The Small Surprises in Everyday Life

It was -7F/-22C, not including the wind chill factor yesterday. It took me half the day to convince myself to go for a walk. With the family home for a couple of weeks and driving made less desirable due to ice and subzero temps, I was feeling antsy.

canstockphoto8126296You’d think, after living in Minnesota for the last 19 years, I’d have special cold gear. There would be outfits ritually unpacked each winter – thermal underwear, snow pants and jacket, accessories all matching in color.

Apparently when it comes to fashion, I like free-styling it. So I put on some compression shorts, long underwear pants, sweatpants, two pairs of socks, a long sleeve shirt, a short sleeve shirt, a hooded sweatshirt, a fleece-lined raincoat (to break the wind), mismatched hat and gloves and scarf. I slathered on some lotion and lip balm to cut down on the wind burn.

The first leg of my usual 3.5 mile walk headed west, straight into the wind. I felt the chill down to my bones. I kept having a conversation with myself. You can always go back if it’s too much. I wonder just how stupid I am being. My cheeks are always the first to feel the burn. I pull up my scarf, already covered with the crystals of my exhalations.

My tracks from two days ago are still the only ones on this stretch, crisscrossed by rabbit and squirrel tracks. I found myself stepping the same way, habitual and careful. Slipping in these temps can have a deadly outcome. It brings an element of meditation – each step is the only step you have to worry about.

canstockphoto34212394A large flock of mallards flies overhead. Their conversation fades and I’m left with the sound of snow crunching beneath my hikers. Human beings are scarce and when I pass them, they are assessed quickly.

The dog people are easiest – hastily dressed people shivering, bouncing on their feet as their dog sniffs and putters. At any other time of the year, this would be a relaxing jaunt for them and to the dog, it still is.

I pass an older man. He is carrying a plastic drugstore bag and not dressed for the weather – in lightweight khakis and stiff leather dress shoes. I smile and say “hi”, but he keeps his head down. All I can think is that his legs must burn now, if they have any feeling left at all.

canstockphoto13217575I pass by the empty outdoor skating rinks, the school lot where one vehicle sits, music thumping, exhaust sending up smoke signals. It’s an odd place to make out or sell drugs or do surveillance. More likely, and less of  interest, they’re lost. Streets here are often interrupted by cul-de-sacs and sports fields only to be continued on the other side.

I’m in the last half mile of my walk. While I’m surprisingly warm everywhere else, my cheeks no longer have feeling and I know it’s time to get inside.

I pass by the church where I was married. It’s why I still have my maiden name. I am not a believer, but my husband is, so I said yes we can marry in a church, but…Occasionally he makes a pointed comment and I just shrug. I like my last name better than his.

A woman comes toward me carrying a cloth bag and a backpack, glasses iced up from the cold.

“Excuse me, but is there any place close, like a business, where I can get warm?”

She is in her twenties and has a Slavic accent. She was meeting some friends at the church and she got dropped off early, but the church was locked. She’d been out there for nearly an hour and sounded desperate.

I offered to walk her in the direction of a grocery store I knew a shortcut to, but it was still a six-block hike. I looked at her boots – fashion boots that I so often see women in Northern climates wearing and cannot comprehend. Thin black leather boots with a heel and no tread at all on the bottom.

She smiled uncertainly. I can be helpful when I’m in the mood and I felt rather sorry for her. So we began walking to the grocery store. I asked where she was from.

canstockphoto10144086“Moscow. And it’s not as cold there as it is here!”

“Да, это очень холодно.”

I was delighted to practice a bit of Russian with her. She was an exchange student in a program in South Dakota, learning English to be a translator and visiting friends in the Twin Cities. We had a nice conversation, but I could tell she was concerned when I started to lead her across a wide field.

We finally reached the bottom of a small hill and I pointed her in the direction of the store. She smiled and thanked me profusely, likely out of relief that I was neither going to rob her nor try to bring her home to my serial predator boyfriend. I smiled the rest of the way home thinking up all the bizarre options that could result from following a stranger.

I woke up this morning uncharacteristically optimistic.

Over the last week, I’d been feeling some anxiety, noticing how much my body and face were aging. Thinking about how quickly time is passing by. Surprise heartburn two nights ago had me looking up heart attack symptoms in women on my phone in the middle of the night. My daughter just got her notification for high school open house and several relatives are in the last stretch of their lives. Time and mortality and fear were weighing on me heavily.

