I once attended a seminar presented by the National Endowment for the Humanities on the Philosophy of Math. As an economist teaching in a math department, I was obviously the participant with the most unusual background, as most of the other participants were philosophers of math, many teaching in philosophy departments. While there, I recall one woman discussing the question of “is there a middle number?” Since there is no highest or lowest number, the question became whether there is a middle number. Her conclusion was that there is, indeed, a middle number, and that number is zero.
I thought of this recently when I attended a book sale with my daughter and noticed a popular book for sale called “Cabin Fever.” This reminded me of the question about a middle number, for, as the year unfolds, we find ourselves this weekend somewhere in the middle of the time we designate as “winter.” This, of course, occurs whether or not a groundhog sees his shadow. And, I must admit, despite unseasonably warm weather in this part of the country, I am happy to be heading towards spring. I guess you could say that I am battling cabin fever.
The sense of “cabin fever” is perhaps less severe for us in academia, since January brings with it a new beginning, rather than just more of the same snow and cold. I work to appreciate each day’s unique gifts, but I must admit that winter days in gloomy Cleveland are sometimes hard to celebrate. Still, I do my best to savor the joys of winter days, which bring with them a special magic.
I recall one student from many years ago who enjoyed playing tennis in the snow. She explained this unusual pastime by saying that if one is going to live in Cleveland, one should find a way to enjoy the cold and darkness. I must admit that I have not yet found such a way, and my recent broken bones will prevent me from participating in some popular winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding. Because of my brittle bones, winter activities are best enjoyed as I watch my daughter and her friends sled down a hill near our home. This is actually very fun, as I often find myself with other moms who are also sitting out the events.
In our neighborhood, winter brings with it a collection of interesting prints in the snow, some obviously from neighborhood dogs and squirrels and others from groups of deer running in search of bits of vegetation to eat. I point these out to my daughter, who is sometimes found making her own sets of “prints” as she traces out snow angels in what was, not long ago, our lawn. This is also the time of year that snowmen appear decked out in winter hats and scarves, and occasionally, as was the case with one who appeared in a neighbor’s yard, painted brightly with food coloring.
Winter is challenging for my active and athletic daughter, who, despite being on a basketball team, finds herself constrained to the house most of these months. She sometimes relies on an interactive video game given to her by my parents to get exercise and “participate” in a variety of sports while the driveway, covered in snow, remains empty of the neighborhood children who like to congregate there. I often find myself being recruited to play games with her on the video system, and once again am humbled as I realize how un-coordinated I really am. I wonder if this is how my students feel in some of my math classes, as they, too, struggle to learn skills that are new to them.
The Friday night tradition of grilling outside that we adhere to in the warmer months turns into “popcorn and movie” night when it gets too cold to grill. We are usually reluctant to bid farewell to the grilling, causing my husband to spend many evenings shivering over the grill as we try keep that warm weather tradition alive.
More than any other season, winter invites us to curl up with a book, a habit that I am happy to see my daughter is acquiring. And I relish the way my husband makes hot chocolate for us all, using milk and adding marshmallows to be served in our favorite mugs.
When she was about three or four, my daughter once wistfully said “mommy, a long time ago it was summer.” Yes, it was, and it will be again. But until then, let us savor the beauty of the season that we experience now. For it, too, will be over much too soon.