I hate being cold. And “hate” may not even be an accurate word. The phrase “I hate being cold” almost sounds like the beginnings of a love poem compared to the feelings I have around the sensation of chilliness. I mean, I absolutely DETEST being cold from the bottom of my wimpy, skinny soul. Not only do I shiver and whine, but the inner core of every cellular structure in my body feels so assaulted and immobilized by an icy breeze, that I feel less than functional. And the thing is, I am cold…all the time. So why, why do I live in Seattle where damp and wintry days make up the bulk of our year, even in summer? Well, first off, I have a steady job and own a home (which is usually freezing). But secondly, Seattle has this way of convincing you to stay for the 9 days of the year when it’s just fucking beyond belief gorgeous. It’s like a vicious lover who treats you poorly and doesn’t call, but when he shows up in that t-shirt, jeans and windblown hair, damn, he just looks so good, you can’t leave. So I suffer through the fall and winter months, a heating pad tucked under the covers at night, a pair of bootie slippers at the bedside ready for toes to be submerged into after surfacing from underneath the down comforter that I insist on despite the fact that it makes my husband, Keith a tad sneezy. Long underwear, close fitting tees and, my latest discovery, “arm warmers” are all hidden under my outer layer of clothing making me a good inch thicker in every direction, and all the more resentful of the sundresses and shorts gathering dust in the closet.
In an attempt to reduce the whimpering and kvetching around the house, Keith and I blocked off a weekend in March and booked flights to a retreat center in Sun drenched, beautiful, solve all your problems, CALIFORNIA. The website featured stunning sites of mountains with gaping wide open blue skies, a Hindu temple shimmering in the sunlight, and brightly colored flowers, pregnant with photosynthesizing chloroplasts. Keith had negotiated a barter which made the deal all the sweeter: his video and photography services in exchange for 4 days of what they termed a simple “personal retreat”, which included food and lodging. The anticipation of the trip grew weekly as I watched my wipers clear off sleet from the windshield , piled on extra pairs of Smart Wool socks (I hadn’t seen my bare feet in months) and wore a turtleneck sweater to bed. And when Keith wasn’t looking, I turned up the heat in the house, prepping for the 70 degree weather I knew would greet us with our first steps off the plane.
I should say that I have a fairly poor history with my attempted sunny escapes. The last time I went searching for sunshine and summer heat that would exceed the typical whopping 65 degrees of Seattle in August, I headed home back east only to be met by Hurricane Irene, and was stranded without power (or sun as it turned out) in Massachusetts wearing the 3 long sleeve shirts I had brought, and listening to my Dad croon “This is Pioneer living, Mary!” while Seattle enjoyed its most spectacular week of warm weather since 2005. I had flown to both San Francisco and Copenhagen on two separate occasions during the month of June with a hopeful tank top and sandals packed on the top of my suitcase, which were rendered obsolete by winds that necessitated borrowing a wool hat and scarf from my hosts. And then last year in April when I prepared to fly to France to meet Keith who had been there for a week and had regaled me with stories about the sun rays that were practically turning him into a different race. “I’m wearing shorts right now!” he had sung over the phone. And so I packed 2 skirts and short sleeve shirts which ended up being part of what became my “layered look” ensemble, as the weather dropped 15 degrees upon my arrival. Sunbeams had to be my destiny.
I had great plans of sitting out on the deck of the retreat’s main lodge, pants and sleeves rolled up (I didn’t expect any kind of tank top miracle) donning my new sunglasses while I read inspiring works of fiction and non-fiction that I had downloaded onto my Kindle reader. Perhaps I’d be sipping iced tea, munching on fresh fruit and periodically re-applying SPF 30 onto my sun-sensitive skin.
