Are you SAD? (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Bob Graef -
Bob Graef
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Leaden skies leak intermittent drizzle while temperatures hang in the mid-40s. A few hardy golfers are out hacking from one muddy lie to the next. Fishermen standing thigh deep in the frigid Stillaguamish radiate shiver-ripples, fingers too numb to tie knots.
What theyre doing is fighting back. While Northwest winter weather and the accursed convergence zone conspire to crush spirits, hardy outdoorsmen and women challenge the elements, even claiming that frost-bite adventures are fun. If that seems a stretch, be cheered by this bit of light at the end of winters tunnel: Without winter, spring wouldnt be half so pleasant.
In fact, if one discovers how fascinating nature can be in winter, the frozen wilderness becomes a strong attraction. At the edge of mid-elevation glades, snowy traces of tiny divots jitter crazily from tree to tree. Heavier, deeper tracks run erratic loops to re-enter the brush at different points like cars entering and leaving roundabouts. What made those tracks?
For tiny mountain animals, the snows surface is as much a boundary as the oceans surface is to fish and they breach it at their peril. Safety and comfort lie below, where the insulating capacity of snow keeps their nests and maze of runs and burrows considerably warmer than the air above. Fascinating, but observable only at the cost of comfort.
Whether on or under the snow or in a river, nature doesnt sleep. When March comes to mid-elevation Cascade meadows, mysterious dimples the size of dinner plates appear in the snow pack. The cause is skunk cabbages sensing the waning of winter. Faint stirrings in the plants tissues throw off enough heat to thin the snow lying directly above each plant, causing depressions at the surface. A book, The Stokes Guide to Nature in Winter, tells all about it.
Before the 1990s, quite a number of Marysville families gathered at local ponds for ice skating. They kept tabs on Square (Gissberg) Lakes, farm ponds and gravel pits on the way to Granite Falls to determine when ice was thick enough. Like the size of legal crabs, an open hands breadth of thickness was deemed safe for skating.
Skaters blades impacting ice-ripples sounded a drum-head that stretched from shore to shore. More eerie were the sounds of disquieting rips that raced the breadth of the pond as the ice adjusted to skaters weight. With no night-lights competing with stars above, skaters glided across a nighttime surface as inky as outer space. Daylight on the ice revealed a delicate carpet of beautiful feathery frost-fronds, each an inch or two high, each a unique crystalline masterpiece.
With winter temperatures edging ever upward, there has been no skating near Marysville for 20 years or more. I encountered a different sign of winter-warming last February, when my skis broke through a snowy swale to drop me into a running stream. In previous years, water at that elevation would have remained frozen into March.
More evidence of winter warming: Elders in Marysvilles Dutch population recall Hollands classic Elfsedentocht, or Eleven-Cities marathon, lured the worlds best skaters to Hollands canals. Canal ice there has not been thick enough for the past 10 years to run the race, the last Elfsedentocht having taken place in 1997. Meteorologists now predict that it may never be run again.
Human snow-birds are warming at the south end of their migratory paths. My neighbor, a late migrator, has his fifth-wheel trailer hooked up for the run to Yumas sunshine. Others opt for a few weeks in Hawaii, but short-term escapes only serve to accentuate the Pacific North Wests gloomy chill upon returning. For most of us though, the choice is whether to fight back by bundling up to challenge whatever our climate throws at us or by denning up like bears in front of fireplace and TV, emerging only to tend lifes necessities like going to work.
How strange that crisp-cold temperatures well below freezing can draw people out when soggy rain-in-the-face cold leaves them inside. Sub-zero street scene photos from the upper Mid-West show pedestrians walking upright while Marysville citizens hunch along with eyes on the wet pavement ahead. Gray skies make for gloomy outlooks.
Psychologists name for the winter blues is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or its more fitting acronym, SAD. They prescribe doses of bright light when arising in the morning and vendors peddle portable light-boxes that sufferers are supposed to pack around for the rest of the day to perk up their personal light environments.
Researchers say that for light therapy to be effective, it must be five times as bright as a well-lit office which is enough to warrant sun glasses and SPF 30 sun block. Otherwise, the prediction is that at least 10 percent of us will experience sleep problems oversleeping but not waking refreshed, overeating, depression, anxiety, irritability, lethargy, joint pain, stomach problems and behavior issues among school kids. Any of that sound familiar?
What to do? I dont like bright lights and I am not a snow bird. I am inclined, like skiers and steelheaders, to fight back. Luckily, there are a few other like-minded men who ski or who dont mind waiting out frost delays at Cedarcrest or Battlecreek to slog through a muddy round of golf.
If flying south toward sunshine, therapy or fighting back arent options, be cheered by knowing that whether Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow or not, spring will come.

Comments may be addressed to: rgraef@verizon.net.

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