There is a maple tree in my backyard that holds on to its leaves as long as it possibly can every year, foliage so dense during the summer months that my house is shielded from view from my neighbors, the tree seemingly so proud of the gift of ample leaves that it refuses to let go until it can no longer resist. When that maple begins to drop its leaves, usually mid to late November and weeks after the rest of the trees in this area, I know that winter has begun to reach us. On cue, this past week we had our first freezing temperatures and snowfall of the season, frozen puddles and frost. My maple tree knew it was time to make the cold weather adjustment.
Last Sunday was my last mow for the year, the day I chop the leaves into the lawn then put the mower away for the season. I had a little talk with my back yard maple this morning, chiding it a little for causing me a bit of inconvenience. It reminded me that I have known it long enough to know what was going to happen. Yeah, you’re right, I had to admit.
The season here is on its march towards January, a bit colder each week, the sunlit days of warmth disappearing until the cycle comes back around next March or April. Unlike many of the people I know around this northern Illinois area, I relish the cold weather season, a chance to adapt to the challenges the frigid temperatures and elements provide. The challenges are not huge around here, it’s not like this is a desolate arctic wilderness, but there are still adjustments that are necessary. I like that. I like the adjustments.
Learning to exist outside has been one of the joys to this time of year. As a cyclist, I personally do not like the treadmill existence that some retreat to as the weather turns cold. I want to be outside, active rather than static, moving rather than pedaling nowhere in puddles of sweat. To survive outside as a cyclist in cold weather, you not only need to know how to dress, you need to be aware of your own body, how it warms itself, where your body is coldest and how that part of your body affects the rest of your body. When I ride outside, I pay attention to my ankles and wrists just as much as my core, knowing that if my blood is warm there, then my feet and hands will also be warm. I also know how easy it is to over heat in the cold weather, watch not only the temperature outside but the elements, do my best to wear just enough so that when exercise begins to move the warm blood throughout my body, I will not be cooking in too many clothes.
There is a sense of victory, of accomplishment, and satisfying pleasure when I realize I am outside on a freezing cold day, comfortable, doing what I like best. It’s a balance that is worth the adjustments required.
I wish life’s adjustments were that simple. When it comes to life I may be one of those warm weather only types. Oddly enough, there are times when I see the seasons of my life changing around me, want to make the adjustments. I just seem powerless to do so. Some of it has to do with expecting the people I have invested in change or make the changes for me. Slowly I am learning that it has to be the other way around. Probably my most significant investment, my wife, is not going to do that. If the quiet of this week has taught me anything, it is that she is not going to make an effort to change. She is never going to be able to control herself, doesn’t want to, is content to wade in a morass of panic and anxiety, as much a product of stubborn refusal to live sensibly than anything else. I have watched her this week, watched her waste time so much that it disgusts me. Will it do me any good to say anything to her? No. She doesn’t want to please me. That is obvious from what has happened this week. Maybe I expect to much, but she has made zero effort to do anything for me during my recovery, not even a meal, only expecting me to fix things for her that I can’t fix, because she expects me to do it for her. Yes. Do it for her. That is what I am learning.
Crazy thing is that I wish I could do it for her. I can not. I have not made the adjustments or sacrifices required to be able to do so. It’s not with my wife where I have not made the adjustments. It is with my job, a place I have given 24 years to but really have nothing tangible, at least not physical, to show for my efforts. As my life has moved into winter, my job has not really provided for me what is necessary to survive through the harsh times, more willing to endure the discomfort and accept punishment over reward than to risk losing the meager accomplishment of sticking it out, hopeful that one day I will see the reward that I doubt ever comes. The man that pays me is too concerned about keeping the luxuries he enjoys than noticing the struggles I am having, even when I try to tell him about them. If that part of my life is going to change, then I am going to have to quit expecting him to reward me without my asking. That is tough. And thinking about it makes me feel frozen to the core more than any winter day could do to me.
So what do I do? Move on to warmer weather. Keep adjusting? Maybe. Some do, realizing that warmer weather will come again. Some realize that even though warmer weather will come again, they don’t have to be in the same place in order to enjoy that warmer weather. They are ready when it comes again.
I see the leaves fall. I feel the temperatures begin their dip. I see the signs around me.
If only it were as easy as finding the right clothes to wear.