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  • Melissa Westemeier

Explorer Joan

We've hit what I refer to as "Deep Winter." February smacks us full in the face with bitter cold and only the unseasoned and stupid believe spring arrives in March. If you live in Wisconsin long enough, you accept that you might get snow for Christmas, you'll be knee-deep in it by the end of January, and you will still find piles of it in April. The lengthening hours of sunshine offset the despair of this frigid time.

I vowed to adopt Scandinavian practices of embracing the weather outside, so I layer my body in wool and Thinsulate and I keep heading for the hills to take a hike. The trails have become less populated this time of year. Often I'm alone, occasionally I'll encounter one other person getting their daily dose of sunshine and fresh air. I'm swearing by it, though. Twice I've escaped "the Vid" (as the cool kids at school refer to it) as it raged through one of my housemates. Good hygiene and social distancing helped me avoid contracting this modern plague, but I honestly think flushing out my lungs for a solid hour each day makes a difference, too. (But don't quote me on this--as I write my suspicions, they appear a bit endorsing bleach injections! DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.)

My fellow hikers greet me pleasantly enough. We swipe our dripping noses with gloved hand while waving the other in greeting and steer towards the side of the path. It's icy enough to make going downhill more difficult than climbing up, so the person on the incline defers the path by stepping over. "Nice day." "Enjoy your hike." We don't say much, just enough to acknowledge our shared appreciation of a quiet spot of nature. If we were looking for conversation, we'd hang out in warmer locations.

I've acquired a pair of new winter boots this year. Mysteriously, both pairs of my old boots disappeared. The day of our first good snow I went to grab them so I could snowshoe in the woods. I looked in all of my usual storage places (basement, garage, upstairs closets, shed) and even in unusual spots (downstairs closet, laundry room cupboard, porch) and came up empty handed. I have a pair of OLD Sorrels, perfect for ice fishing or Packer games, but crap for hiking because they rub along my heel and give terrible blisters. Plus their size is too formidable for walking long distances. The other two pairs were marginally smaller, clunky snow boots. Warm and waterproof. It's a rule that if you lose something and go out to purchase a replacement, you'll find the missing object.

I found a wonderful pair of new winter boots. Lighter and warmer than my old pair, these fit more like sneakers and less like the moon boots of my childhood (bread bag over socks, anyone?). They feel like slippers, really. Because they're smaller they strap into my snowshoes easier and I feel more dexterous and quick wearing them. One might think a smaller boot would offer less protection from chill and dampness, but these babies are a marvel of modern engineering. Check them out:

They're also Sorrels, the "Explorer Joan." Pretty fierce name, right? I never did run across my old boots. I sure don't miss them. I'm glad I lost them, in fact, because I wouldn't be enjoying the pleasure of these wonderful new boots.

Of course an hour outside is about the limit these days before hypothermia sets in, so I have a LOT of time indoors. I've branched out in my Netflix viewing (Lupin is terrific and I have hooked D into The Great British Baking Show) and read a fair amount (it's cozy weather, do pick up a copy of Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz). I'm trying my hand at baking some bread this weekend (real bread, with yeast and everything!) and I continue my slow crawl through random drawers and closets, cleaning out the junk. This week's haul includes 3 old and nearly empty tubes of skin care product I no longer use, 3 long sleeved t-shirts, some socks with holes in the toes and a broken key chain.

A new semester has begun at school and I've got fewer students this term. So far they've been pleasant to work with. They participate in class discussions pretty well, except for my one VERY small class where 3 are virtual and 4 are in-person and 2 are usually absent. It's nearly impossible to create a group dynamic in that situation, so if anyone has a tip for me, I'd welcome it.

We've reached a balmy 7 degrees outside, folks, so I'm going to lace up my Explorer Joans and take a hike.

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