Healing from Loss: Warmth and Willpower

In Ithaca, New York, Robin Botie swings her red-painted toes out over the pondThrough the wilds of cancer, in and out of hospitals for almost three years, my twenty-year old daughter had guts. And right up to the end she wore red nail polish on her toes.

After Marika died, hiking became an important part of my healing. I’ve always needed time to be out under the sky where there is room to stretch. I feel most alive on top of hills and looking out over gorges. So during all seasons I traipse though forests and Finger Lakes Trails with friends and grow stronger. But in the winter it is a workout just to get out the door.

First I put on the one-piece teddy. It looks like a black bathing suit but it is winter underwear that does not leave a gap for the cold to find my stomach. Not that there’s any chance of exposing my stomach this time of year because next comes the long underwear, top and bottoms. Both black. Then come arm warmers and leg warmers made from old knee-socks. When the toes and heels of my socks wear out I cut them away to make thermal tubes for my limbs. Over these goes a hooded polar-fleece sweatshirt and matching pants. If it’s really cold out, double-layered snow-pants go on top of the set. All of this is black.

My fuzzy red polyester neck-warmer is the most important layer. If my neck is warm I am happy. A down jacket with two pairs of gloves stuffed in the pockets goes over all. Fleece ear-warmers. And finally the SmartWool socks and waterproof hiking boots with YakTrax, snow chains, attached.

Most of my energy is spent pulling the YakTrax over the bottoms of my boots. It’s worth it; wearing them makes me braver. To walk in the woods in winter can be harrowing. With my YakTrax on I can cross slippery streambeds and hike up or shuffle down icy slopes.

But with all my winter padding you cannot see what really warms me and allows me to face the wind and weather. What gives me the tiny extra charge I need to go by myself to the Ithaca Beer Company’s tasting dinners. What makes me smile and remember that summer will return one day. What surprises me each time I take off my layers of winter wear:

Underneath are my red-painted toes.


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9 thoughts on “Healing from Loss: Warmth and Willpower

  1. Pingback: Why Walk?

  2. Tori de Clare

    Robin, I can see the skin of ice on the water, to indicate just how cold it is. If Marika can brave the storms of her illness as she did, then you find the courage to wrap up and face the elements. If Marika can expose herself to hospitals and needles and probing and treatment, then you feel you can find the motivation to experience the force of nature, which bites, but not permanently. You have the luxury of going home and warming through, and taking a long bath and contrasting the bitter cold with the comforts of home.
    Nature is beautiful, but brutal, Robin. I believe we feel a little closer to the divine and the spiritual when we expose ourself to creation and move away from the mad-made things which litter our homes. I’m glad you find comfort in hiking. I hope that as your body strengthens to meet the exertion of the exercise, your spirit will lift. I’m in favour of a red-toe day every year, in memory of your daughter – or a week of every year. Maybe on some anniversary that is important to you, we could all paint our toes red and send our love to you, in the hope of offering a little strength and support. In the UK, we have Red Nose Day, which raises money for those less fortunate. Why not red-toe day in loving memory of Marika?

    1. Robin Botie

      Thank you so much, Tori. This was such a cheering response. All the way from the UK? Red Toes Day. I love it. I think I will save it for June though when we can wear sandals and see all of our toes. Cheers! Just getting your note has me smiling and feeling supported.

  3. Elaine Mansfield

    Yes, I agree with Lynne. Great last line. Maybe I need to take up red toe nail polish, and maybe you need to be initiated into snowshoes this winter. They are my upstate NY winter friends. Not yet, though. Just heavy cleated boots and off we go to the woods. I don’t care how cold it is, once I make it to the forest and out of the wind, my spirit is enlivened and I feel joyful. Some days all that joy comes through my eyes, the only part of my body exposed, but there are always beautiful photographs to take and tracks in the snow.

    1. Robin Botie

      So do you have an extra (small) pair of snowshoes by any chance? As I hinted in my latest post, I’m trying new directions this winter. A snowshoe hike/walk would be a great new thing to try. Hugs!

  4. Lynne Taetzsch

    I love your last line, Robin! Even if no one can see them, you know the red toenails are there!

    I don’t go out hiking in winter if there’s anything at all on the ground unless I’ve got my yaktrax on my boots! They are so reassuring!


    1. Robin Botie

      yeah. It’s amazing how much braver I get in those Yaks, just dealing with my driveway. Thanks, Lynne.


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