And so we arrived in California, and my turtle neck sweater from the Seattle morning comfortably came off as we skipped from the airport to pick up our rental car and smiled at the graying skies saying, “Well, it might be a similar hue of gray as Seattle, but at least it’s 10 degrees warmer, right?” 10 degrees, then 8 degrees, then 5 , 4 , 3 and lower and lower it went as our car made the drive to Ananda Hill, our mountain retreat center, windshield wipers furiously attempting to fend off the raindrops that were falling as hard as the tears of disappointment that I was trying to choke back. The weather report: rainy and cold for the next four days with a chance of things clearing slightly on Monday, the day we were scheduled to leave.
The friendly folks at Ananda Hill confirmed the forecast and assured us “It’s never like this”. From what we could gather, the whole winter had been sunny and warm every weekend except this one. “Last week I was wearing a tank top” trilled the girl who checked us in, and I kind of felt like yanking her pony tail.
But I decided, it wasn’t the weather that needed changing, it was my attitude. I murmured to Keith what I always said when I needed to check my perspective about a situation that was unfortunate but not all that bad in the big scheme of things. “Well, at least I haven’t been sold into slavery”. That usually made me feel better. But, it got colder and rainier as day one progressed and Keith and I both donned our rain jackets, had hot soup for dinner and spent a restless night in our frosty wooden cabin with the two single beds smooshed together for extra warmth, while rain slammed down sounding like a group of large angry ogres tapping their fingers on our roof.
The next morning, greeted by damp and frigid air, I layered up with a pair of yoga pants I would wear under everything for the next four days. I drowned my soggy sorrows in 2 huge slices of gluten free bread slathered in peanut butter and jam in the dining room full of windbreakers and fleece. The first slice reminded me of how much I fucking love peanut butter. Goddamnit! That stuff was good. The second slice reminded me, as I vehemently forced into my butter laden belly, that I was miserable, chilled and stuck in a cold hazy hell for 4 days, trying to compensate with a huge slice of gluten free bread slathered in peanut butter and jam.
Yet I knew I was in this beautiful place meant for exploring inner peace and outer flora; at least I had been told it was beautiful. Supposedly there was a spectacular view. It looked splendid on the website, but the current fog was so dense it essentially appeared as if I was peering out of a plane window into the thick of the clouds. I thought I could see some blobs that resembled trees, or wait, was that a house? Or one of the meditation temples? No, I was pretty sure I saw branches, or were those Tibetan prayer flags? The visibility was so pitiful, there were moments when I thought the rain had actually stopped because I couldn’t see anything, but no such luck. It continued to pour and pour for hours and remained in the 50’s.
The lump loomed large in my throat with bourgeois angst. This was essentially nature’s version of spilt milk and crying felt like a luxury.
I spent the day reading more than I had for the entire past year, swaddled in the turtle neck shirt, cardigan sweater and pashmina scarf I had brought “just in case!” and huddled in the dining area near a window in the hopes of catching a gleam of sunshine, my beacon in this emotional storm of petulance and disappointment. That night, Keith and I sat with a “regular” at the retreat center who told us “It’s pretty much sunny and beautiful all the time here.” “That’s what everyone keeps saying!” I said feeling my urge to yank HIS pony tail, but Keith was in tune enough to eyeball me back to composure. The grand romance we had planned that weekend faded into mechanical smiles and exchanges as we retreated to our single beds, me shivering and exhausted from all my “harrumphing”.
We woke to drizzly, nippy, and windy Day Three of our sunny, warm and peaceful California vacation. I wanted to yank Nature’s pony tail (although at this point I was kind of ready to give it a smack.) Even the “gobble gobble” of the nine wild, wandering turkeys, which would normally send me into a tailspin of delight was irksome. In a game of foul war those turkeys were no match for the gargantuan goose bumps that permeated my epidermis. Keith rolled his eyes when I told him that the drops of rain were like bibigun pellets on my soul. Bless him. He was trying to have a good time. We passed a group of school kids on our way to breakfast. 2 girls were skipping. How could they? I thought. Didn’t they know I was suffering? One does not skip while others are in misery.
