Ways to overcome winter inertia
One of my favorite TV commercials of all time was produced some years ago by Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Minnesota, the health insurance provider. It was a commercial about wellness, and about achieving that state by being active. You know the one. A middle-aged man in a short-sleeved shirt with a red sweater vest is sitting in a chair in a waiting room, perhaps a doctor’s office. The pen-chewing receptionist turns up her radio, which is pulsing out a catchy hip-hop tune. The man, ignoring the people seated around him, stands up and breaks into an uninhibited dance, with some calisthenics thrown in for good measure.
“Come on, and work that bo….dy” is the catchy refrain in the song coming through the speakers of the receptionist’s radio. In the commercial’s voiceover we’re reminded that “A body in motion tends to stay in motion; a body at rest tends to stay at rest.” Both conditions are also referred to as “inertia;” inertia-of-motion – the force that keeps your car moving when you take your foot off the gas pedal – or inertia-of-rest.
The commercial ends by telling the audience to “groove your body every day;” meaning, to do something active, whether that something is work or play. Having managed to avoid both high school and college physics, I didn’t immediately recognize that the source of this “body in motion” concept was none other than renowned physicist Sir Isaac Newton, and his First Law of Motion, a natural law as important as the law of gravity. Who knew?!
Winter in Minnesota is a time when our personal inertia can easily take a turn toward Newton’s “at rest” state. Another word for it is “lethargy.” Even less flattering: “couch potato.” Though Minnesotans pride themselves on being outdoorsy, it’s easy during the least hospitable season of the year to take a cue from those creatures that hibernate, and avoid the bitter temperatures. For us, also avoiding the wind chill, icy roads and sidewalks. Between network TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the movies, dramatic series and sports viewing opportunities they offer, it’s easy to become as domesticated as a house cat.
The way to avoid that outcome is to quickly and consciously get into the habit of planning – even formally scheduling, if we must – some of the outdoor activities that are available to us. Some options, thanks to the relatively mild winter so far, may surprise us. Other traditional winter activities, also due to the mild winter, may be “iffy” at present.
Snowmobiling is one of the activities whose prospects are still so-so. Good depths have been scattered, at best, over the northern part of the state. In the absence of good snow cover, many sled owners ride the frozen lakes. But there have been enough through-the-ice events already this season to tell us that safe ice is not assured on anything but a lake-by-lake basis.
The minimal snow, combined with temperatures that recently have remained below 32 degrees for most of the 24-hour daily cycle, has helped lake ice formation for fishermen. There are certainly lakes that still merit caution insofar as placing heavy permanent fish houses, or driving on them with highway vehicles, are concerned. But the ice fishing season is belatedly getting into full swing.
For several weekends in a row I’ve hit some of the cross country ski trails not far from my home. They, too, could benefit greatly from more snow, as the scarcity of other skiers on the trails attests. But if one waits for perfect conditions he might find one excuse or another for much of the winter. Dealing with scattered leaves and twigs on the trail, or a bit of soil where an aggressive skate-style skier has preceded you, are minor compromises compared to the alternative of staying home waiting for more snow and perfectly groomed trails.
My daughter, home for Christmas break from teaching duties in the East, put on her skis for the first time since high school cross country ski team days. We skied on a day when temperatures flirted with the 30-degree mark, and a bright afternoon sun cast long shadows in the birch and aspen forest through which our trails wound. Several times she repeated “I’m so glad you suggested our doing this,” and “I had forgotten how good this feels and how beautiful the woods are in winter.” That was all the validation and reward her old man needed.
Though I’m not a squirrel hunter, I’ve been struck by how active and visible the squirrels have remained through this point in the winter. I hardly believe this is due to artificial backyard feeding, though that can be a factor that entices them to places where they can more readily be seen. Squirrels do not hibernate, but in typically cold winters their activities slow down considerably, and they spend more time in their den, or “drey,” which is essentially a nest built of leaves, twigs and grass.
The December just ended has been reported to be the second warmest on record, which may explain the high squirrel visibility. If one has any squirrel hunting inclinations, this may be a good year to follow them. The season is the longest of any of the Minnesota hunting seasons, lasting until February 28. That date also applies to cottontail and snowshoe hare hunting. So far, given the limited snow, our woodlots are very traversable in plain old hunting or pac boots, without the need for snowshoes. You can generate some real “inertia of motion” in such places!
Archers, some of whom have only recently concluded their deer hunting seasons, have ample opportunities to practice at indoor ranges in winter. Few of us are more than an hour away from one, even here in northern and north central Minnesota. You might also be surprised at the number of clay target ranges and hunting preserves that have winter hours. There is even open water fishing on many trout streams in Southeast Minnesota (where my son and I intend to venture in mid-January).
There are a lot of ways to avoid inertia-of-rest during a Minnesota winter. The first move is often as easy as using the index finger to push “off” on the remote.