COVID-19 has pushed many of us outdoors for clean air and a fresh perspective. But winter is coming, and with cases still on the rise, our social distancing efforts are about to freeze over. Being cold, sober, and quarantined sounds like the triple threat of isolation.
But despite the dropping temperatures, Mother Nature is still open for business, and research shows that simply being outside for two hours per week can be helpful in keeping our spirits high. And professor Mark Berman at the University of Chicago found that even when we don’t particularly enjoy nature, it ends up benefiting us anyway.
Here are some ideas on how to keep dabbling in the natural world for restoration during the winter months, and how to connect with nature on those days when it’s too damn cold to go outside:
1. Snow Hiking or Snowshoeing
Okay, I’ll admit I have yet to go snowshoeing. But that’s only because I discovered that snow hiking is a thing, and I already had the shoes for it. Snow hiking is exactly what it sounds like: Walking on a well-traveled trail in your normal hiking footwear. There just happens to be snowy views. Grab your hiking buddy and you’re set. Try to leave your device and headphones at home and tune into the sounds of nature.
You will need snowshoes if you plan to blaze your own trail, which sounds dreamy. If snow falls heavily in your area, there is most likely a place to rent snowshoes and hit the wilderness for the day.
2. Sledding or Tubing
This is my personal favorite snow activity, because of the minimal cost and social distance. Last year, when I walked our $5 sled up the trail, I was honestly just doing it for the kids. I have no need for speed. I’m more of the purse-holder type. For this same reason, you won’t find skiing or snowboarding on this list. But once I saw the joy on my daughter’s face, I wanted in. It was exhilarating!
Start at a familiar trailhead and then veer when you spot a small hill. There may be a popular hill in your town park, but with COVID still out and about, it’s a good excuse to go off the beaten path.
3. Polar Bear Plunge
Some swimming clubs or public pools open their doors up for Polar Bear Plungers to take an icy dip throughout the season, but this quirky tradition is traditionally held on New Year’s Day. It serves a frame for the coming year; the thought being that any challenge that lies ahead would be a cake walk after experiencing a bone-crushing cold. I wonder if the 2020 jumpers still stand by that. Participants claim that, in the very least, the freezing dip refreshes the soul.
As businesses and events start to re-open in safe ways, there’s a good chance local plungers have a plan for this highly anticipated event. Check your local swimming holes to see if they have socially distanced guidelines for re-opening this tradition this season.
4. Bonfire and S’mores
Campfires, fire pits, chimineas, and fireplaces all make winter a magical place to be. You could even go all Bushcraft this winter and learn the primitive art of fire building. And, of course, where there is fire, there are always s’mores. Jazz them up with some high-quality chocolate or roasted berries or peaches.
If you want to get really wild, learn how to cook on the open fire. I don’t need to tell you this, but there are tons of recipes out there on the world wide web. Grab a cast iron dutch oven and plan an interactive brunch with your best friend or quaranteam.
5. Plant-Based Cooking
Cooking with whole ingredients is a great way to connect to nature. In our processed world, it’s easy to rush through mealtimes and forget where our food comes from. Physically washing the dirt off of our carrots or lettuce can serve as a simple reminder. And if you tune in, eating can become a silent form of prayer — a small, intentional effort to make the world a better place. You may turn into a budding environmentalist one bite at a time.
For those who have already crossed over into a plant-based diet, push it even further and cook up a few meals using only seasonally-grown ingredients. Dive deeper into seasonal eating by exploring the ayurvedic approach that encourages us to kindle our internal fire by serving up warm and moist foods and avoiding cold or raw foods during the late fall and early winter.
6. Read Nature-Rich Literature
There is a gold mine of literature that is rich in nature imagery. Some of my favorite fiction books that can take me away to new landscapes are Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingslover, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and The Great Alone by Krisitin Hannah, to name a few.
I can’t move on to the next section without also mentioning the poetry of Mary Oliver. My favorite line from her poem, The Summer Day, reads, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. / I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down / into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, / how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, / which is what I have been doing all day.” And this one from her poem, Dogfish, “You don’t want to hear the story / of my life, and anyway / I don’t want to tell it, I want to listen / to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.” I mean. So good. Grab one of her collections and read it by that raging fire you built.
7. Create an Herbal Tea
Local tea shops are few and far between, but if you are in a more progressive area, you should be able to track one down. If not, there are online resources all over the place. Do some research on the herbs or chat with the shop owner. If you’re in the Southern states, you may be able to go on an herbal walk with a local herbalist and forage your own plants! Pick a few herbs that speak to you and create a custom blend. In early sobriety, I created a blend of Skullcap and Lemon Balm to ease my anxiety, stress, and insomnia. I traded my afternoon coffee for my custom tea, and the ritual alone, the simple act of intentionally caring for myself, made me feel better. While enjoying, drink in reverence of plant medicine.
