Breaking the indoor habit

Mar 11, 2016 By Robert H. Peck, Staff Writer

I spend a lot of my time cooped up indoors.

I work in a cubicle on the top floor of a less-than-bright classroom building, or in its basement teaching less-than-wide-awake undergrads.

I live in a small apartment. Usually I drive to work. For exercise I even run inside, on an enclosed track.

In the winter, this just fine. It's cold and awful outside--why would I want to go out there? Sometimes, I'll open my back door onto the chill and let it rush over me for a moment, reminding myself what it would be like to spend time out there. It's always a relief to close everything back up.

In fact, the weather is known to have a marked psychological effect on certain people. Seasonal Affective Disorder, a specific type of depression that typically hits us hardest in the winter months, runs wild in many during the long, dark nights. At some point in our distant biological past, maybe that was an advantage. It pushed us to expend less energy by curling up and preserving our strength and warmth.

But this kind of thinking leads one to develop habits that aren't so great when spring finally does come around. Here in Iowa, it came around this week, with temperatures skyrocketing from the 30s up into the high 60s.

Snow that had been on the ground since October thawed away. I washed my car without fear of it immediately becoming muddy again.

My beefsteak begonia, Mittens, sprouted a new leaf in the fading light of longer evenings. (Yes, I have a plant named Mittens. Deal with it.)

And yet, I'm still spending just as much time indoors. I kept driving to work this week, and I ran on the indoor track. My work hours haven't changed.

My experience with the weather was limited to 30-second bursts from my car to the door, my apartment to the dumpster, the gas pump to the cash register.

"Ah," I'd say to myself on these short exposures, "I'm so glad it's getting warmer again" following which I'd stuff myself back into some building.

It's easy to live like this. I can see myself continuing it indefinitely. I have things to do that distract me, and I've developed a routine I like.

It happens that routine doesn't include much outdoors time, but whatever, right? I can open a window.

Those brief outdoor moments, though, are when I find myself happiest. I fear the winter gave me enough time, and came on slowly enough, that I forgot what we have when the sun is out.

If you're like me, and you've fallen into a winter routine that you're having trouble shaking off, join me this weekend in escaping it whenever you can. Highs in Riverton are projected to be in the 60s.

I'll be walking everywhere and working in the park, but even if you can't do that much, try and take an hour or so some afternoon and sit out on a porch, or stroll down the road a ways. I bet you won't regret putting this final nail in winter's coffin.

Editor's Note: Riverton native Robert H. Peck graduated recently from Yale University. He is a graduate student in the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.