While Keith went off to shoot some photos and video of the center, I retreated back to my reading station by the window and practically seared my esophagus as I gulped down excessive amounts of steaming tea. I tried to find comfort in the miraculously alternative condiment tray that the dining hall had on hand, the type that a hippie dietitian like me drools over: sesame seeds, cayenne pepper, miso paste, nutritional yeast and seaweed flakes. There was some solace in stimulating my taste buds with various blends of these items in soups and spreads at meals and snacks and I hoped that swallowing cayenne pepper would provide some internal heat process that might allow me to take off my arm warmers. But I couldn’t seem to shake the chill. With the exception of a few walks to the bathroom (ok, many walks thanks to the buckets of hot liquid I had consumed) and a perusal of the meeting rooms hosting various yoga and “write yourself to wellness”
workshops, I remained by the window for a large portion of the day. There was no other place to go that didn’t require rain boots (which I hadn’t brought), or an exceedingly strong constitution not worn down by glacial gusts of wind. I read and munched and periodically peered out the window. Although I sensed this might be an opportunity, I wasn’t much in the mood for exploring my inner soul, knowing that my search would likely unearth a mighty grump too stubborn to appreciate beauty disguised as calamity. Keith would briefly stop by every couple hours, smiling sympathetically, in between his video shoots, his face glistening with raindrops and that natural glow one gets when one has been running up hills and dashing after deer trying to get the perfect snapshot. For the first time, I started envying the additional layer of hair he had on most of his body that seemed to be missing from mine. No wonder I was so extra cold: I was skinny and hairless. Unfortunately there was no place to lodge a formal complaint against nature and one’s body composition, so I just seethed quietly, through my chattering teeth.
There were several upbeat moments: , a brief walk in the sodden woods with Keith during a respite from the rain when the sun actually shone for 47 minutes. A hot oil treatment at the spa which gave me the lovely sensation of my blood doing the Hava Negila through my veins and blood vessels as I counted the minutes until I would have to return to my arctic atmosphere. And there was the arrival of the 89 year old Hindu guru associated with Ananda Hill, there to take questions. Oddly enough (or not, depending on your place in the spiritual world) this was a man who had chosen not to speak for the past 35 years as a way to deepen his devotion to his faith. So the crowd around him was less a mass of journalist-like fans pummeling him with verbal questions, and more a quiet entity gingerly passing forward small pieces of paper with penciled inquiries to which he would respond with smiles, nods, and brief but seemingly pithy written responses. I noted from my sullen perch that no one in the group seemed that offended by the weather. In fact, they barely appeared to notice it. They were just happy to be in the presence of a revered teacher even if all he did was smile, wave and be. And there I was, a scouling page out of the book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” with only a short bit of time left until our departure. I hadn’t meditated, I hadn’t day dreamed with Keith about our future as we had planned, and I hadn’t even started thawing into vacation mode despite the fact that I had been “on vacation” for three days. I remained trapped in truculence, determined to have a terrible time, which, I did.
As predicted by our weather forecaster, we flew back home on our final day, through rays of California sunshine and back into the Seattle gray. We didn’t talk much on the plane ride home but held hands and snoozed against each other, ignoring the 4 day accumulation of grime on the sweaters we had worn the entire time. As we landed, I turned to Keith and said, “I’m sorry I was so ‘poopy’ for the past few days”. He shrugged and said sweetly. “It’s ok. At least we weren’t sold into slavery.” When we got home, I immediately turned up the heat and bathed my grouchy outlook into humble resignation with a hot shower that left me feeling rather foolish. Where was the court jester to soliloquize about my folly? Had I really just sulked away four days of my life? For someone who hates to waste time almost as much as she abhors the cold, I had done an incredible job of squandering 96 hours that had had the potential to be tranquil and illuminating. As I unpacked my unused sunglasses from their case, two tears emerged from my eyes and rolled down my cheeks chuckling and skipping as they went.