Around us, pale winter sun left dappled patches of opaque light on the forest floor, lending a translucent light to the pine straw, the dead, matted patches of grass, the half-frozen mud.
It was a frigid afternoon and my son Patrick, then 5, and I were on a hike. Before we left the confines of our heater-fed home, the Weather Channel reported the wind chill factor at 11 degrees, a temperature that had most of our community huddled indoors. For me, the temperature meant one thing - ideal conditions for a hike.
It took some convincing for my wife to let Patrick accompany me. But after a brief discussion that human beings had been living in conditions colder than this for many a millennia, she acquiesced and bundled Patrick in so many layers he resembled the visage of Randy in “A Christmas Story.” (It was a feat of strength itself to strap his bundled body into the car seat).
I have always relished a winter hike and wanted to share the experience with him. The nippy air, the stark trees, the lack of humidity and perhaps, even selfishly, the absence of other people.
I explained this to Patrick, noting how everyone else was “afraid of the cold, but we weren’t.”
“No, daddy,” he replied. “The weather is not scary.”
We walked a brisk mile and a half before he told me he was getting cold.
“Of course,” I said. “Let’s go home and get a nice cup of hot chocolate for you.”
Less than 10 minutes later, he had his back to a roaring blaze in our fireplace, a steaming cup of hot chocolate cradled in his hand and a smile on his face. His mother kept pinching his fingers and marveling at how chilly they were and how red his cheeks were. Patrick said he was fine and happy.
He was not afraid of the cold.
Winter hikes are just one of many types of weather adventures I have introduced my two sons to. I have always held a deep affinity for almost all things weather related – the fierce winds of March, the whispering breezes of September, the punishing rains of spring and the untamed thunderstorms of summer, to name a few.
In fact, I can’t recall ever not liking the weather.
As an adult, I see that same affinity in other children, especially boys.
Boys like to jump in mud puddles. Boys like to play in the rain. Boys can ignore the heat if a good basketball game is being played or a sandbox war is at bay. Boys like to run outside on a windy day and try to fly a kite. In fact, my youngest son Andrew takes a Zen-like delight in being outside on windy days. He will sit on my lap, half-close his eyes and reach a level of contentment I envy. (I have seen few visions of God as pure as the simple smile on his face when the wind tousles his hair.)
Maybe I am just a washed-up transcendentalist bohemian naturalist, but I do hold fast that being outdoors in the weather is a pure, good medicine that is a stronger sedative than the television, the Internet or any self-help book.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, by the time we reach adulthood, most of us have lost that fascination with weather. Instead of wonder, we have complaints.
It is too cold.
It is too hot.
It is too windy.
It is too… everything.
We have become conditioned to our "steady as she goes" homes and want our weather tailor-made like the rest of our lives. We want our weather on demand and scold it when it does not cooperate with our plans — as if we have any right to admonish a natural phenomena that has been part of the earth long before our ancestors were born.
I know I am the exception to the rule. I know because I do not see many of you out on winter hikes. I know because I have seen you peer out from behind your shades with a slight shock written on your faces as I played in the rain with my children. But, as we are on the cusp of entering a new season, I do encourage you to take a step back and re-examine weather. No longer see it as a nuisance, but an opportunity.
It is more than green and red blurbs on a television screen. It is more than a gauge that determines which day to wash you car.
It is a living, untamed beautiful thing.
Get out. Have fun. Reach out. Maybe you’ll rediscover something you haven’t felt since you were a child. If nothing else, you will have a justification for an extra cup of hot chocolate or a cold Popsicle at the end of the day.
Mark Wallace Maguire is director of magazines for Cobb Life magazine and Cherokee Life magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.