Are You A Bear Or A Wolf?


This week our guest Journalist, Jasper Winn, reminds us that January is a month to be embraced and, rather than suffer the usual new year restrictions of giving stuff up, encourages us to get outdoors to experience nature’s Winter glories!

When it comes to dealing with the cold, damp weather and short days of winter, humans, it seems, divide up into bears and wolves. The ‘bears,’ having stocked up on food and drink, hide themselves away in a comfortable den for the dark months to watch box sets, stoke the fire and wait for springtime. The ‘wolves,’ on the other hand think of winter as just another season, arguably a season even better than the others. The wolves have got it right. For actual wolves, canis lupus, winter is hard but it’s a time of opportunity. A good time for hunting. Human wolves who revel in the outdoors are equally, if differently, rewarded.


Everything in winter is more extreme. Winter weather is sharper, more primeval and more exhilerating to be out in. Country hues can be deadened to monochrome in fog, with trees and hedges barely discernible in the gloom, but a day later the same woods and hedgerows can be set alight by the bonfire flaring of a low January sun.

Even the so called ‘dull’ colours, the greys, blacks, browns are more charged in winter. The greys of a heron’s nape, or a dove’s wing; the blue-blacks of charcoal and sloe-gin and rain slicked peat; the browns of wet spaniels and a hen pheasant’s coverts and whisky.


One still needs a reason to go outside, of course. But there’s outdoors work to be done for those who live in the country. Whilst, whether it’s in fields and woods or a city park, a dog that demands to be taken for a walk is a motivation impossible to ignore. As is heading off to the pub on foot to avoid the drink driving traps. Whilst for the hard core it’s onto the moors or down to the coast to swim.


The science behind surviving and even enjoying winter is all about light. Simply put, the more time one spends outside in the light, however sullen and gloomy that January light seems, the happier one will be. I suspect one of the greatest benefits – and there are many – of winter swimming is being out at dawn to catch the sunrise and the sparkle and reflection of the light of the water. Night walking on a moonlit night seems to bring as much benefit.

There’s a truism; the weather always seems worse looking out through a window than it really is. Wind and rain beating against the glass always sounds and looks miserable. But pull on a jacket and a hat, add in a hip-flask, pick up a stick, call up the dogs and head out and what seemed from the sitting room to be a gale and sleet turns out to be little more than a shower and a nippy breeze. Or maybe not, but what is more bracing that a gusting wind blowing you off your feet, or the kind of rain that comes down so Biblically hard it’s exhilarating?

Winter sorts out the pessimists from the optimists, the bears from the wolves. The wolves have it right when it comes to enjoying the cold months; keep moving, eat heartily, travel in company, play and have fun, don’t bother about the cold and wet and remember that spring is on the way.

- Jasper Winn

Jasper is Writer in Residence for the Canal and River Trust, travel writer and ‘slow' adventurer


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