Reshape the way you think about winter

Barbara Brotman —  January 26, 2016 — 5 Comments

Are you feeling winter blue? Do you feel trapped in cold and ice? Has your mood gone south, leaving you wishing that you could, too?

What, with the world’s best antidepressant right out your front door?

The magic elixir is a winter walk. And the Chicago Botanic Garden awaits with a prescription-strength dose—miles of trails through the Garden, almost all of them kept clear of snow and ice, with a number of mapped-out walks ranging from 1 to 2.3 miles.

PHOTO: Spider Island in winter.

A hidden gem, the path along Spider Island is just the place for a peaceful winter walk.

I love a brisk walk any time, anywhere. But never is it as urgently necessary for my mental health as in winter.

A winter walk is the cure for cabin fever. And more than that, it’s the way to reshape the way you think about winter.

PHOTO: Birches in winter.

Elegant in winter, birches line the Sensory Garden path.

Winter doesn’t have to be a sentence to months of suffering. Once you start walking in it, you see it as a time for a brisk spins through snow-frosted landscapes; an opportunity to see trees in their dramatically revealed architecture; a chance at that perfect winter moment when a bright sun in a blue sky makes a new snowfall glitter like diamonds.

The Garden’s winter regulars need no convincing.

“I love the freshly fallen snow,” said Paul Wagner, who was here on a recent blue-sky day when snow frosted the hills and chunks of ice floated in the Garden’s waters.

He regularly drives 40 minutes from his Northbrook home to walk a 4½-mile circuit here.

“The Garden is really pretty. And it’s certainly less crowded,” he said. “It’s just peaceful. I listen to music…you’re deep in thought—and at the end of it, you’re just so relaxed you wonder where the time went.”

Cookie Harms, of Wilmette, treasures the quiet and solitude. She also admires the birds, untroubled by winter and more visible in leafless trees. “I still see something different every time I come here,” she said.

And as a self-described “summer girl,” she considers walking in winter an essential survival tool.

“It really lifts the blues,” she said. “It’s definitely a drug.”

PHOTO: Linden Allee in winter.

The Linden Allée, newly plowed after a fresh blanket of snow

But is it a hard drug to take? Isn’t walking in winter cold?

Wagner was wearing a sweatshirt over a base layer. The air temperature was 25 degrees Fahrenheit. He was perfectly comfortable. Walking fast is like being surrounded by a bubble of heat.

Harms was downright toasty, but that might be because she was basking in the sun in the Garden View Café before setting out on her walk.

Still, she was certain she would still be warm outside. “Fleece base layers,” she said, pointing to her leggings.

I would add: Hat. Wind-blocking scarf or neck gaiter. Chemical hand-warmers. Mittens.

Add a route through trees and hills, whether at the Garden or your local forest preserve—and out you go!


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Barbara Brotman

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I'm a former columnist and reporter at the Chicago Tribune and now an independent writer. At the Tribune, I wrote a weekly column on Page 2 and was also the paper's Outdoors Adviser, writing about outdoors adventures in the Chicago area from forest preserves and state parks to bike trails and city parks. I am a devoted tree-hugger, an occasional birder and an all-around fan of natural beauty.

5 responses to Reshape the way you think about winter

  1. My personal threshold is 20 degrees — any temp above that is fair time for a circuit of the garden! Best time of the year to do the spin around the perimeter!

  2. Barbara,
    I’ve missed your column, and am so happy that you are still writing! You have motivated me- I’m going to take that walk (drug) on Friday afternoon. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Amen! I walk 5-miles a day year round (yesterday 7 miles!) and it is, as you said, “the world’s best antidepressant.” And, none of the unpleasant side-effects, only ‘up sides’ of weight loss, improved fitness, well-being, energy… Let me add, there is no bad weather, only inadequate clothing! See you on the trails! ?????

  4. Lovely post! Glad to be able to read your words again. I would love to get to the Botanic Garden, but it would have to be a special trip, a bit too far for me. I walk my local trails as a prescription to SAD, and I confirm, it works!

  5. An even more effective cure for winter blues is exercise in full sunlight. Play ice hockey! Beats walking. Or snowshoe or X-C ski.

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