A Letter to My Winter Self


You, nested in a blanket and nursing a steaming mug,

I’m writing to remind you of something you lost. You haven’t noticed. You’ve been caught up in keeping yourself warm, cutting wood for the stove, insulating, baking bread, strumming over the same three chords on the guitar, getting through some brick sized books. You’ve convinced yourself that this is the order of things. Winter has you locked up. Winter is a time to sleep inside, save money, and plan adventures. Dutifully, you’ve put your energy into planning. You’ve filled your head with plans, dreaming over maps, in the someday of your mind you’ve climbed out of the canopies of remote tree lines, spread your hands over imaginary limestone jugs, fumbled with straps on gear you don’t own yet.

Planning has become a refuge. You know you’ve let the cold make some of your decisions for you. You feel somewhat guilty about taking it easy and watching movies instead of getting out of the house. Guilty because you know the only thing really stopping you is yourself. You know there are plenty of winter activities out there. This isn’t about changing your notions of winter or about changing your winter plans. That’s not the story I want to tell you. I want to remind you about the importance of ditching your plans and why the best part of any plan is when you leave it.

Say you decided to go snowboarding. You would start with a head full of ideas and designs. You would picture cutting up smooth blankets of snow and leaning into the stinging wind. Whatever the actual experience of snowboarding was would be blotted out by those ideas until either by fulfilling them or letting them go you were free to take it in. And that’s what the outdoors means to you. You go outside to escape those ties to design and get to an unplanned moment.

Planning has confused you. It puts things off where you can’t reach and makes you think your goal is a distant thing. Think of the trips you want to take- Acadia, the Green Mountains, The Adirondacks, Shenandoah, Monongahela, Red River, New River, and the mythical west. They gleam in your mind and on the pages of the internet when you flip through the park’s pages. The guides tell you where to go, when to go, what to look for, and what to bring with you. This is partially why you’ve forgotten. Guides can be paradoxically misleading. They funnel your attention to key treks, popular hangouts, and noteworthy landmarks and you start to think of destinations, places to drive to and buy tickets for where adventure begins. Places where the outdoors are sequestered. You forget that the Blue Ridge Mountains surround you every time you step out of the door. You neglect that there are things in the muddy hills and tangled forests beyond your own back yard that match the beauty of Bear Mountain or Clingmans Dome. When a thing is identified it’s easier to see and when you focus on these landmarks of the outdoors you’re asking a guide to point out the marvel in the world around you. But there are lichen and mushrooms and runnels that stay invisible because no one points out the magic they possess, and if you walk where there is no trail you can discover for yourself a waterfall, a meadow, a gully much more marvelous because no one had to show you.

The other source of your confusion is that outdoor destinations contradict your sense of being outside. A place where you go to be outdoors reminds you of the patterns of being inside. It is confined, and being outside is by nature unconfined. The outdoors is a place where things are not constructed, where paths are not established, where you are beyond boundaries. Essential to your sense of the outdoors is that feeling of liberation, not of being in any place, but of being in every place by being beyond the barriers that separate places. Without that you are just inside somewhere else.

Going outside is a decision to explore. You go outside to see what is there, not what you want to find. Plans ideally follow your own direction. If they don’t they are going wrong and that is annoying. But most of life is outside of your direction- it began without your wanting it and it will end without your wanting it. To explore it you have to let it happen to you. For that you have to be somewhat unprepared. So my message is this: don’t get stuck inside, neither your own head nor your own house. Don’t wait for the proper season. Don’t hold out for ideal weather. Don’t follow the map. Don’t know where you’re going to sleep tonight. Don’t focus on getting anywhere. Don’t stick to directions. Before you try to find your adventure in a faraway place remember that it will mean much less to you unless you can do this first- go outside. Pick a direction. Start walking.

With great seriousness,

Matt Dhillon

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