than the end. Continue reading “Spring Starts a New Year”

Slow Down Summer

Summer is always such a swirl of activity. There’s a long progression from March all the way through June as the weather slooooowly gets better (wait for it… wait for it…) and then (bam!) suddenly it’s ridiculously hot out and July is half over.

I haven’t been writing much because I’ve been trying hard to actually get outside and play. Mostly I’ve been biking to work, training for a triathlon, and watching Sexy play baseball. This morning I spent two hours in the garden working, and then retreated inside when the sun started beating down and the temperature climbed above 80 by mid-morning.

The well-weeded garden.
The well-weeded garden.

With so much going on, I spend an awful lot of time thinking about how I should best use my time—which, of course, isn’t a great use of time. Mostly it’s just silly and unnecessary introspection, and I’m not sure I’m that much better for it. Continue reading “Slow Down Summer”

Finding a Way to Live the Dream

Everybody wants to retire early, right?

This is my dream: that we’ll be financially independent by 55, allowing us to work as much or as little as we want, to volunteer, to travel, and to spend our spare time playing outdoors.

I get really excited to think about this and often wonder if and how we can get there sooner.

In my mind, this is what retirement looks like. It's my happy place.
In my mind, this is what semi-retirement looks like. It’s my happy place.

Continue reading “Finding a Way to Live the Dream”

I’m not an Olympic athlete. (Surprise!!!)

I’m been devouring an audiobook the last few days– it’s called the The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Perfomance, and I’m hooked. The theme is one of my favorites in a long, nerdy list of nonfiction subjects that I gravitate toward: nature versus nurture. Plus, the sports topic makes is fast-paced and edgy, and touches on another one of my favorite subjects: my relatively sub-par athletic abilities and how to improve on them (or not).

Yes, I realize that some of you are rolling your eyes right now. [Stop it, btw! It’s not your best look! 😉 ] Yes, I did pretty well in high school sports, I have finished a small pile of triathlons, and I do all sorts of active stuff. I’m not saying that I’m a slouch… or a slug. But I also can’t run much faster than a nine-minute-mile and I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that at best I will be competitive, generally in my age group, in small and obscure sporting events. I ‘ll never have the speed to win even a local triathlon, and even in the world of obscure and extreme sports, it is almost certain that I will never be considered world class at any sport.

That is, unless I can stay super-fit until I’m in my 60s and compete at masters’ levels. That’s my only chance, and yes, I am starting to strategize the next 30 years of training…

But, anyway, back to the book… it starts by pushing back against the 10,000 hours principle (the idea that you can be sufficiently awesome in anything if you invest 10,000 hours, or 10 years, of high-quality training to do it), and instead looks and the scientific evidence (or lack of) that genes can play an important role in sports performance. It’s fascinating to hear the latest science, and simultaneously makes me very much want to and very much not want to get my genes tested.

I’m still not all of the way through the book, but here is a list of many traits that are influenced by genetics, which can also enhance sports performance (and which I generally lack, especially in any usable combination):

  • being tall (running and jumping sports, rowing)
  • long legs relative to torso (running)
  • slimmer calves and ankles (running)
  • narrow hips (running, swimming, gymnastics, others)
  • wingspan greater than height (basketball, swimming)*
  • arm proportionally longer above the elbow (throwing)
  • large mass (football, shotput)
  • amazing vision (baseball)
  • sickle cell trait and corresponding low hemoglobin (sprinting)
  • large VO2 max/ability to move air (sprinting, endurance)
  • double muscle gene mutation (sprinting, lifting)
  • super cartilage gene mutation (circus acts)
  • pain tolerance (pretty much any sport that seems interesting to me)**

Okay, I admit that most of the research done (or at least described in the book so far) mostly focuses on sports involving speed over short or long distances, jumping, or ball handling– all things where I clearly established a distinct lack of skill a long time ago. And, sure, someone from Luxembourg (50% of my genes) once won a gold medal in weightlifting… but that was in 1920.

Josy Barthel wins Luxembourg's only gold medal in 1952 (in the 1500 meters). It's a teeny country, so perhaps there's a chance I have a speedy gene afterall, right?
Josy Barthel wins Luxembourg’s only gold medal in 1952 (in the 1500 meters). It’s a teeny country, so perhaps there’s a chance I have a speedy gene after all, right?

And if you’re not convinced about reading (or listening to) the book yet, check this out for a preview.

*I may have this. I haven’t measured yet, but am pretty sure that I may have ape arms!

** There is something that’s super-hard to measure because if it’s subjectivity. I would self-rate myself as low-moderate in this group if I had to guess. During races, I generally choose to back off to avoid pain. During cyclocross races recently, I’ve definitely wondered whether the hard-core folk have a higher pain tolerance, and if it’s something you can train up. But that doesn’t sound like fun!