8. Catch Up on Planet Earth
If you’re feeling too exhausted or too low down to get outside, try anyway. You’ll feel better once you’re out there, I promise. Remember nature helps whether we consciously enjoy it or not. But if you just can’t muster up the energy, turn on Planet Earth or Our Planet and rest. David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet is a must-see personal witness statement from the 94-year-old naturalist and creator of Planet Earth, and is now available on Netflix. David has visited all seven continents documenting the living world. The film is his dutiful account of humanity’s destruction of the natural world in pursuit of profit, but it is also a message of hope on how we can clean up our mess and do better from here.
9. Create a Forest Spa Day at Home
Okay, I’ve been on the fence about the efficacy of essential oils. The memes don’t help. But according to a diary study conducted in 2001, Americans spend less that 8% of their time outside. Conducted 20 years ago, I think it’s safe to argue that percentage is likely even lower today. Perhaps COVID has moved the needle outside a bit, but there’s no data to report.
With that said, I have decided to believe in essential oils. Because if nature smells can be brought inside and connect our busy lives to the living world in some small way, it’s worthwhile. Qing Li, the chairman of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, uses evergreen oils to bring the forest into his home during the winter months. I’m gonna follow his lead. He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. Add in a homemade avocado or coconut oil facemask, some nature sounds, a hot bath… and have yourself a spa day.
10. Volunteer or Donate Warm Clothes
While most of us have the option to cozy up inside during the winter, a lot of people have to weather the elements or find a safe place outside of their home. Find a local homeless or women’s shelter and donate those warm clothes that you don’t wear anymore. ClosetMaid performed a study of 1,000 women that revealed that the average woman has 103 items in their closet, and only find 10% of them wearable. And Marie Kondo would agree that it’s past time to tackle our exploding closets. Winter is a great time to do it! And there are women looking for a safe, warm place that would be grateful for the donation.
If you’re already operating with a capsule closet and have no warm clothing to spare, volunteer at your local soup kitchen or help out a community garden organization.
11. Go on a Trash Walk
Okay, I may be losing people with this one. I promise I don’t walk around and hug trees all day. This was actually my daughter’s idea last winter. On one of our winter walks, she noticed a piece of trash. We picked it up with our gloved hands. But you know when someone points out an annoying sound that you were previously oblivious to, and now you can’t hear yourself think? That same effect took hold, and all of a sudden, there was trash everywhere. It’s like I tell my husband, “There are always dishes, for those who want to see them.” Once we start looking, there are lots of ways we can do our part to steward the environment.
If you go on a trash walk this winter, please wear gloves and sanitize when you get home. We are in the middle of a pandemic after all.
12. Stock Up on Indoor Plants
Indoor plants may have saved 2020. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you have one. If not, grab one. Double up. Learn how to care for them. My midwife goes even further and recommends sitting with your plants. Maybe even turn them into your alter-ego and talk fondly to them. It’s one way to practice self-compassion if you’re not comfortable speaking kindly to yourself yet.
If the thought of talking to your plants makes you feel itchy, start some seeds for your spring garden instead. Late winter is the perfect time to plan for spring, and gardening is a great way to connect with the painfully slow process of growing. Personally, I would love to become fully mature overnight and use my giant branches to provide shade for others, but like those seeds, we all take time. Use your seed starters as a reminder that you, too, are nature, and your growth is slow and takes diligent attention and care.
13. Track the Moon Phases
The moon follows a month-long cycle, just like we do. We all know women who claim to be in sync with the moon. As the moon waxes and wanes, so does their energy and mood. The New Moon represents a clean slate, a new beginning, a time to let go of burdens you’ve been carrying around with you. Tuning into your lunar rhythm is a fun way to connect to nature when it’s too cold to function outside. To get started, pick up a copy of Moon Time by Lucy Pearce for a quick read, or settle in with Moon Mysteries by Nikiah Seeds.
14. Dive Into the Divine Feminine
Mother Nature is the original feminine archetype, so as women, we can learn a lot from her. She teaches us that we can grow and heal. After draining two highlighters marking up Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance of the Dissident Daughter with tears in my eyes and frogs in my throat, I am hooked on exploring my feminine wounds. We can look to our Earth for tips on how to be more receptive, and how to reintegrate feminine aspects of ourselves we may have previously discarded.
More books on my list this season are The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, The Return of the Feminine by Dr. Rebecca Orleane, and Mother Daughter Wisdom by Christiane Northrup. Research goddess literature, find an online women’s circle, or ping a sober friend to explore your feminine wounds and wisdom together. You can even start a sacred book club!
Maybe it’s the sensory experience of nature that helps. Maybe it’s unplugging from our devices or slowing down our fast-paced lives. Maybe it’s surrendering our me-ness and pickup up our one-ness. I don’t know exactly why nature immersion helps. Scientists have been trying to put their finger on a solid reason for decades. Maybe it can’t be explained away. Maybe it’s a walk of faith. It’s our belief in the power of nature that helps. As Florence Williams writes in her book, The Nature Fix, “If you believe something can make you feel better, it sometimes does. The imagination is a powerful healer.”