January 27, 2009
Curing SAD During Dark
January in Michigan means the sharp smell of wood smoke in the crisp
winter air, the windblown drifts of purest snow outlining the soft
contour of the compost heap, the thrill of skidding on one heel across
an icy parking lot with an armload of groceries, and the chore of
chipping snotcicles from the tip of your frostbitten nose.
But as wonderful as this season may be in so many ways, some of us are
not all that crazy about the fact that we get to see the sun for maybe
an hour a month. Not only are the days ridiculously short, we also have
a brooding shroud of clouds parked overhead pretty much from November
The Gray Days are so profound around here that they can cause their very
own form of clinical depression, a psychological disorder with maybe the
most appropriate acronym ever – SAD. This stands for Seasonal Affective
Disorder, which pretty much boils down to sufferers being clinically
pissed off about all the crappy weather.
SAD is really common in places like Scandinavia, spreading deep and
persistent despair up there where they have even shorter, grayer days
than we have, and nothing but Volvos to drive.
You can treat SAD by sitting in front of a bright white therapeutic
light for half an hour, once or twice a day. If that’s not enough to
cheer you up, I sure don’t know what would be.
Last weekend we had a freakish lack of clouds here for a few hours, so I
went for a walk to soak up a little bit of sun, and to visit some
Austrian friends who were holding an “Austrian Curling” tournament on
the version of curling we usually see on TV (when we can’t find any
Star Trek reruns to watch), one player slides a big “stone” down the
ice at a bunch of other stones. The part I like best is when two
teammates carrying brooms run along with the stone, scrubbing the ice
like crazy, and shouting gibberish back and forth with a guy at the
other end of the ice.
kind of thought Austrian curling would be just like that, except maybe
instead of sliding stones down the ice, we would be sliding the
Austrians. It turns out that none of the Austrians did any sliding, at
least not intentionally, and for that matter there were no brooms. But
there was some shouted gibberish and a fair amount of hot spiced wine,
so we all had a real good time.
It’s funny how much it can boost your spirits to see a little sunshine.
As we all stood chatting on the lake, watching the moisture in our
breath freeze in midair and clatter to the ice, we kept remarking on
what a beautiful day it was. Of course, maybe the company of friends had
at least as much to do with the beauty of the day as the quality of the
Now that I think of it, I can remember many years ago, sliding down
Kid-crusher hill on a toboggan, hanging with a death grip onto whoever
was in front of me and squeezed almost breathless by whoever was behind
me, all of us woven into a stocking-capped child-link chain. I can
remember the end of each run, our chain collapsed into a body pile of
snow-crusted kids, all of us laughing so hard we were choking, smelling
like wet wool mittens and Juicy Fruit gum.
can remember skating on a frozen tennis court that some nameless
benefactor had flooded for our benefit, cheeks burning with exertion,
swatting the one hockey puck we had with our pine hockey sticks, and
digging frantically for it in the snow pile whenever one of our slap
shots came up a little frisky.
can remember being in snowball fights that tactically duplicated major
Napoleonic artillery battles, finding refuge from the bombardment behind
the snow man we had been so careful to protect while we were making him
just a few hours before.
What I don’t remember about any of those days is whether the sun was
shining. Knowing the odds, probably not. I guess back then if we needed
therapeutic lights we could always find one lying in the snow right next
Making snow angels.
Michael Ball. Distributed exclusively by North Star Writers Group.
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