The art of getting cozy

| 05 Jan 2018 | 02:58

I am writing from home, sitting at the kitchen table in the seat next to the wood burning stove. I am feeling something in my throat, a cold thinking about coming on. But I am not, on this gray December afternoon, feeling discontent.

The stove glows on low burn, the embers emanating a drowsy heat. The kids and husband Joe are outside, far enough from the house now that I can’t hear them anymore, only the occasional gunshots from the nearby gun range and the almost indiscernible tink of the coals settling, the companionable sounds of something alive but not demanding.

I am sipping chai with cream from the top of the milk. The kettle is getting hot again atop the stove for a second cup. I added a spoonful of honey and a little rum. I don’t know if it helps with the cold, but it certainly improves the overall experience of being phlegmy and disgusting. Hot liquor and honey before bed is a cold remedy passed down at least from my great-grandmother. I figure it’s probably effective at three in the afternoon, too.

The wood ring is nearly full. I stocked it this morning, ferrying logs from the husband Joe’s woodpile. A friend who’s a native of the Adirondacks — of Saranac Lake, often the coldest place in the country in the winter — says you always want three days’ wood in the house, and that’s just what we’ve got.

No, I am not discontent. Come to think of it, I’m feeling suffused with warmth, like I’ve been wrapped ever so tenderly in a down blanket – an expensive one with no little feathers poking out. Is this the Christmas spirit? The illness? The rum? I’m feeling zen, in the way that the Buddhist monk explained it to me (page 24): here, just very much here, without having to accomplish anything. Well, something does have to get written, but it will.

Whatever it is, this feeling has been playing hide and seek recently. Winter can be rough. I bumped into a friend on the street, usually full of vigor and advice, claiming at 60-whatever he’s never felt fitter and he’s been meditating and he’s got plans for a high tunnel and… how was he?

“Well, it’s not my favorite time of year,” he said.

“Yeah,” I nodded, finding not a word of comfort to offer.

“You at least have young kids,” he said glumly. As in, you can piggyback on them to get into the Christmas spirit, which is exactly what I’ve been trying to do, with vacillating degrees of success.

“I guess,” I said. We parted ways feeling about ready to jump into traffic.

But this moment, at the kitchen table, feeling warm through and through... how could I keep it going? Preferably without ending up in Alcoholics Anonymous?

It was as if in answer to that question that a book had just come across my desk, Building Wood Fires, by Annette McGivney, an editor at Backpacker. It was cute, one of those country know-how quickies that come out in time for Christmas. Not where you’d go seeking life changing insight. I flipped through it, stopping on a word I’d never seen before.

“Well done hygge,” McGivney wrote, “is obviously very effective in fighting off the wintertime blues.”

Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) isn’t actually a new word, but it is newly fashionable – runner up, after Brexit, for 2016’s word of the year. It likely shares a root with “hug,” and translates from Danish into something like “the art of creating joy and coziness in life’s everyday moments”; or “emotional coziness.” It usually involves fire — candles, lots of them, or a blazing wood fire — friends or family, maybe a hot drink, a blanket, a post-ski or hike languour, preferably a blizzard raging outside.

What a word. Not just a word, but a national obsession, apparently. It turns out Danes talk about, think about, and make time for getting cozy with the same emergy that we, I don’t know, check email and roll our eyes at the news? They have special words for Friday hygge and Sunday hygge.

So this explains why the Danes, despite their dark winters and rainy rest of the year, are the happiest people on earth. It’s not despite but because of that weather — they’ve learned to cultivate hyyge as a survival mechanism.

And this is why I tumble out of bed these dark days, sometimes while the moon’s still up, so I can be the first one downstairs to toss a log onto last night’s coals and see the flames leap while I put coffee on. And why the kids drag their sheepskins as close as they can get to the fire, making little nests on top of the scattered woodchips that accumulate around a hardworking stove. It explains my love of thunder storms and top bunks. It’s all about feeling hugged.

That’s just what my gloomy friend needed, I realize: a hug. I have my New Year’s resolution. I want to be a hyggespreder.