So I’ve been doing some squats lately. I’ve done squats before. This isn’t new. But I’ve never been afraid of my insides popping out like a tube of crescent rolls before. That is new.
For many of us, trying to get back in shape is a cycle. When I think about exercise, I picture snow outside my window, never autumn leaves. That might be part of the problem, but is most assuredly part of my reality. Every day I eat my Lucky Charms and watch the Peloton commercials on ESPN. That’s not the kind of cycle I’m talking about.
We find cycles in life. The parents of youth hockey players know this too well. Each day they conduct a finely choreographed ballet involving ice time, sack lunches, and undergarments that smell like the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Each weekend a family sojourn to far-away lands, frosted minivans, two hours of screaming and a drive home with a bag of undergarments that smell like the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire.
It’s much more than an activity. It’s a commitment, akin to signing on the dotted line for the United States Marine Corps. That’s no puck, it’s the object of our communal desires. We cultivate young boys and girls from toddlerhood to become bloodthirsty stick-wielding warriors with knives for feet. Then we barnstorm them across the Northern Plains like prizefighters in the Gilded Age.
One of our sons asked us in the middle elementary years if he could join hockey. We said no. It’s too late. You can’t be in hockey for the same reason you can’t be the Dalai Lama. You missed the boarding call for this ship. Marry well. Perhaps one of your children will be a Squirt. But be careful what you wish for.
We find other things to do. The activity carries us through winter. Once the Super Bowl is over we’re skiing downhill. Not literally. None of us are coordinated enough for that. We like to watch movies and monitor our slow descent into March Madness. Not basketball. But actual March madness.
A friend of mine revels in a Finnish-American tradition every Jan. 19. You crack the back of winter by striking a large stick against something hard. There’s something to this. That’s always around the time you notice the sun setting a little later. The psychological effect of light begins to create hope, even as temperatures drop past 30 below.
The Finns, who know winter better than most, also share the tradition of Laskiainen. It’s a sliding festival held at the beginning of February in Palo, this year Feb. 2-3. But the origins go back to Shrove Tuesday, a religious holiday also brimming with local culture. For Laskiainen also marks the line between deep winter chores and late winter chores, dictated as always by the light in the sky.
Energy. That’s the stuff of life and it’s the only part of life that operates by an unshakable set of rules. Kinetic energy is the energy of motion. Your car hurtles down a winter highway with mechanical energy. Your tires keep the thermal energy of motion from sending your two ton family vehicle into the roadside abyss. Meanwhile, electrical energy regulates cabin temperatures at comfortable levels. Sound energy crackles like lake ice through the crisp air.
But radiant energy — light — that’s the one we crave most at winter’s end. The weather lies to us. The man in the suit lies to us. But light always reveals the truth. The days get longer and longer, unstoppable motion in space dictates when we turn on our lamps and shed our coats.
Light is what we see when we’re born and when we die, even when we cannot see. The dying call out for more and more light. And so do we every winter, knowing in our hearts that our wish will be granted.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from Northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (KAXE.org).