Northern Living; How I Conquered the Winter Blues

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.

Colored lights.

There’s no reason that sparkly colored lights are reserved only for Christmas.

(Not my lights) Shore Acres State Park, Oregon

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.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Northern Living; How I Conquered the Winter Blues — 7 Comments

  1. All this sounds utterly enchanting, as we don’t get winter. Well, maybe a day or two of it. What we get is a whiplash of cold, dry days during December and January swapping off with heat, smog, super heat, firestorm smog, more heat, and maybe, maybe, ten minutes of rain here and there. (What did we total for 2018, three inches? Not quite that?)

    So the sun going down earlier each day is a blessing, and the notion of it coming up again causes a slow bracing for the long, merciless summer.

    There is some wildlife, but these days dominated by urban coyotes, which have killed all the neighbors’ cats, the raccoons and other small critters, but not the rats. The rats are proliferating.

    • That’s a new perspective — looking forward to the winter season. How territorial it all is.

  2. I dread summers, even here in the benign Pacific Northwest. Heat and I do not get along. I’m also photo phobic and rarely leave the house without sunglasses and a hat.

    I love cold weather, one can layer up to protect from cold and wind and rain. You can only shed so many layers in our society.

    The winter solstice is a day to celebrate. An old Celtic tradition: on that night stand in a west facing window with a big fat candle. At the moment of sunset, capture a bit of the sun by lighting the candle. Leaving the candle burning all night. At dawn stand in an east facing window and give that captured bit of sunlight back by blowing out the candle, thus assuring the preservation sunset and dawn for another year.

  3. The Behavior of Not-Very-Wildlife is also a tell: Emily the Househound is going through her annual sunset discombobulation, getting very agitated around 7pm with the falling of dusk, and doing a “wait, it must be the middle of the night and you haven’t given me my final evening walk” dance of impatience. In the middle of summer, we could often stretch things out and walk her at 9:30 or 10pm, meaning it was most likely that all the Things would be done, and she would not angle for a second walk. Now, as we’re all adjusting to an earlier dusk-fall, she becomes unbearable by 8pm… which sometimes means a second walk at 10:30 or 11, when dinner has more fully been digested.

    I know she doesn’t read clocks very well, and thus relies on signs like sunset or me putting my shoes on. But it’s a hard time of the year for her, and thus for her people.

  4. My guys sleep through the summer days, and are most active at dawn and dusk. Which is general whirling, chasing havoc–all indoors, of course.

  5. I love the neighbors who do “Christmas” lights all winter. I’ve put some on a huge houseplant here in our apartment. Maybe I’ll add more this year. Since I live in what I consider climate paradise — the East Bay, where we get just enough fog to keep things cool, but lots of sunshine the rest of the time — I don’t have too much trouble with lack of light. But I’m still grumpy on days when the fog doesn’t lift until mid-afternoon and much as I hope we get a nice rainy winter (because we need the water), I’m dreading those gray days. (Yes, I’m getting thoroughly spoiled. I don’t want to go back to Texas heat or DC winters.)