Perhaps the only (or most important) benefit of the temperature staying below freezing for the past two days is that the ground has hardened. After a very wet December in Cambridge, my favourite off-road running trails had become mud bogs. Not fun for running, especially not with new shoes! So, until this morning, I had been staying on damp, but solid underfoot, streets and pavements.
This morning, though, it was cold enough (yesterday was -8 C, this morning a balmy -1.6 C), and after dropping the kids off and ignoring the raised eyebrows of more sensible grown-ups at the school gate, I went for a run in the fields.
There is a warmth that comes from running or skiing (or any active outdoor play) in cold cold weather that is wonderful. It is a burning in my fingers and toes that I don’t notice in the summer months. Perhaps it’s the contrast between the crisp air and my own hands that makes it so pronounced. I can remember that sometimes, as a kid, this heat was so intense it was almost painful after a day of skiing or messing around in the snow. It’s such a delicious contradiction of hot and cold that the sensation brings back sharp, specific memories: sledding on Pipeline road, skiing the Jeep trails on Pajarito mountain with friends, holding mugs of hot chocolate or hot cider in hands that are stiff with cold on the outside, tingling with warmth on the inside.
While relishing this warmth, I happily ran over hardened mud, inches thick frozen with the memory of the last piece of large farm equipment that lumbered through, bicycle tracks, horseshoes, dog prints, and boot prints. Best of all was coming on places where thin layers of ice had formed over puddles still wet and muddy underneath. Why is it so satisfying to break that thin ice with the tap of a shoe? I find it nearly impossible to pass an iced-over puddle without breaking the ice, shattering the opaque surface into sharp shards. Nothing else sounds like that high pitched breakage. Or, on thicker pieces, leaning slowly in and hearing the creak of thin ice as I test my weight on the pane, watching the cracks spread along the surface, muddy waters bubbling up through the openings.
Of course, it was only a matter of time until I stepped too hard and the ice broke, my foot went in, and my new running shoes got muddy. But worth it all the same for the chance to play on the ice.
As I turned back from the ice sheets over mud puddles, it occurred to me that there could be a metaphor to thaw out of all of this. Something about thin ice, about cracks in the surface, about shattering conditional boundaries. But as I turned back on to the main road and headed home, snow began to fall, and I decided to just enjoy the rest of the run.
Have a lovely weekend.