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Another new year has arrived. The holidays are over. Christmas is three-hundred-plus days away - and fifteen days in the past. The Christmas tree, once the focus of dazzled, holidazed eyes no longer glows magically in the corner of the family room. This former centerpiece of family, friends and good times now lies unceremoniously dumped by the curb awaiting the garbage man. I hope he gives the thing a proper burial; may it decompose in peace (DIP) and rejoin the natural world from which it was so rudely plucked.

Unless you're a big Valentine's Day nut, there isn't much to look forward to until spring. Spring around here is just the second chapter of winter.

I would love nothing more than to moan and whine about the cold, dark days ahead. It would, at least, give me something to do. January and February aren't exactly the kind of months that make normal people feel all warm and fuzzy - at least not here in the Midwest. If you're the kind of person who likes gloomy days and icicles hanging from your nostrils you should be in your glory right about now. I hope you're happy. It may come as shock to those yuppies than hang around ski lodges all winter awash in money and wine, that the common folk, like me for instance, prefer warm breezes and bugs to "après ski". $500 ski goggles and slick designer underwear. I know that's hard to believe - let me roll my eyes.

The Midwest is a cold, nasty, wet, windy place about seven months a year. Hearty souls like me are either nutjobs who choose to live here on purpose; or were born here and don't have the money to get out - the yuppies have your share and are yukking it up at the ski lodges with it.

I choose to live here. That tells you something about me. Nutjob.

Since we have seven months of crummy weather, we learn to amuse ourselves with stuff like reading, TV, knitting, dominoes, cleaning, and if the weather's not too terribly atrocious, venturing out in the cold, wind and snow to have dinner or (Heaven forbid) traipse around the mall, look at aluminum siding and cell phone kiosks. If we're lucky we can even pick up a few pamphlets. That usually kills most of a winterspring afternoon. If you go to bed when it gets dark (that would be around 5:30PM ) you won't have to worry about killing anymore winterspring until morning - which comes around 8:00AM - if at all. Most of the time it's so gloomy you can't tell when the sun rises. Sun? What's that?

In case you're wondering, which you're probably not, winterspring is a new season I have invented. In spite of this age of "global warning" winterspring seems to persist like a cockroach. I'm not going to comment on global warming either. I don't care whether you believe in it or not. I don't want a bunch of conservatives calling me a bleeding-heart liberal - because I'm not. I'm not a pulpit-pounding conservative either. I had to point this out because I can just see you conservatives getting all smarmy and puffed over my refusal to throw my hat into the ring with "global warming" doomsayers. Conservatively speaking though, I'd like to think we can keep on pumping billions of tons of detritus in the air, sucking unlimited amounts of oil from the ground and never have to pay the piper. Boy, wouldn't that be nice? That would surely keep the old economy humming right along, the stock market soaring, and the wealthy wealthy. It's all about money, you know. Hey! We can deal with the lung problems and glaciers later. Let our progeny worry about it.

There is something that bothers me about all this, though. Mom told me when I was a kid that if you want to dance you have to pay the piper. As I've so painfully learned too many times - mothers are usually right. How long can we keep dancing before the piper wants her money? (See how politically correct I am?) Just thinking out loud here -not promoting the jellyfish-polar bear platform - so don't get your Uncle Sam undies all twisted up in a wad. We have to think about the piper though. She's piping away and we haven't paid her. She's going to want her money - someday.

Anyway, here I am, stuck in the Midwest, in January, with nothing to do but wait for spring. When it comes it will be just another act in winter's cruel play: "Winter Act II - The Struggle of the Tulips."

The other day, refusing to acquiesce to the gloomy boredom, I decided to take a walk in what the Weather Channel described as "bitterly cold wind chills". Now, those of you who think the word walk means walking from your car to the entrance of Wal-mart have no idea of what kind of prep it takes to get ready to walk in "bitterly cold wind chills". Let's just put it this way - if you plan on walking at 4:00PM then you better start getting ready to walk at 3:30PM. A one-hour walk in the Midwest winter equals two hours of time - one hour of walking and one hour prepping and deprepping (grammarians start your howling).

I digress. I can almost FEEL the blood pressure puffing up your carotid arteries as you read this. "What a lame brain this guy is. Doesn't he have anything better to do but whine about his stupid walking in cold weather. Get a life dude." To you I say "Tsk! Tsk!". Whining is what we do best in the Midwest - especially in winter.

We don't have any mountains, but we do have ski slopes built on hills called mountains. Not that I'm an experts on hills, mountains, or skiing. I've never been a skier, I really prefer my legs as straight as they can be. Broken bones might be a macho thing to some guys. I'm not a macho guy therefore I've never had any major broken bones. (Many ladies I'm sure will stop reading here.) I broke my nose once but that was caused by running into a wall in gym class in fifth or sixth grade. That was for a very good reason though - I was trying to impress a girl. I wasn't trying to be macho, it was a thing of biology. You know what I mean.

After putting on my UnderArmor stuff that covers every possible square inch of things that might get cold, I put on a sweatshirt, sweatshirt jacket with hood, hat, winter coat, waterproof winter walking shoes - and before you think I'm pandering to your baser instincts - yes I had pants on.

I walked out the door dressed for the arctic as it used to be before global warming (insert a chortle here) - a polar bear's delight. The Weather Channel's idea of "bitterly cold wind chills" and mine differ. After twenty-minutes of walking, I was sweating. Under my sweatshirts, coats, beloved UnderArmor and multiple layers of clothing, my body was entirely covered by a layer of moisture that only those who love the musky scent of dirty, sweaty athletes would enjoy.

There is nothing worse than sweating under fifteen layers of clothing while you're outside in the middle of winter. It makes you feel like you're coming down with bird flu. Speaking in more appropriate medical terms - it makes you feel funny. I was sweating and feeling like I was getting sick and I still had a million miles to go.

I digress. When I walk I have goals. Unless I drop dead in the middle of a walk, I continue walking no matter what. I'm happy to say I have not dropped dead even once during a walk - yet. This pleases me much more than it pleases you, I'm sure. I've even walked while sick and done gross things I will not mention. The things I cannot mention would make you sick too.

Sweating like a triathlon participant, I kept walking in the Weather Channel's "bitterly cold wind chills". Suddenly, it began to snow. It was the kind of snow that Currier and Ives dreamed about - large, fluffy flakes falling from a leaden sky. There was no wind at all - no wind chill at all - nothing but a beautiful winter scene unfolding before my eyes. The landscape was being painted by nature's gentle brush and I was lucky enough to watch her paint.

An epiphany shook me and shivers ran through me - how lucky I am to be alive and how lucky to witness a perfect winter scene. Midwest winters are long and dark and sometimes boring. They're monotonous, cold, wet and dreary - sometimes they are ugly and they are always too long. We don't have spring anymore - we have Winter Major and Winter Minor which I call Winterspring. That's just the way it is in the Midwest.

There is nothing so ugly that you cannot find some beauty in it; nothing so dark that you cannot find light in it. I would not trade this serene, soft, winter scene unfolding before my eyes for all the palm trees in Tahiti. There is love wherever you look; there is beauty in everything; there is peace in the wildest storm. You can look at everything and see it in whatever light you want. We all decide how we will look at thing. Love, beauty, light and peace are everywhere and we decide how we want to look at things. Sometimes you find the most beautiful things when you are not looking at all.

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