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A Million Nameless Joys Await

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I just returned from a 90-minute walk in driving snow. My friend had to pick up something from work near where my PO Box is, and we both like walks in inclement weather, so we made the trek together on foot.

Now that I’m back in the warm, dry interior of my house, I’m enjoying a very cozy, very nostalgic, and very specific combination of sense experiences. Having shed my wet outerwear, and with the heater vents blowing, I’m now warm, dry, and extremely comfortable, but parts of my socks, pant cuffs, and hair are still damp because they’re the only things I’m still wearing that were exposed to the snow.

That particular experience—abundant warmth and dryness with dampness at the fringes, and a well-earned touch of fatigue—is exactly the same feeling I had as a kid every time I came in from playing in the snow. It still summons images of snowball fights, toboggan rides, and the ribbon of exposed grass you make when you roll up a snowman-ball.

If this particular state had a name, it might be Warming Up Having Just Come In From Outside on a Mild Snowy Day. It’s a very specific and familiar joy to those who know it.

It’s making me think of several other familiar yet nameless wintertime experiences, which any Canadian prairie-raised kid would probably know.

One would be Stepping Into Your Old Familiar Boots After Taking Off Skates. If you’ve never done that, I can’t explain how exceedingly soft and comfortable your everyday boots feel after having had your feet encased in tightly-laced shells of hard plastic for two hours. It’s like standing in clouds.

There’s also a surreal visual experience you might call Fresh Snow Night-Vision. It happens when you go for a walk on an empty street at night, when everything is white with fresh snow, and the sky is overcast. Somehow, I suppose because there are so few dark surfaces to absorb ambient light, you can see into every corner and contour with incredible clarity—almost well enough to read—even though the Sun is on the other side of the planet.

I love this stuff. It’s as comforting as a home-cooked meal to me, and perhaps to many Canadians, Minnesotans, Wisconsinites, and Scandinavians reading this.

To the rest of you, these experiences might sound nice, but have no visceral basis in memory.

You certainly have your own hyper-specific, familiar joys, however, and I can only guess at what they are, because they’d also be too obscure to have names.

Perhaps certain New Yorkers know, just as viscerally, the particular experience of a lazy summer Sunday in Central Park, with its oddly calm din of Fifth Avenue traffic, and intermingling scents of sunscreen and the Nuts4Nuts cart. (Or something… it’s not my world, so I can only make silly guesses.)

There must be, among the billions of unique corners of the human world, an untold galaxy of nameless familiar joys, uniting people whose place, time, and culture make a small, triangular Venn overlap. Night-shift warehouse receivers, perched on an open loading dock for their sunrise smoke break, the hardest work done already. Cadets, learning to shine the toe-caps of their boots, relieved to see the telltale shiny swirl-marks that appear just before the surface gets uniformly glossy.

I know those are dull examples, precisely because we can only make clumsy guesses at what rich, hyper-specific joys go on outside our lives. And that what’s so wonderful about them. They’re totally real, infinite in variety, but way too obscure to be known outside the little intersections of time and place in which they can be experienced.

In an era when it feels as though we’ve somehow seen everything already, or at least photos of it online, it’s comforting to know that out there, just beyond the boundaries of our own routines, await subtle flavors of joy we can’t conceive of.

Recently my sister and I were talking about how the once-ubiquitous institution of Saturday morning cartoons seems to have ended, which means nobody will ever again know one of the great recurring joys of our early years.

Her kids will never have the particular experience—which you may know yourself—of waking up at 6:30 am, fixing a bowl of Cheerios, flipping on the TV with its comforting, cathode-ray-tube “plunk,” and disappearing into the world of The Smurfs.

They’ll have their own, of course—specific, nameless joys, shared with certain others, completely unknown to everyone else.


Photo by Nicole Geri

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Geoff October 17, 2019 at 5:50 am

Loved these words. The feeling of putting on walking boots after taking off skate / ski boots really struck a chord. At other times putting on walking boots often means the start of an adventure and kindles excitement. A flood of other memories came back whilst reading your beautiful post:

As a child coming back into a seaside vacation home after an early morning barefoot walk on the beach and paddle in the sea, running up the wooden stairs covered in a little sand and the comforting feeling of the carpet at the top. The pleasure of cascading warmth in the shower after a long cycle ride on a cold day. A quality of the early morning light streaming through the bedroom window that makes you get out of bed and head straight outside into a beautiful day.

Karla K October 17, 2019 at 9:41 am

I remember a quiet walk in my late teens with my dad on Christmas Eve, about 7 pm. No people, because having grown up in Germany, the gift exchange happens right then. The park was empty, fresh snow made this unique sound under our feet, and there was this world-encompassing utter quietness. Also, now that I have lived in Oregon for decades, im sitting here, listening to the first rains outside. Wonderful. We have dry summers, here on the coast, normally no rain for about 4 months, and there is a very small time window, just before the rains start, when you can smell it in the air, and the scent of petrichor when you walk outside.

