The hidden gems of winter

December 17, 2014









from the Car-Free in Cortland column in the Cortland Standard


by Emma Ignaszewski





Pop quiz. What year was the old Congregational Church on Elm Street built? What types of snowflakes are clinging to the rhododendrons? How many ducks are frolicking in Otter Creek on a given Tuesday evening?





These are not questions you can successfully google. Their answers can’t be found in your encyclopedia or on Wikipedia. These are curiosities that must be solved by stepping outside.


One of the best parts about walking is the world of experience at your fingertips (and toetips). I’m a huge fan of being able to find out the difference in elevation between Cortland and Geneva in the click of a button, or learn about how the famous Cortland apple was cultivated with a few keystrokes. But as wide as the world feels in this digital age, it can still feel wider when you dive into it outside.





Over Thanksgiving, I helped some friends rake a yard. I grew up in Phoenix, AZ, so I’ve raked some mesquite leaves in my day, but nothing on this scale. I had never before fallen backwards into a leaf pile, trusting it to catch me, the air filled with the vivid scent of loam. A week later, as I walk to work all bundled up, I am still plucking dried leaves from my hat and scarf, little reminders that life shouldn’t play out behind a screen or behind a wheel.





Books, the internet, the radio – they all have a great deal of information. People spend oodles of time consuming that information and converting it to knowledge. And we all have a different combination of the ways in which we learn, but on average, each student’s learning style is split three ways:




  • 37% Haptic – moving, touching, doing

  • 34% Auditory – sound, music

  • 29% Visual – photos, illustrations, images





This data is from Specific Diagnostic Studies of Rockville, Maryland, and I think it shows that we humans have an incredible array of skills for understanding what’s around us. By using all our senses, we engage with each other and with nature. We discover things that we might never have discovered from behind a car door.





I have relatively new walking shoes. They’re minimalist – almost as simple as socks. I can feel pebbles and the chill of winter under my toes. And these sneakers also make me incredibly light on my feet, so I can skip up a curb, or jump up the stairs, or do a leprechaun kick. I can learn about the world by touching it with my feet. And because I’m breathing in the frosty air, listening to the patterns of rain as it plashes on the asphalt, and watching the golden sun peel itself from the eastern hills in the morning, I know about the world. And I love what I find.





So take yourself on a scavenger hunt. Tell a story with your evening walk. Find out something about this community by stepping outside, and don’t give up just because you feel something you’re not used to feeling. Embrace it.  





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