Walking, Head Down, on a Damp and Grey Day: How Virtuous It Is

On days like this, many residents of the US eastern seaboard are apt to question their decision to ever inhabit these spaces. The temperature is in the thirties (that’s just a couple of degrees above freezing point for all the folks living in Celsius-land); a steady, persistent drizzle is falling; and the most familiar color of all here on the East Coast, grey, has been used to paint, yet again, New York’s urban landscapes. Many of us will stay indoors today, but those who venture out will find that that experience brings its own reward, one which I suspect underwrites the tolerance that long-term East Coasters have for this benighted clime. Which is that walking, head down, through near-freezing temperatures while water drips off your hat, beanie, jacket  or whatever–because you know, many New Yorkers, like Pacific Northwesters, disdain umbrellas when rain of this intensity is falling–is often prone to provoking an acute sense of virtuousness in oneself.

Why would that be? For one thing, the mere fact of being outdoors puts you on the side of the Spartans. You have disdained comfort, the domestic hearth, and have ventured forth boldly. Not for you the safety of the familiar, the quotidian. No, suffused with the spirit of the intrepid, you have dared to look into your closet, laced and buttoned up, and sallied out. And once outdoors, the physical particulars of the day are conducive to a very distinctive mode of daydreaming.

As you walk, head bowed, grimly determined to make it through and past the damp and cold, you enter a zone similar to that entered by many who persistently engage with the uncomfortable: the once seemingly impossible barriers that your task seemed to have raised start to melt away, leaving you with the pleasing possibility that your abilities have the magical effect of making life more tractable.  This is gratifying in the extreme.

But even more importantly walking in bad weather forces a mode of concentration upon us that is increasingly hard to find and persist with in our normal, constantly-interrupted, notified, pinged, paged, and remindered existence: for that span of time that the walk persists, its just you and the execrable weather. And when things are that intimate, when using the smartphone might not be, you know, all that smart, why not just retreat a little bit into the ever more unfamiliar space of introspection?

I suspect these ventures into that space are often found by us to be pleasurable, that we enjoy our retreats into these rare moments of solitude. Thoughts move a little differently, they are not so easily displaced by external stimuli. Because, lets face it, on an East Coast day like this, who wants to look about and around, and stop and stare? Better to press on.

And that pressing on is really the clincher, I think. Nothing quite makes you imagine yourself as the relentless, courageous, explorer like a walk in really, really, shitty weather.

And yes, I did go out today.

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