Mary Kundert October 17, 2019 at 9:46 am

Oh the joy before you take off those skates of gliding through space: “flying as sweet as a swallow down on the pond in the hollow”!

Cindy October 17, 2019 at 10:19 am

I love your unique perspective! I am inspired by you! I’m a Minnesotan and in my 60’s and I have the memories you speak of. Life has gotten perhaps a little too comfortable for me and you’ve inspired me to get out there this winter and continue my outdoor walks despite the weather. You remind me of what I’ve forgotten – hard work makes you enjoy your leisure, pain your pleasure, and discomfort your comfort. Thank you!

Joe K October 17, 2019 at 12:26 pm

This is such a perfect post!

I just recently became aware that for me, one of these joys is returning home in the fall in the late afternoon or evening, when the sun is low (or just set) and the air crisp. Being in the car on the way to wherever “home” happens to be, at that specific time of year and of day, is the trigger. I grew up in Pennsylvania, but I can summon that feeling even where I live now, in west Texas and New Mexico.

Steven Murphy October 18, 2019 at 9:17 am

Very Well written David. Growing up in New England in the 70s and 80s meant even if you didn’t play hockey – you played hockey. Pond hockey was a neighborhood rite of passage. Every day after school until the sun went down. YES! putting your boots back on at the end of it all was heavenly – “Standing in Clouds”- perfectly stated.

Thank you for bringing back those memories.

Dennice Hall October 18, 2019 at 11:03 pm

This post spoke directly to my heart, it lifted my spirits and caused me to think of the joy that can come from the tiny “seemingly” insignificant details of my story.

Fran Dale October 19, 2019 at 12:39 am

Presence and gratitude. Requisites for spirituality .

Doni Boyd October 19, 2019 at 10:09 am

I’m a Midwest girl and I remember the first day of each season. The joys of the first snow; the first green of spring, that really hot day that you spend at the lake and the first fall colors. So invigorating!! Thanks for all your thoughts and sharing them with us.

doni @ Oregon coast now. (And I don’t miss the snow and ice of Nebraska)

SharonW October 20, 2019 at 9:28 pm

For me those specific memories are attached to Pacific Northwest Rain and almost always have a strong scent component. The misty feel of the rain, the smell of it, the sound of rain on the roof as I’m bundled in bed ready for sleep. Most PNW natives don’t even own an umbrella. We like the feel of rain on our jacket hoods and in our hair. I love the perfect summer weather here, but the return of rain in the fall is special and treasured.

Pax October 22, 2019 at 10:50 am

I grew up on the west coast of Ireland. The feeling of the Atlantic wind, strong, steady, clean air, rushing through me, awakening my senses and refreshing my soul. The bushes and trees grow , leaning to the east, yielding to the convincing westerly wind – convincing both flora and I that there’s no need to push against the flow.
Everywhere around the world, that fresh, slightly damp wind brings me back to my celtic foundation.

Winsome October 22, 2019 at 7:03 pm

The Comfort Of Slippers At The End Of The Day ~ slippers, incidentally, that I bought in Edmonton last year (I’m from NZ). After a long day generally on my feet (teaching) it’s always such a relief to shuck off the shoes at the door and don my slippers, until the weather gets too warm anyway.
And yes, walks in what some would call less than ideal weather…..there is actually no bad weather, just unsuitable clothing! Thanks for your insights, David ~ always such a good read :)

LanChi Pham October 25, 2019 at 10:47 pm

I tend to remember nameless joys which occur in the wintertime more than ones which occur in the other seasons. I have two favorites for winter. My first favorite is wrapping my cold fingers around a steaming hot mug of tea or hot chocolate and feeling the heat seep into my hands. The other is biting into an orange during the wintertime and realizing the amazing fact that I live in a place and time period where I have access to oranges when it is snowing outside.

Lu Ram November 13, 2019 at 4:17 am

Very nice! I really liked reading your post it created a mental picture of the past. Brought me pride and joy and thinks I could and will try again.
Thanks again!

Lu Ram November 13, 2019 at 4:20 am

I enjoyed reading your article very much, it brought me back. Your article brought me joy and pride of the things done a while back. Thank you very much!

Shane December 6, 2019 at 11:30 pm

Is this just nostalgia? I absolutely love these feelings, but isn’t it only because I also grew up through Canadian winters? Do people who immigrate from tropical climates enjoy Warming Up Having Just Come In From Outside on a Mild Snowy Day as much as I do in their very first winter? Or is it just the rose-coloured glasses of childhood memories that make these nameless joys so joyful?

I ask because nostalgia came up with two different people when I shared this article.

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