Slouching Toward Mid-Winter

In cold and darkness you are traveling,

In warmth and brightness you will arrive.

Caitlín Matthews1

Crocuses
Photo credit: selkywolf.com

In a week and a half, on February 2nd, winter will be exactly half over, and not a moment too soon!  Millions of people in the U.S. mid-Atlantic and beyond are currently snowlocked into their homes while public works employees and emergency responders work diligently to restore order and ensure safety.  Our thanks to all of them for their devotion to humanity!  Even those of us not contending with towering drifts of snow and ocean flooding are shut in because of bitter cold and, ironically, not enough snow to foster the sports that become our deliverance.

The front half of winter was, for me, not unlike the proverbial holiday fruitcake.  It landed on my threshold with a thud on December 21, was colorful with some sweetness, and some bites were a little too tough to swallow.  The real trick is dislodging the remnants without my very teeth, but maybe it’s time to rethink that.  Metaphysical aficionados everywhere know that tooth problems portend an inability to analyze our own deeply held beliefs so that we can move forward constructively.2  While it’s easy to sink into ennui and think this dilemma is all my own, consider that also on February 2nd, the entire nation will look to celebrity groundhog Punxsutawney Phil to advise if, based upon whether or not he sees his shadow, we will endure six more weeks of winter.  It will be a feature story on the evening news and headline local internet/print media.

Groundhog Punxsutawney
Photo credit: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day#/media/File%3ADogGroundHog-small.jpg

Of course we will persevere, and the beloved marmot wrested from the sanctity of his burrow to augur the omen of spring will, like the rest of us, retreat to his den to await the thaw as nature intended.  Winter is deep and dark, forcing us out of the external and obvious, and into the constructs we have created for ourselves.  It is a time for introspection, and because self-examination is hard to do, the Universe helps us by holding our heads below the surface until we stop struggling against the current.  Thanks, Universe!

Groundhog Thanks, Universe!
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Hopefully we breach the surface of spring with more insight, the way forward clearer and less treacherous than it appears from our frosted windowpanes.  The vernal equinox arrives the moment the lightness of day is almost completely equal to the darkness of night, a near-perfect balance that occurs only twice during the course of the year.  Possibly then, in kind, we can contemplate our lives in isolation and in the greater context of the world without over-thinking it or skirting issues, and find equilibrium if only for a few minutes.  Even that is a lofty goal, but hey, we have seven and a half weeks to get there.  Enjoy the journey from the incandescent warmth of your burrow!


 

1Matthews, Caitlin.  “Imbolc.”  A Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings.  Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds, 2004.  p.46.  Print.

2Hay, Louise L. Heal Your Body: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them.  Santa Monica, CA: Hay House, 1984.  Print.

Damn the Protein-Coated Nucleic Acid Molecule!

cold meds
Part of my arsenal.

It’s the height of cold and flu season, and I have succumbed.  I nearly forgot that today is the day of week I usually upload new posts, thanks to the foggy headedness that comes along with the sore throat, coughing, sneezing, congestion and aches.  It’s as though my creative energy is either lodged inside my sinus cavities or running out my nose, and everything has gone white:  white monitor screen, white tissues, white towels and sheets being washed almost as frequently as my hands, the white lotion I keep applying to my hands and nose.  I am allowing myself one paragraph to gripe, and then we are on to better things.

I don’t feel like doing much of anything right now, but I don’t know what to do with myself when I am doing nothing.  Worse, I think the futility of my endeavors to entertain myself when I am too fidgety to nap is compounding my relative misery.  I have read every magazine in the house, done crossword puzzles and Sudoku, cleaned and sanitized ad nauseum, watched fluffy snowflakes drift down all day, and even summoned the strength to apply for what looks to be a job I might have invented for myself.  Daytime television is worse than ever, not by the obvious poor quality of selections, but by the sheer volume of the poor quality of selections.  It was bad enough when eight channels ran daytime drivel; now 500 channels run the same types of programs as the original eight.  Why are they doing this to us?

In case you find yourself in the same way I am right now, or for future reference, I’d like to share with you the results of extensive research I have conducted from under a blanket on my sofa.  This is the part where I type the disclaimer that I am not a physician and that if you are experiencing illness, you should close your laptop or smartphone and seek the help of a medical professional.  There are a lot of interesting ways to treat or prevent a cold, some of which are disturbing to put it mildly, but here are some that actually have research behind them:

