MARTHA SEZ: ‘Herbert is fiercely determined to get back in shape’

If you have lived in the Adirondacks for long, you have probably experienced the annual warm-up which typically occurs in January. As children in their rubber boots splash in the snow melt, old-timers nod their heads and say knowingly, “Oh yes, it’s the January thaw.”

What you may not know is that this is no North Country myth, but a verifiable weather phenomenon, at least according to “The Farmer’s Almanac.” For about a week toward the end of the month, temperatures rise an average of 10 degrees and then drop back down again in time for Groundhog Day.

Sometimes the January Thaw arrives as early as the Martin Luther King weekend. Sometimes there is no thaw at all, while in other years people experience what feels like a false spring.

It is normal during a January thaw to stretch your limbs, shake off your winter torpor and start thinking about getting some exercise.

“My goodness gracious!” you will hear people exclaim. “I have been nesting in my easy chair (couch, La-Z-Boy recliner) with my cat, Herbert, since November. As soon as I get home from work, that’s all I do. Eat, drink and veg out. It’s time I get a move on!”

While this is a natural reaction to the milder weather, it must be rigorously suppressed. Physical exercise is, as we know, exceedingly dangerous. You can’t expect to just suddenly get up out of your chair and start doing things. Not without severe repercussions.

You will have noticed by now that your cat is acting strangely. He is no longer so keen to lie around on your lap or to loll in front of a heat duct while you nod off over your knitting.

“Herbie, come back!” you cry. “Our favorite show is on TV.”

No dice. Even though, after a time of relative inactivity, he can hardly jump up onto the kitchen counter anymore without immediately falling back off again, Herbert is fiercely determined to get back in shape in order to resume his vocation of killing little animals.

Do not be deluded into thinking that if it’s all right for the cat to launch into performing calisthenics it must follow that it’s all right for you as well. Nothing could be further from the truth. You might not know it to look at Herbert, but, despite his so-called domestication, your cat is still a ravening wild beast, like a timber wolf or a polar bear. He is an obligate carnivore. You are not.

Many people, including some misguided medical doctors, will say that physical exercise is good for you. This is even more astonishing when you consider that these very same MDs treat the people who took their advice for broken bones, concussions, pulled muscles and other injuries resulting from physical activity.

There are some sports enthusiasts, especially here in the North Country, who actually travel through snow and freezing rain to the mountains, where they practice skiing and ice climbing ON PURPOSE.

Another winter activity is ice skating, which can result in falling through the ice. A similar result may be achieved during ice fishing, when people drive their trucks onto insufficiently frozen bodies of water and sink. People who are quietly dozing off in their arm chairs may well be putting on weight, but they will not be falling through the ice. Something to think about.

Jogging causes joint and muscle damage, and can bring on plantar fasciitis, which is not political in nature but can become chronic and painful. Even walking, which is probably the best and safest exercise, is not without its risk factors.

I would say that walking is most dangerous when there is ice on the ground, so if we are having a literal January thaw with no residual sidewalk ice, and you feel that you simply must get out, walking may be the way to go. Take your crampons, to be on the safe side.

With crampons, according to the REI Co-op, “you can cross glaciers, ascend snow slopes, climb frozen waterfalls and scale ice-smeared rock,” but I hope you won’t.

Injuries are often caused by sports activities, but can also result from habitual hard or repetitive physical work, which should obviously be avoided.

Don’t worry. Soon enough all danger of the January thaw will be past, and Herbert, the obligate carnivore, will be yawning by the heat duct again.

Next time: spring cleaning, another hazardous aspect of this seasonal malady.

Have a good week.

(Martha Allen lives in Keene Valley. She has been writing for the Lake Placid News for more than 20 years.)