Minister’s Message: Finding peace outdoors in winter

I am a self-proclaimed “summer baby.”

By Rev. Meredith Harber

For the Peninsula Clarion

One of the very first nuggets of Alaskan wisdom I was given almost four years ago was, “Get outside in the winter.”

I am a self-proclaimed “summer baby.” You’ll find me much happier when I’m enjoying the sunshine of a fine summer day on top of one of our beautiful mountain peaks after a sweaty hike. I’m not someone who has traditionally enjoyed cold cheeks and dry hands, choosing to stay inside and hunker down.

So when I moved to Alaska and I was told that I needed to get outside in these very cold temperatures, I smiled sweetly and frantically started Googling wool socks and base layers and jackets with heating devices inside of them.

This wisdom has stayed with me and has changed who I am for half the year. Instead of staying inside and avoiding winter, I’ve learned to get outside and enjoy it.

Some days, when it’s -10, I enjoy it a bit less than the 30-degree days with soft, fluffy snowflakes falling. I’ve learned to do some Nordic skiing — I call it “Nordic skiing” when I want to sound cooler than just “cross-country skiing.” I keep my snowshoes in the car and I allow myself to buy whatever warm socks, hats and gloves will keep me playing outside.

When I first moved here, I didn’t quite understand how the long, dark winter will slowly invade your body and seem to devour you from the inside out. If you stay inside and pretend it doesn’t exist, your mind and body will atrophy, slowly and sneakily, before you even realize just how sad and lost you feel. This past year has certainly intensified these sad and lonely feelings, because we have all spent a lot more time alone and probably a lot more time inside our homes.

By telling me to get outside by you much heartier, seasoned Alaskans, this new Cheechako was handed a lifeline and told to use it. And boy, I can tell a difference when I “get outside” and when I don’t.

We’re gaining 6-7 minutes of daylight per day right now, where mornings are getting a bit brighter and evenings are getting a bit later. The urge to come home and cling to my couch has lessened, but I still have to work to get outside and enjoy winter.

Dear friends, whether you were a homesteader or a new Alaskan like me, I hope you can make time to get outside. Allow yourself to go for a walk, snowshoe, ski or even stand on your back porch and breathe in deeply this crisp, cold winter air. Allow your eyes and ears to take a break from the screens that we have been forced to cling to over the last year, and let your senses instead fill up with the sounds, smells and sights of this beautiful creation that we get to be a part of. I hope you make the time to get outside today and tomorrow and every day this week.

The Rev. Meredith Harber serves Christ Lutheran Church, located at 128 N. Soldotna Ave., or across from Mykel’s and next to “the old Magic Moments building,” as better known. You can find Pastor Meredith playing outside with her pups Jimmy and Ruthie, obsessively collecting high-quality wool socks, or on Facebook Live at 10 a.m. on Sundays, leading worship digitally in this weird COVID era.

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