Down East 2013 ©
Photograph illustration ©istockphoto.com/phototropic (window); Viorika (chain); Pictac (lock)
I will never forget the horror I experienced recently when I read in a catalogue that the outdoors is always open. The one and only reason to look forward to winter is that in winter the outdoors is closed. This is not to say, of course, that one cannot go outside in the winter, but it isn’t obligatory, except for shoveling, which in cities, at least, is obligatory, though I have yet to meet anyone who actually got a ticket for not shoveling a sidewalk.
Still, a good citizen ought to shovel his sidewalk and so one does to avoid guilt. But that sort of guilt is entirely different from the guilt one feels in non-winter months when the pressure to be outdoors doing something fun and daring is so intense that some of us actually suffer mental stress-fractures as a result. Now, it seemed, even that small winter respite was being snatched from me. I was angry, as you can well imagine. Why can’t the outdoors shut down for one season at least? Why must it be so . . . monopolizing? What is it, anyway? A cartel?
My husband explained that perhaps the idea that the outdoors was always open was simply a marketing ploy since the catalogue I was looking at came from a store known for its outdoorsy-ness, and is itself notorious for being always open. Yes, yes, I said, but, still, think of the damage advertising ploys can do! Think of how many people did walk a mile for a Camel, though, granted, the walking was probably good for them. My husband tried to soothe me, but I was a nature-phobe on the verge of a nervous breakdown and began wailing, Don’t they understand? They have thrown us to the wolves!
I was exaggerating a bit. I didn’t mean real wolves. I meant the sort of people (many of whom are my friends, mind you) who think that human beings belong in places that are only meant for wolves. Like mountains, for example. People do not belong on mountains. Nor in woods, especially after dark. And yet people not only insist on going to these absurd and inhuman outdoor places, they brag about their exploits and want you, and me, to come along with them next time and enjoy ourselves. And if we demur, they refuse to take our reasonable arguments seriously, and make fun of us behind our backs. (Oh, yes you do! Don’t deny it!) But it is a fact that all forms of biting insects find my blood particularly tasty, and so would larger carnivores if I were reckless enough to go into the wilderness where they live, or to sail, paddle, or float over water surely inhabited by man-eating sharks. I am clumsy and would certainly be the person to fall off the Knife Edge and hold everyone else up. Seriously, I can’t do anything useful even indoors. Imagine how useless I’d be outdoors.
But the pressure to get out and enjoy nature seems to get more intense every year. Friends from other states often use our house as a way station en route to the Maine woods. They show up with high-tech equipment and navigational charts and way too much enthusiasm for people their age. But will they just accept our hospitality and go their way? Of course not. Like all of their kind, they must interrogate me about my relationship to the great outdoors. No, I assure them time after time, I don’t like being on the water, or in it, except in a bathtub. I don’t like camping. I hate being in the woods. (I’m claustrophobic! Trees freak me out!) What? they ask, horrified. You live in Maine and you don’t ski, sail, hunt, fish, hike, climb, ride horses, or play golf? You don’t even garden? They are shocked, shocked by my ingratitude. I live in this outdoors-person’s paradise and I don’t take advantage of it!
I feel so bad, not taking advantage. I think sweeping leaves off the patio and then sitting on it to have a gin and tonic is the absolute perfect outdoor thing to do, spring, summer, and fall. And in winter, if I must, I shovel. But it’s not enough. I know that now. I’m sorry, it’s my fault, I don’t deserve to live here. I get it. Really.
I’ve tried to change my ways. Several winters ago, my dear friend Kate took me snowshoeing across the street from her house, and I really liked it and thought, Aha! I’ll show them. I’ll snowshoe all winter! So I bought a pair of snowshoes and the next day, a Sunday in January, Kate and I and our husbands snowshoed and then had Bloody Marys with brunch. For the first time, I felt truly in tune with nature. The next day it started to rain, and it rained all through January and all through February. In fact, it didn’t snow again the rest of the year. I figured Mother Nature was giving me her blessing. If even the snow stops falling when I venture out into the woods in the winter, it’s clearly best for everyone if I stay indoors.