There’s a saying, which I’ve heard attributed to half a dozen different cultural origins, that claims something to the effect of “There is no bad weather; just bad clothing.” The meaning is clear enough: dress yourself well, and every day is a good day to be outside. It’s that easy.
It used to be, anyway. Every day I’d walk to work, without a car to get me there faster or protect me from the weather. I’d appreciate the slow turn of the seasons, carefully selecting the right socks, boots, jackets and umbrella for each day. Snow? Rain? It didn’t matter. I used to have just one person to prepare for outside—myself—and sometimes almost unlimited time to donate to outdoor adventures. If I wanted to spend Saturday hiking through eighteen inches of snow to the top of a castle, it was my fingers and toes that would get cold, and I knew wouldn’t complain.
I just finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning To Walk In The Dark, an exploration of darkness, specifically as it applies to our understanding of God. Her basic premise lies in the popular assumption that darkness and its associate, night, are bad, and that God lives mostly or only in the light. Taylor takes issue with this, claiming that this view confines God to a small and unnatural space, and unfairly keeping God out of the other half, just because it is less comfortable for us.
It’s in a similar vein that we talk about the seasons, with summer lurking near the top of the hierarchy and winter always at the bottom. We complain about dark, cold days and nights that seem endless. Even the concept of hygge, popular in recent years, focuses more on the beauty of indoor coziness during the winter, as if it’s a time to be managed with sweaters and tea, not savored undiluted. We marvel at God’s beauty in other seasons, but winter is different, the one season about which it seems fine to shrug and say, “Well, I don’t really understand what God was going for there.”
I used to love all the seasons. Cascade summers free of shoes and responsibility. The highlighter greens of spring in the Black Forest. Crunching sweet leaves in Seattle’s Woodland Park in the fall. Winter I fell in love with last, on a monochrome weekend in France, a white and grey highlight in the middle of a white and grey winter. We toured a frozen monastery, made tracks across a cloister, a vivid memory of a colorless world.
But a lot has happened since I was a barefoot kid who never came inside, or even a single professional with plenty of time and jackets. Then, outside was a matter of course, a place to be and to love and to live. Now, I can avoid it, because it’s not that easy to get outside all the time. I can cite the clouds overhead, the hassle of getting three people dressed instead of one, the added stress of keeping everyone safe and happy outside as reasons not to bother. Not today, I say. It’s cold today. I’m tired today. The forecast has a dry day next week. We’ll go outside then.
After a rainy September day during which I looked at my kids, fresh off a summer spent mostly outside, and said aloud “What are we going to do all winter?” this January I set a somewhat audacious goal: Every day in 2020, I would go outside. On purpose and for a bit of time. No, walking from the house to the car, from the car to the grocery store wouldn’t do. Even treading the well-worn path down the street to our church or my parents’ house wasn’t enough. And since most days I spend in the company of two tiny girls, they’ll be coming, too.
Not that I expect much complaint from them. They don’t care if they’re damp, and never seem to get cold. Being dirty is not a problem for them, and they seem to appreciate a good amount of space to run and be loud. A few weeks ago I ordered them matching yellow rain suits, which we call the Banana Suits, and they like nothing better than running around a wet playground in the rain.
So far, so good. We’ve been out every day, and most of them have been wet. In a way, January is a good time to start what I’ve pretentiously named the No Bad Weather Project. If we can deal with the coldest, wettest days that Seattle winter has to offer, the rest of the year should be downhill. But honestly, it’s not January I’m worried about. It’s July, when temperatures soar above 90˚F (33˚ C) many days. It’s August, when wildfires fill our air with toxic smoke, keeping everyone indoors until the rain comes back.
I think about Australia, a country on fire, and know that it’s just a small piece of the puzzle. The effects of climate change are what I’m afraid of—in the short term as they affect our capacity to be outside, in the long term as they affect our capacity to keep living in general—but it’s also why we need to be out every day. Because outside is important, and we can’t protect something we don’t know, we don’t care about. I want my kids to know, and to care. I want them to know that God made the rain, too, and that we should love it just as much as sunshine. I want them to remember snow if, horrible thought, it leaves our latitude in their lifetime. I want them to see the beauty in each day, even in the middle of this city where they’re growing up, to know the love written in God’s creation.
As I write this, it’s about 40˚ F (5˚ C) and raining, with a tantalizing bit of Seattle snow in the forecast for tonight. We’ve already been out today, splashing in the same puddle and picking up the same pinecones we discovered yesterday. It’s repetitive and slow, this experiment. But so are seasons, and so is childhood. Slow and meaningful, worth paying attention to. If it snows tomorrow, we’ll be delighted to run around in it, experiencing the glorious rarity of our city transformed. If not, we’ll still be out, in different clothes. Because every day is a day to be outside.