I saw my shadow today. It stretched out in front of me, long and slim, always making me feel thinner than I am, as I walked along the cobblestoned street, the bright winter sun shining on my back, still damp from my run in the snow. Ah, the sun. I had almost forgotten that it exists, as it has rarely shown itself in the last two months.
Christmas has come and gone, and while Riga is a beautiful sight at this time of year, full of twinkle lights and decorated trees, I’d be lying if I said these dark days of winter haven’t been tough. With sunrise at 9:00 am and sunset at 3:40 pm – relative terms to mark the change from total darkness to heavily overcast and back again, the days have been short and gloomy, and I’ve had the mood to match.
I had heard all about the dark winter days in this part of the world, but until I actually experienced them, the idea of a dark winter didn’t seem like such a big deal. I underestimated the gross difference between a 3:40 pm sunset and a 4:45 pm sunset… as well as between a 7:45 am sunrise and a 9:00 am sunrise. I haven’t been myself at all these last few weeks: the product of too little exercise, long working hours, and, undoubtedly, not enough sunshine. I’ve had little interest in the things I normally love, preferring instead to park myself in front of the TV, too exhausted most evenings to do much else. Although I have been faithfully taking a daily dose of vitamin D, nothing comes close to feeling rays of sunshine trying to penetrate my closed eyelids, warming not only my face, but my soul as well. Today, I felt that. And it was glorious.
Now in the second of my blissfully long, three-week winter break from school, I am starting to feel a bit like myself again. I spent the first week resting and relaxing and admittedly, apart from a couple of evenings visiting with friends, being a bit anti-social. It’s quiet time that I’ve desperately been craving after a busy first semester and the realization that teaching in a school is not the right fit for me. It’s a realization I came to during my autumn break, after which I made the decision not to return to my school next year. Still, the school days are intense and it is wonderful to have a break from them.
M. had some time off work as well, and he, Frieda, and I spent a quiet Christmas together at home, catching up with family members on the phone and missing them from afar. We haven’t been very productive in the last week, and I’m starting to wonder for how long it is acceptable to blame our lack of productivity on the dark winter days.
Normally, at the very least, going for a run can turn a less-than-productive day around and leave me feeling refreshed, but the truth is, my running shoes have collected some dust in the last couple of months. I barely squeaked out 35 miles in all of November, and December is not looking any better. My knees have been bugging me, which, combined with total darkness at 6:00 am, 7:00 am, and even 8:00 am, has zapped all of my motivation.
This morning began as yet another dreary winter day in Riga, although with a fresh coat of powdery snow covering the neighborhood. Indeed, waking up to grey and drear day after day is reminiscent of the film Groundhog Day, a seemingly endless string of the same day, over and over again. I took Frieda for a long walk, wondering how I could break through my funk. We came home, and I made a fire in our wood stove, certain I would repeat my new routine of hunkering down on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book or movie. It wasn’t long before I saw some light peering through the kitchen window.
Could it be? I thought. Not certain how long the sunshine – or my sudden burst of inspiration – would last, I quickly changed my clothes, laced up my running shoes, and headed out the door. I ran straight into the sun, squinting with delight as it reflected off the fresh snow and not caring at all that I hadn’t even considered wearing sunglasses. I ran three slow miles, stealing glances at the clear blue sky while trying to dodge patches of ice on the ground. It was marvelous, the first truly beautiful day I had seen in a long time.
When I finished my run, I stopped at home to pick up my camera and walked to the river bank to take some photos. It was there that I saw my shadow… also reminiscent of Groundhog Day, but in a completely different way. And though we most certainly have several more weeks of winter before us, I feel renewed in a way that I haven’t felt in quite a while. Amazing what a little run in the sun can do.
Thank you for reading!