The cold has finally arrived. Snow has carpeted the grass and framed the buildings with a border of white. Temperatures are dropping and freezing drizzles make walks to class ordeals. Those poor unfortunate souls who have to make the trek to Twilight or the Mahaney Center for the Arts know the pain of biting wind and icy rain. It’s almost winter here, and it’s that time when we break out the hot chocolate, throw on some sweaters, and insulate our rooms from the cold outside. Why brave the cold when our warm rooms have Netflix, good books, and food? This is, indeed, that time of year when the Ross J-term Challenge starts to make a little bit of sense. When it gets to January and the temperatures tumble down below zero, it’s hard to find a reason to ever leave the building.
I often want nothing more than to just lie in bed with a mug of cider and a good book and forget about the wintry weather outside. But I’ve come to believe that it is the winter, more than any other time of the year, when getting outside and away is most important. No other time during the year is movement more limited, and no other time of year is movement more vital to our mental health.
We need to get out. Often we hear of so-called “cabin fever,” which suggests that people go a little insane when cooped up in one building due to inclement weather. This is real, and it’s particularly bad in a dorm environment. All of us have small rooms, for one thing. We also live in extreme proximity to dozens of other students, who we see every day. So many people kept inside for a long period of time will naturally cause conflicts to arise. Diversification of scenery and people, then, is important to keep our minds and our communities peaceful.
I’m not just suggesting the typical method of walking to another Middlebury building to hang out, however. I believe that what we really need during those short, bitterly cold winter days is a complete change of location. At the very least, a trip into town can prove to be immensely valuable. Bundling up to brave the negative temperatures probably doesn’t sound all that appealing, but if you can survive the ten-minute walk to a cafe in town, I’ve found that the mental liberation brings relief. That metaphorical gray cloud that hangs over many of us during the winter isn’t so much a result of the cold itself, but rather a consequence of long stretches of stagnation. We need to move. It is essential to see something else besides the college, to break the monotony, to bring some form of change to our everyday lives. The skies are stagnant enough; when we aren’t going anywhere either, it makes sense that we feel depressed and gloomy. Seeing the same thing every day will have that effect.
Last year, I found my respite in skiing. Almost every afternoon I took the trip up to the Snow Bowl and skied for a couple hours. They were short trips, but they made a world of difference — I never felt trapped or affected by the cold. Even just the ride up into the mountains allowed me to get somewhere different. The trees and mountains were welcome changes to the gray buildings of the college.
It seems, then, that the main effect of the winter weather is to reduce our worlds down to small boxes. Bitter coldness traps us indoors, makes us unwilling to change our scenery and compels us to seek warmth and avoid the weather. Entire days become contained within one or two buildings, with only the shortest of walks between them. This does not happen during any other season. It’s a unique effect of winter, and it makes us feel imprisoned. In effect, it imprisons us. It is up to each of us to break out of that box. We need to get out, to walk around, to sit and be in a place that’s entirely separate of the college. You can see the weight of Seasonal Affective Disorder on students all throughout campus, but I strongly believe that we are not at the mercy of the cold weather. In my experience, the depressing stagnation of winter can be combated with only a short walk and a change of scenery.
Artwork by VAASU TANEJA