Walking to Work in Winter

What do I encounter when I walk to work through a snowy landscape?

First of – a bit of briskness when I get outside. I often feel a little chilly, but I know that by the time I get near work, I’ll be plenty warm and will have unzipped my jacket a little.

The street is tempting to walk on when sidewalks are not cleared off. It can be tricky to figure out where it makes sense for me to walk. Solid snow pushed up by plow is relatively easy to walk on, doesn’t crunch down much so I don’t slip in as I walk. Normal varieties of snow, however, can take more effort to walk through.

What do I walk down? Sidewalks, which are channels through snow piles.  Mostly ok for walking. But I am in decent shape and in 40s; for others, this might be more challenging. I slip once every 10 minutes or so, but catch myself. When snow melts and refreezes, this is more of a problem, as a solid layer of ice (no snow on top) can cover the sidewalk even in places that have been shoveled.

I walk by a number of small businesses: their parking lots are plowed, with solid piles of snow on the edges. (So we end up with borders between businesses, while houses and most other places look linked together by uninterrupted swaths of snow.) I can normally walk across these lots, but the borders require me to keep to the sidewalk, or to areas near the sidewalk that do not have these piles.

It is nice to get the exercise. I can head out at other times if I so choose. But I know I’ll get some walking in each day, some time spent outside.

Once I got in the habit, expected that I would get up a little earlier, that I would need to budget a little more time to get dressed for the walk (and to change again when I got to work), walking just became what I expected to do.

Figuring out my place at intersection can be a little tricky – but then, when you walk where not many do, that’s par for course.

I wonder what students / other employees thought if any saw me walk up snow piles in parking lot, to look over on other side at trees there? I can’t imagine many people do that… but why worry about others, when one can have a little fun walking and more fun looking 😉

On the walk home, I stop and look for drift patterns in any small areas. (Such as depicted in the photo below.) Much of the walk has little that is exciting to see, but watch for what does. Are these spots worth a long look? Maybe not. But keep an eye out. (I considered doing a photo essay on ice/snow mixes in parking lot. Not as pretty as on lake, but closer to home. ) Delicate little patterns are worth checking out.


I become more familiar with the trees in my neighborhood. How does snow sit on them? On what days are they loaded down? Some days, they just look fluffy and cuddly… but I suspect that looking too closely would dispel some of the magic feeling I get from them. So I walk slowly by them, soaking in the moment, but do not actually stop.

When I walk home in the dark, parking lots are calm in darkness. When lights catch falling snow, it’s a winter treat.

Overall, the walk route transforms to a world of small hills and slopes. Gives me incentive to pause and look, which I don’t normally do while walking this route. There’s necessarily a lot to see. But – I took a moment. Saw what there is. Not just stuff I rush past, or don’t have time to focus on, because need to focus on road. I feel more connected when I know I’ve taken time to look at place, not just doing things in it or moving through it. And it becomes part of what place is when I move through it again, now that I have memories to associate with it.

Much of the walk to work is not something I would recommend as a ‘special fun winter experience’ (although the exercise is nice). But it is good to keep getting out there, to get to know my vicinity better. And to sharpen my eye for what snow has to offer in a variety of places!

About MilwaukeeSnow

Dr. Jeffrey Filipiak, Milwaukee's Ambassador of Snow, loves winter, Milwaukee, and environmental history! He has taught college courses on topics including history, writing, environmental ethics, food studies, the Great Lakes, and sustainability. You can contact him at ambassadorofsnow@gmail.com.
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