Laura Yuen
See more of the story

If you live in Minnesota, you've likely met a Scandinavian or two, so you've probably heard the Norwegian adage: "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing."

People who like to drop this expression are the Energizer Bunnies of winter, determined to spread their aggressive positivity and pro tips about wool base layers. And they're not wrong.

But lately I've come across another piece of Nordic advice that I now think about every day — at 6:15 a.m., to be precise, when one eye peeps open in a bedroom that is still the pitch of black.

Don't snooze your alarm clock during the dark time.

In more ways than one, we are in "the dark time." Or as they say in Norway, mørketiden.

Norwegians do know something about surviving — even thriving in — the darkest, coldest, most depressing time of the year.

Rachel Peterson of Minneapolis received this pointer about eschewing the snooze button during her years living in northern Norway, where the sun doesn't rise at all for a couple of months in winter. When she arrived as a 17-year-old high school exchange student in a little town above the Arctic Circle, she had no idea what complete darkness would look or feel like.

"Until you experience it, it's hard to comprehend what 'the dark time' really means," she said.

As the days got shorter, the locals looked after Peterson, also advising her to make sure to get out, see people, and breathe in some fresh air every day.

The country has embraced a concept called friluftsliv (pronounced FREE-loofts-leave), a love for the outdoors that can be translated as "open-air life."

Now into our second pandemic winter, when omicron may cause us to retreat from indoor dining and potlucks, we can still get outside for our emotional and physical well-being. Last week it occurred to me that I had gone cross-country skiing, ice skating and curling — outside, with friends — all over the course of a few days.

If 2021 was the year that we discovered snow pants, 2022 could be the year we go all in.

In Minnesota and other places in the United States with colder climates, the concept of friluftsliv has become a point of intrigue, Peterson said.

"But in Norway, it's almost just like a word and it's so ingrained in who they are," she said.

The roots of the term can be traced to the 1850s, when Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen coined it in his writings, and it caught on among his compatriots, said Jenna Coughlin, a visiting professor who teaches Norwegian language and literature at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

Jenna Coughlin teaches Norwegian language at St. Olaf College.
Jenna Coughlin teaches Norwegian language at St. Olaf College.

Provided, Star Tribune

"It was a way of saying a country like Norway that didn't have grand architecture or a tradition of great thinkers still had culture — and their culture was the things you could find in the outdoors," she said.

Coughlin, who also has lived in Norway, said friluftsliv encourages people to challenge themselves in nature, no matter the conditions outside. "It's not necessarily the most fun thing in the world to put on your cross-country skis or your snowshoes to go for a hike in the cold. You might want to stay in bed," she concedes.

"But when you get out there and you're able to see a snow-covered tree or a frozen lake, it ends up being even more rewarding," she says, "because you know you had to work a little bit to get out in the cold."

I had this exact experience last week when my husband invited me to join him on a midafternoon jaunt. He strapped on his snowshoes, and I grabbed my cross-country skis, on a day when the high was 4 degrees.

As soon as I stepped outside, the chill shocked my lungs. But the sun was blinding, and the blast of light seemed a reasonable tradeoff for the absence of warmth. We crunched and glided our way to a picturesque Cedar Lake in Minneapolis, where the solitude and beauty of the white expanse felt spiritual.

I should probably mention here that I am a doddering skier. I was part of the masses clogging up the ski trails last winter after signing up for lessons to help get through the pandemic. A friend of mine, one who tells me there's no such thing as bad weather, gifted me her old skis and poles when she upgraded to new ones. I've been practicing going down the hill in my own front yard, giving the neighbors a slapstick show when I skid over the curb and faceplant on the street.

But when in Rome, right?

In December 2020, Ali Hassan held the hand of his daughter, Sophia Kadir, as they skated on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis with her brother Sabir Kadir.
In December 2020, Ali Hassan held the hand of his daughter, Sophia Kadir, as they skated on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis with her brother Sabir Kadir.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune, Star Tribune

Coughlin, the professor, is from Nebraska. She delights over the fact that in Minnesota, we flood neighborhood parks and turn them into ice rinks. Like me, she's astounded by neighbors who zip by backwards on hockey skates, while she might dawdle and flail. But this, too, is friluftsliv.

"One cool thing about it is it includes anything you do outdoors for enjoyment," she said. "I think part of the spirit of it is adjusting to whatever is the best thing to do where you are."

So get out on skates, skis, boots or sleds, however and wherever you can.

This is how we find the light in dark times.