The unexpected encounter on my walk reminded me about what a fantastic world I live in. That I could be out on this routine walk in my little suburb and run into a Muscovite, have a conversation in Russian, and then be on my way home. Unexpected and surprising, which is what life really is, if you’re paying attention.

Wishing you a Year Full of Little Surprises & Big Meaning!

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18 Comments on “The Small Surprises in Everyday Life

  1. You are brave facing the elements. Just spent a week in Vermont and never got used to the cold. Back in New Jersey and it is a balmy 12 degrees – double digits!

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    • I think there something about adding contrast to one’s life – the best part about the walk was coming home to a warm house and hot cup of tea! We’re supposed to see some double digits (above zero!) later this week and today I’ll be walking in 1F – a veritable heat wave. Happy 2018!

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  2. It has been absolutely bone-chillingly cold here as well, for more than a week now. I’ve lived in Toronto for more than 30 years and have never experienced a winter this cold before. Unlike you, however, i have not gone for anything close to a 3.5 mile walk. Happy New Year to you Michelle! Yes, “small surprises and big meaning.”

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    • Happy New Year to you as well, Fransi! I think it’s always an indicator that it’s too cold when you have to chip ice off the inside of your doors to get out! We had worse temperatures a couple of years ago, but we’re by no means acclimated. I’m off on another walk today, but we just went above zero, which is what I’ve been hoping for. Wishing you the best for 2018.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Michelle. Now that you mention it, I remember ice forming around the inside of the door when I was a child in Montreal. Never stopped me from going skating or skiing back then. But somewhere along the line I seem to have become a wimp.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What marvellous wishes for the new year – little surprises and big meaning. I’ll take it.
    We were in Montreal for 2 weeks over Christmas and walked most days in about -15 to -20 C. The big difference I think is we have the right clothes for it so we were not cold beyond our noses.
    I have a niece (from Australia) who’s just taken up a 3-year masters scholarship at the University of Minnesota. She bought herself the right boots/coat /hat so I think she’ll be okay. I lived in the Yukon for 10 years so know how brutal the cold weather can be. I was really glad to get back to Vancouver after Montreal where it’s only about 0 degrees. I do feel for that poor young woman from Russia. It’s a very good thing you were there to help her.
    Wishing you also a year of small surprises and big meaning, and whatever else you may wish for.
    Alison

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    • Thanks, Alison. Brrrrr! is all I can say to your own “artic” adventures. This is a pretty brutal cold snap for this area, but our weather has been all over the place lately. It’s -23 C right now, but we’re supposed to hit double digits above zero today. We’ll see.
      I hope that you have a lovely year ahead. Sometimes I wonder about wishing people an entire year that is happy, when that seems an unrealistic expectation. Perhaps it is better to wish you many moments of joy in the upcoming year!

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  4. Oh my. I admire your fortitude. I’m in Wisconsin so I totally understand and am shivering with you. And I just this year FINALLY purchased proper snow boots for myself as an adult. It’s so hard to spend money on things like that for myself for some reason.

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    • I’ve slowly acquired some snow gear here and there, but it’s funny that I seem to resist getting everything at once, so nothing matches – I think it’s some sort of cold denial. There’s no denying it this week – stay warm!

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  5. I know the heartburn/heart attack search in the middle of the night thing. I have had to give up peppermint mochas because they cause wicked acid reflux. But I’m glad that’s all it was! And I still have my maiden name just because.

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    • I’ve had to give up peanut butter, cheese, and anything else delicious after 3pm or else I feel the burn.
      And as for the name thing, it’s a myth I tell myself, because I really felt like I gave in on having a church wedding. These days I rewrite it as a compromise, but really I just caved. Naturally we should keep our names just because.

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      • I’m an atheist who had a church wedding. It was an atheist-friendly UU church . . . and I still attend a UU church where they don’t mind non-theists (my husband thinks this is a bit odd, but he rolls with it). I think church weddings can be nice. It doesn’t have to be viewed as caving as much as celebrating something timeless and bigger than just the two of you, in whatever language that can be expressed. It was an act of love.

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