My sister recently offered me her “happy light”, you know, the high-lux intensity lamps that can stimulate serotonin. She lives near Arcata, on the often foggy, overcast Northern California redwood coast. But, with a guilty gratefulness for climate change, we both agree there is less fog there now, and I declined her offer.
I’ve actually had one of these lights for about 20 years. I stopped using it probably close to 10 years ago. When I first came to Seattle, I struggled with the weather and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. The light was expensive and so I used it, but honestly, I didn’t feel much of a change.
In my emailed response to her, I told her I didn’t get S.A.D. anymore—at least not as severely. And here are how I did it.
There’s no reason that sparkly colored lights are reserved only for Christmas.
I start in October, draping the deck and front porch with LEDs of every color, powered by a solar timer. As November arrives, and December, I add more, taking them out into the garden, draping the Rainier cherry stump and the catalpa, when I have enough strands. I leave all the lights glowing until February, then slowly taper the display down until in March or so, the show’s over. Our neighbors already view us as eccentric and I proudly continue to comply.
A trip to the water.
In December, we visit the coast. We’ve been in Seaside, Oregon during a freeze and sleet, snow in Newport, and were blocked from our AirBnB rented house in Rockport because of a landslide. But the beach, glistening wet sand, photogenic Haystack Rock, squalls rolling in from the Pacific, warm house to lay around in and read and watch old movies, and write, yes, write, and the need to walk dogs getting us up and about, is wonderfully renewing.
The Winter Solstice.
The farther north one goes, the more significant this day becomes. It took me a while to figure this out. Years, in fact. It’s September now, and through my denial about the demise of summer, I can see how the light is more slanted, and crispness has overtaken the baking-bread smell of the air. So now, I think about the long dark ahead.
Having stocked up on serotonin over the summer, I don’t feel quite the same magnitude of dread. From September 22 (mine, my sister’s, Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday) there are only 90 days until the shortest day of the year. And after that milestone, the days lengthen. Hope is restored.
The behavior of wildlife.
OK, you might argue that it takes another 90 days to really notice the return of the light. Agreed, however, other things are happening if you take a moment to look, both at the ground and in the sky.
Hellebores are opening; witch hazel and daphnes add scent to the air after a rain. Bald eagles visit our river in January, looking around, scoping out possible nesting sites, assessing the grocery store of the river. The Skagit river, north of us, hosts bald eagle viewing tours to watch masses of the beautiful birds fish. This is also in January.
Other birds are getting busy by late January. Mating calls fill the trees. Fox sparrows, juncos, towhees, flickers, Stellar jays. Robins chow down on whatever holly berries are left on our trees from the fall feed frenzy. We used to smell the skunk as he or she passed through the neighborhood in late winter. (Development has ‘skunked’ that winter journey).
We are not winter sports folks. Snow is cold and wet. I’d much rather admire it through a window. But I did spend some years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and even though the weather there downright confounded me, the winters were somehow easier with the cold and snow, warm coats, silence, and heavy boots.
Another winter is coming. I would love to hear how others deal with symptoms of winter blues.