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Anticipation of brighter days beats hibernation

Sat., Jan. 1, 2011

Are you SAD? Or are you just plain sad?

This time of year, I’m always a little of both. The days are short and dark, which also describes my temper and mood.

SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, but it might as well stand for Surly, Apathetic and Depressed. I’m not the only one around here who starts feeling lousy in the weeks surrounding the winter solstice. We live at the right latitude for it. We’re not exactly in Alaska’s latitude league, but we are farther north than Minneapolis. We are farther north than Bangor, Maine. We are farther north than Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City and Ottawa, for crying out loud.

So our winter days are shorter in Spokane than in just about any other major city in the continental U.S. And our December-January weather can be decidedly dreary. Nothing like a bracing day of freezing fog to brighten the old mood.

So I have resigned myself to a few weeks of funk and have discovered several good ways to combat it. The No. 1 solution is to go outside and go skiing. I have tried to tell my bosses that skiing is actually medical therapy and that I should be allowed to practice it every day, all week, but they short-sightedly call it “being absent.”

Taking long walks, especially when the sun is out, can also be excellent therapy. Unfortunately, this becomes more difficult on weekends like this, when you’re likely to step out onto the sidewalk, slip on an ice patch and dislocate your shoulder.

Now, however, I have come up with a new idea: hibernation.

Why not just hunker down on Thanksgiving and stay torpid until Valentine’s Day? Actually, this isn’t too different from my normal way of coping. There are winter mornings when I just lie in bed and listen to my alarm-clock radio for, I don’t know, two hours, before I decide to greet the dreary day. (Kind of defeats the purpose of the “alarm” part of the device.)

This hibernation idea stems from some research I did on the Indian tribes of the region. Haven’t you ever wondered how they weathered the Inland Northwest’s particularly bad winters? Some bands, I discovered, dug pits along the banks of the Columbia River, covered them with skins or reed mats, crawled in and stayed put until the days lengthened and warmed.

This is not hibernation in the strict biological sense, but it certainly appeals to me. I’m tempted to gather family and friends together, crawl into a big old pile of furs and blankets, and wait until the green grass pokes through the snow. It sounds like a perfect way to deal with December and January.

I’m probably romanticizing it. After about a half-day of living in a pit – one without even the most rudimentary Internet connection – I would probably go stir-crazy. In fact, I learned through my research that depression was a common problem among tribes during the dark and dreary days of winter.

In other words, SAD has a long and storied history in the Inland Northwest.

However, I’m already feeling better. The solstice was 11 days ago and the days already are getting longer. And today, we are greeting a new year, 2011, with its promise of a fresh start and better days ahead. It follows that 2011 has to be brighter than 2010, doesn’t it?

Sure, it does, until about Dec. 1, 2011. Then it’ll become dark and dreary for a while. Then 2012 will arrive and brighten our world once again.

Reach Jim Kershner at or (509) 459-5493.

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