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Paul Turner: As darkness descends on the Northwest, get outside to beat the blues

Before you dismiss the idea of wintertime blues as some weak-kneed nonsense foisted on us hardy Northwesterners by trembling transplanted Californians, you might want to consider this: We all know that the farther north you are, the less sunlight you see this time of year.

But some of us forget just how far north Spokane is. So let me remind you.

Spokane is farther north than Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.

That’s right. In terms of latitude, Spokane is north of parts of the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

That’s pretty far north.

Remember the classic NFL Films treatment of that 1967 Packers vs. Cowboys “Ice Bowl” game played in subzero temperatures on “the frozen tundra” of Green Bay’s Lambeau Field? To some, that captured the essence of bitter cold.

Well, Spokane is north of Green Bay. By more than a squib kick.

There’s more. If you are feeling sun-starved, it might be because this is a season when Spokane can see an abundance of overcast days. Add to that the fact we are located fairly near the eastern edge of our time zone (early sunsets) and, well, it can all mess with your mind.

Which, of course, is precisely what Seasonal Affective Disorder does.

Wintertime blues aren’t just about a lack of grit, a failure to tough it out. It’s not just a case of some people yearning to emulate lizards on sun-baked rocks. According to columnist and public radio host Dr. Zorba Paster, SAD is quite real and can manifest itself in lowered energy and a form of depression.

Paster has said he himself experiences SAD.

So it makes you wonder. Do all those who move to Spokane from even sunnier climes automatically go into a tailspin as we creep toward the Winter Solstice?

Retiree Barry Bauchwitz grew up in Southern California. He moved up here shortly after Expo ’74.

“Love it here,” he said. “Love the four seasons.”

So OK, not all California transplants wilt in the shade.

I asked my friend and former colleague, Addy Hatch, a onetime Seattle resident, if she suffers from sunshine insufficiency as the days grow shorter.

“I don’t experience SAD, though I’ve known people who do,” she said. “I saw that recent news story about SAD affecting a lot of Seattleites, but in that case I wondered whether it wasn’t the weather so much as the knowledge they’ll never be able to move out of their 500-square-foot apartments because of real estate prices, or the thought of their hour-long commutes to those apartments.”

Fair point. Spokane for the win.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact the wintertime blues are a real thing.

Bill Reichert doesn’t experience it, but his wife, a nurse, does.

An engineer who is a project manager for the federal government’s General Services Administration, Reichert has lived in sunny places such as El Paso and Denver.

“SAD is the primary reason, upon our retiring from the Army, that we did not settle in Libby, Montana, where I spent grades 4 through 12. Though Libby’s scenery is reminiscent of the Bavarian Alps – we were stationed for three years in Landsberg, Germany – Libby residents can go without sunshine from mid-December to early March.”

A slight exaggeration perhaps. But remember, our corner of the world is north of parts of Russia. And, for those who really suffer from a lack of sunshine, the resulting listlessness and torpor is totally serious.

So what to do about it?

Dr. Paster, the family physician, recommends two things. Special SAD-combating lights and engaging in cold-weather outdoor activities.

I don’t know anything about the lights. You can investigate that on your own. But I think he’s on to something about getting outside and soaking up what sunshine there is to be had.

A couple of winters ago, I spent a morning with a group of cross-country skiers (all ages) up on Mount Spokane. It occurred to me that these good people had found a way to embrace winter.

Rather than shrink from the snowy season, they grabbed hold of it with both hands.

If you struggle with SAD, Nordic skiing might not be the answer for you. But there is a good chance trying to hibernate isn’t either.