  1. SLEEP.  Multiple university studies have demonstrated that 7-8 hours of sleep is the ticket to reducing your chances of catching a cold by at least threefold, if not four.  Uninterrupted sleep is best, but if you have to supplement with naps to compensate, that might be better than forging ahead with less.
  2. POWER ON.  As long as your symptoms are from the neck up, your workout is still your friend.  You might not get back to 100% before those who lay low (and vice versa), but you are likely to find your symptoms mitigated.  Which brings me to the next point…
  3. [DON’T] BLOW IT.  I am glad for this reminder as I have just opened my third box of tissue.  Close off one nostril and blow gently through the open one, then switch sides, or maybe better yet, just take a decongestant.  Blowing too forcefully through both nostrils at once can propel mucus upward into your sinuses!
  4.  HUMIDIFY.  This one might be my downfall, because after a humid summer, I am loathe to invite moisture into the air.  I love the dry air, but unfortunately, so do cold viruses.  I personally am compensating with hot showers and lingering over large mugs of hot tea.
  5. INVOKE THE GOD OF CACAO.  YES!  Although I’m not convinced of the research, I would like to be.  Researchers in the UK suggest that hot chocolate might suppress coughing, but they used dairy milk, which notoriously worsens coughing for a lot of people.  I deduce that it’s the chocolate itself that may have suppressed the coughs they induced in their subjects.  In the name of science and compassion for my fellow humans, I am personally taking on this one.
chocolate
I am 85% sure that this 85% pure dark chocolate bar is helping me right now.

Until next time, be well!

Brother Can You Spare an Aphid?

Temperatures have been well below freezing for over a week now, and in these parts it’s dipped below zero with double-digit negative wind chills.  The springfed well that went dry in late summer, prompting the owner of the property to drill a new well, has caught up with itself, the pristine water rising to the surface to saturate the driveway.  It continuously runs down to the road and freezes, layering itself, creating a sheet of ice inches thick.  The best I can do when leaving in the car is aim in the desired direction and hope to stop at the bottom of the driveway instead of shooting across the road and down an embankment.   Treachery!

Ice in driveway
Frozen spring water: Enter top, exit bottom, freeze, repeat.
Ice in street
This is where the spring-generated ice meets the road and continues the path of least resistance down the road.

However, inside this old house, spring seems to be abloom!  Thanks to the unseasonably warm fall and fluctuating temperatures, I have been living in the midst of an ongoing ladybug infestation.  I like ladybugs and I don’t mind them flying around the house, but I was first concerned for their survival. They like a measure of humidity, of which I have little inside, and the aphid population registers even lower since I gave away most of my houseplants before moving.  Aphids, along with some mites and scale insects, are the only things ladybugs will eat, and while I’m into feeding the world since humans are consuming nearly everything there is, I won’t be importing mites to my home.

On the flip side, it can become a little tiresome having so many ladybugs around.  They have landed in my food prep areas while I am cooking, and also on the dining table during meals.  There are worse things in life that could, and do, happen, but it’s unappetizing when even a nice insect drops from the chandelier and plops next to my plate.  Kitchen activities require heightened vigilance.  The beetles have occasionally buzzed my head, landed in my hair, and turned up in my folded canvas grocery bags.

On warmer, sunnier days in the late fall, literally hundreds of them swarmed the south facing side of the house, doors and windows; penetrated the structure through cracks; and occupied every room on both levels of my home as they vied for hibernation space.  I have since learned an interesting equation:

southern exposure + light colored house + clapboard = ladybug beacon

I saw a congress of eight of them high along one vaulted bedroom wall, and over the course of a couple of days, they moved closer and closer to each other until, with my uncorrected vision one dusky evening, they took on a menacing form.  They like to cluster together while hibernating, which I get, but seeing them amassed on the wall over a bed troubled me.  Not being able to reach them for eviction, I left them alone and eventually they dispersed or, more possibly, died.  I have since learned that affixing a stocking to a vacuum cleaner hose with a rubberband can be a harmless way to capture and release them.

I was aware that the United States is home to an invasive type of ladybug, so I consulted an expert on the subject, www.ladybuglady.com, to confirm my suspicion that these were my interlopers.   I think what I have here are Asian Lady Beetles (Harmonia Axyridis), a breed that was imported to the US from Asia in the early part of the 20th century for crop pest control.  Over the last decade or so, they have been released around the northeastern United States to protect our hardwood trees.  Both of these initiatives were successful, and hey, no chemicals were used other than, I suppose, the fuel to transport them to release point.  I am given to understand that the releases are no longer taking place in this region, which is probably a good thing since I have enough to at minimum protect the state of New York.  This particular type of ladybug reportedly will sometimes bite if frenzied for a place to hibernate, but I can’t bring myself to swat them.

When we moved into this home, the owner surprised me with the suggestion to set off insecticide foggers, if we went away for a few days, to thwart returning to a maelstrom of lady beetles.  She also crinkled her nose as she cautioned that they smell terrible.  My perplexity at the time had to be visible, but I have since read in several places that, when stressed, ladybugs release a yellow substance that stains and emits a foul odor.  My unscientific mind likens this defense mechanism to that of an octopus or squid releasing ink.  Evidently, a prior occupant disturbed a cluster of ladybugs, and the consequences have outlasted both of their tenancies.

Ladybug Ink
This is moulding alongside a ceiling beam. The staining is “reflex bleeding” left by distressed ladybugs. When they ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

I wouldn’t set off foggers to kill ladybugs, but having pets inside the home would preclude me from doing so just the same.  They haven’t bitten me, so I don’t whack them.  As long as they stay out of my food, I can catch and release them outside where they crawl back under the clapboard, hopefully to reorient themselves to torpor and not just reenter the house through another crevice.  If I can steward them through the winter, the gardens this summer will be lovely.

Echinacea in winter