Ice, snow, and temps in the teens can make connecting with the earth a bit challenging. Soil is either frozen solid or sealed beneath an icy sheet of frostbite incarnate. Can you imagine earthing in the winter? Sounds like a recipe for hypothermia.
During the coldest months we stay indoors with our wood stoves and space heaters, wear thick-soled boots, and cover our ears, mouths, and noses with insulating layers. The human body just isn’t built for the cold; not without heat-saving innovations like warm coats and wool hats at least. There was a time not so long ago in human evolution when warm layers were guaranteed to be, well, quite frumpy. Not anymore. The movement towards stylish insulation first too-off with headwear. The ivy cap is a 14th century British creation — not to be confused with the North American depression-era variety — that exemplifies just how creative humanity can be. Some cold-headed soul got tired of looking like a bump on a log and fashioned himself a wool hat that he actually looked good in. I daresay it was a notable moment in history for mankind’s ability to attract a mate during the winter months.
While one of the drawbacks of this kind of hat is that it doesn’t protect one’s ears, that same quality is also one of its most positive attributes when it comes to tuning-in to the natural world.
If we completely close off our sensory faculties from the natural world, how are we supposed to be fully aware of its subtle gifts? You can’t hear the snow-covered chickadees rustling overhead when you’re wearing earmuffs, and you can’t smell a pine tree when you’ve got a giant scarf wrapped around your face. Peeling off the layers should be done in moderation of course, and unless you’re Wim Hoff — the Dutch world-record holder dubbed the “Iceman” — it’s probably not a great idea to try climbing Mount Everest in just your shorts and shoes.
With all of our protective gear, being tuned-in to nature is more challenging in the winter than in the summer. The more we prime ourselves for remembering our wildness and bond to the land, the better equipped we are to catch hold of those rare winter moments of connection.
Winter is a season for the speed demons among us. From downhill skiing and snowboarding to Olympic-style speed skating, some of the most thrilling sports are set on ice and snow. But when one’s purpose is to connect with the earth, a slower pace is where it’s at.
Tackling your favorite hiking trails with snowshoes lets you experience familiar places with fresh eyes. If those trails are in avalanche country, always carry safety gear and avoid high-risk zones. For a closer-to home adventure, cross-country skiing on groomed trails at the nearest state park, or on your own street if you’re lucky enough to live in a low-traffic area with good snowfall, is an excellent way to get some exercise and open up all your sensory channels. The best part is that moving generates heat, so if you keep up a good pace you’re unlikely to feel the nip in the air!
Potted outdoor plants all come in for the winter, and thankfully they bring with them all those good outdoor vibes they’ve soaked up throughout the spring, summer, and fall. If you don’t have plants that need to make the annual indoor migration, try buying one or two plants specifically for your home or office this winter. Not only does the greenery liven up a room, indoor plants actually remove pollutants from the air.
It might sound weird, but just sticking your hand in the soil of a potted plant every once in awhile can be a great reminder that there is in fact fertile earth out there, and it will return after the spring thaw.
Some people go so far as to raise earthworms indoors during the winter. Just put some in a container and feed them your compost. Worm castings are known as a super soil, containing five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus, and 11 times more potassium than ordinary soil.
Turn down the heat.
This one might feel a little counter intuitive, but bear with me. Our self-regulating body systems don’t do all that well with extreme temperature fluctuations.
Instead of blasting the heat in your house to the upper 70s and feeling that intense shock to the system when you walk outside and it’s below freezing, keeping the house at a lower temperature will help your body adjust to the natural changes of the season. It’s worth noting that turning the thermostat back 10° to 15° for 8 hours (like when you’re at work) can save you 5% to 15% on your heating bill. There’s no need to go crazy with this one — ie, it’s important to keep the house warm enough that pipes don’t freeze and mold doesn’t grow — but a little heat conservation goes a long way in reconnecting us to the earth. This of course is true for the immediate moment, because our bodies are more aligned with the natural temperature, and for the kind of prosperous future that relies upon less consumption no matter the season.
Most importantly, during the icy cold winter months we have to remember that we are all just human animals. Even though we’ve managed to make quite a protected existence for ourselves in our cities and towns, we’re still completely reliant on the earth for everything we do and we are.
While our portion of the earth hibernates, we’re given the opportunity to slow down and tune-in to the environment with a fresh perspective. Now is the time to unwrap that scarf, throw off those earmuffs, and appreciate the awesomeness of our frozen planet.