The Norwegians have a word, friluftsliv, for the practice of embracing a life outdoors as a bulwark against the inevitable soul-crushing doldrums of a long, dark winter in a Northern climate. I wouldn’t quite call friluftsliv the opposite of hygge – the Scandinavian term for the coziness one tries to create in one’s home during the same kinds of long, dark winters – but they certainly don’t rock the same vibe. If hygge is the tender aunt who greets you at the door with a cup of hot, spiced tea, a woolen throw and fleece-lined slippers, friluftsliv is the obnoxiously fit uncle who is outside chopping wood for the sauna after he rode his Fat Bike to a trailhead on the river and crushed a nine-mile loop in his showshoes – and when he comes inside with an armload of split oak – is going to ask why you didn’t join him.
While the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, both practices typically gravitate toward one personality type or another. Everyone has the friend or handful of friends who have their skiing and snowboarding vacations dialed out years in advance and can’t wait for the first November snowfall to gnarl traffic and glaciate driveways, so long as their Telemarks are waxed and the NO HIKING signs are clearly marked on all woodland trailheads between Grand Marais and Lanesboro. We also have the friends with four different Pinterest accounts who keep asking us what we’re currently reading and whether or not it would be a good selection for next week’s ‘Nebbiolo and a Novel’ afternoon book club.
At the end of the day, I think we all contain both people. It’s important to remember that like where we have chosen to live, we are inherently multifaceted. In our current culture of lifestyle labeling and personal branding, it’s easy to forget that defining ourselves as one thing or another was never part of the contract we signed when we joined the human race. We are meant to be many things and to feel many ways. For all of the proven benefits to physical and mental health provided by fresh air, outdoor activity and the slow, comfy moments of reflection we all require – they are no permanent cure to what ails each of us. We will still fall ill. We will still experience fear and frustration and anger. We are as sure to be as deeply sad as we can be fleetingly, gloriously happy. We will be confused and unsure. We will make poor choices. We will seek and savor love where it is best and warmly found.
Perhaps one of the reasons we find ourselves so susceptible to negativity and exhaustion is that we find it so difficult to find any pattern in the aforementioned pantheon of emotions we all experience. It’s difficult for us to get outside of ourselves and gain perspective.
I would never refer to myself as a seasoned traveler, but whenever I leave our 612 area code – particularly if I’m departing by plane – it becomes very clear very quickly that I am somewhere utterly unlike where I have chosen to make my home in Minnesota. This is not to say that I don’t find beauty, relaxation and excitement in places like Palm Springs, Atlanta or Duluth. Far from it. I am, however, reminded of how much of the whole package we are so fortunate to have in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Quite frankly, it’s an embarrassment of riches that speaks to our bodies, our spirits and our intellects.
For a few examples, one of the greatest collections of historical artifacts and works of human expression is accessible – free of charge – to anyone gracing the entrance at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The Walker. The Guthrie Theater. The Museum of Russian Art. There are forty-two public libraries in Hennepin County. Pair these with the dozens of parks, trails, lakes, creeks, rivers, and beaches we can simply step into – any of us at any time – to clear our heads and experience our bodies.
I considered this last week as I sat on the rear bumper of my car in the parking lot overlooking Hiawatha Golf Course. I was going full friluftsliv as a remedy to a week spent in meetings and in front of screens, doing menu and recipe work for a new project. Warm in layers of deer hunting regalia, I was struggling to strap on my snowshoes as the first half foot or so of the February 2023 ‘Snowpocalypse’ storm pummeled the Nokomis neighborhood. With my earbuds in, I locked my Toyota and ventured forth into the healing winter howls of Mother Nature. I like going hiking in blizzards because I am easily reminded that despite the weight I often lend to my personal miseries and obligations, not only is the Natural World the only thing that is ever truly in charge, but it also exemplifies perseverance. Weather, like our emotions, can be volatile and destructive, but it comes and goes. Lakes and creeks remain. Trees still stand and birds perch in their branches. The stillness after a storm allows us the peace to contemplate that.
Usually when I hike, I’m filling my mind with an audiobook or podcast, obligated to double down on any form of enlightenment. But just shy of a half mile in to my Shackleton-esque efforts, words began to grate on me. I didn’t want information, I wanted rhythm. I pulled out my phone to switch over to a Nordic mix I had put together a while back. One of the artists on the playlist is Garmarna, a Swedish ensemble that uses traditional instruments and ancient folktales to create moody, ethereal and sometimes explosive musical works of art. I recalled how years ago, shortly after I had heard them on The Current for the first time and ran out to buy their album, I found out they were touring the US and were going to play the Cedar Cultural Center. My wife and I bought tickets to the show and were treated to one of the greatest live musical performances I have ever seen.
The memory made me consider that additional, often gaudy feather in the cap of our myriad Twin Cities amenities – music and the venues that showcase it. I can’t think of Minnesota, much less Minneapolis and Saint Paul, without feeling the music we’ve offered the world (Lizzo, Prince, The Trashmen, The Replacements, Atmosphere, Erik Koskinen). It’s a huge part of our lives here – I daresay a birthright to the degree that the other wonderful facets of our lives here are offered.
Whether winter forces us to hunker down and comfort ourselves or step out into the gales we face in our physical, professional and emotional lives, where we live and what we have access to offers us all kinds of opportunity to remind ourselves that Mother Nature is just outside our door, that the wonder of art is where we choose to find it and that if we’re not savoring music in the clubs or coffee shops, we can hear it in the branches, birds and Northern breezes of the neighborhood we call home.
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