Sunshine and the battle of the winter blues

MARQUETTE — When I opened the curtains, I was heartened to see the sun beginning to reach its long arms up to the tops of the trees from the horizon.

I knew it wouldn’t be warm like a summer day, once it got itself pulled up high enough into the sky to make a difference, but I knew it would be bringing me light.

The night before had been cold, down double-digits below zero again, while the moon was up and nearly full. The bluish-white light it shone down through the black tree trunks illuminated deer standing in the yard.

It was a soft and peaceful sight to see, but it belied the icy-white ring around the moon, which seemed like sure evidence of a dark spell in effect – threatening maybe more snow, but certainly colder temperatures.

The spell must have hung overhead for a good long time during the night. I woke up feeling hollow and wrecked, like I couldn’t catch my breath.

It was a strange blank sensation – what I imagine it might be like to be hit in the side of the head with a coal shovel. I was dazed with a pain behind my eyes. I thought that if I could see inside my chest it might look like the stringy pale guts of a pumpkin.

With a headache in the back of my skull, the blue of the sky was deepening.

I was hoping the sunlight might warm me from the inside out and make it easier for me to move. The sun’s rays would soon have those effects on some of the sagging maple and birch branch tips.

High above they glinted, still encased in ice from a recent visit from the winter witch.

When I close my eyes, I can see a million winter scenes I witnessed over my span of years – most are bathed in soft light with grayish-white skies highlighted with pinks, blues, tangerines and honey lemons.

These are images of snow-packed roadways, old barns, desolate acres and lonesome, barren highways stretching for miles across frozen landscapes. Broken down old houses long forgotten dot the countryside, millions of trees form walls of forest green, old cars parked and running, outside greasy spoons, with their exhaust pipes puffing smoke.

Lonely places made for scarecrows and broken windows.

I think no matter what I do, the blue days know how to find me when they want to – even if it’s a sunny day. Today was one of those mornings, I guessed.

I shouldn’t be surprised.

After all, it’s not unusual these days to feel washed out, strange or broken.

With the off-kilter rotation of our world, with its rabid hunger and war, staggering loss and suffering, the whirring speed of life, the glowing false idol of technology and monsters without masks issuing threats to just about anything that lives, a person has plenty to feel down about.

Even California’s got the blues. I read a hiker slipped on a piece of ice at Mount Wilson and fell 180 feet to his death. I’ve been there dozens of times.

But this didn’t seem like any of that.

This was stubborn, but not like my familiar cloak of melancholy which is sometimes almost a friend.

There was only one thing to do and that was to get outside.

I didn’t travel far from home before I found myself on a snowy backroad that had seen the passage of only a single car before me on this day.

In an older tire track, mostly filled in with snow, I saw the footprints of a bobcat. Even though I didn’t see the animal, knowing it was alive and wild and existing out here under that cold witch’s moon was somehow reassuring.

Today, looking into the clouds, I was reminded that even God finger paints.

The thick swirling lines reminded me of what it looks like when a child uses her index finger to paint ocean waves.

This was a wavy blue ocean, painted on the sky.

Three deer stopped briefly to look in my direction as they pranced over the snow and ice between a wooded island and the shore.

There was birdsong in the air from the chickadees and nuthatches and the drumming of woodpeckers. The sun was affecting them in a positive way.

I was still struggling to find my way on this day.

So strange, unsettled and sour.

Maybe this is what it would feel like every day if love all at once evaporated.

I wonder how soon afterward our species would collapse?

The Drifters suggested going up on the roof when this old world is getting you down.

I was up on the roof the other day, shoveling snow and breaking up ice.

It didn’t do much for me, except remind me I’m not a kid anymore.

I took a late afternoon drive into the Queen City. Not much different there. People walking up and down the streets, rushing here and there. Cars, restaurants, parking meters and stop signs. Pigeons flying up around the rooftops, with the cold streets below slippery, flanked by high snow banks.

It was the drive home when I finally noticed a small crack in the winter of my discontent. My outlaw country satellite radio played the Jayhawks and Bob Dylan back-to-back – that was unprecedented, as far as I know, but very cool.

Throw my troubles out the door, I don’t need them anymore, ‘cuz tonight I’ll be staying here with you…if there’s a poor boy on the street, then let him have my seat.

It was about that time, a realization hit me.

I was nearly six and the sun I’d seen this morning was still up there in the sky, dancing and dazzling. This was an unexpected pleasure.

I guess I’ve been muddled in my malaise, suffering under a bleak assumption.

I’ve failed to take notice each day of the lengthening daylight.

Snowy days, strung together like a row of white pearls, will do that to you.

With the shutting of the car door, I lifted my head up to the sound of a piece of ice falling between tree branches to the ground. A few seconds later, another followed.

The sun was spectacular, shining through the trees with their ice-covered branches -like a tremendous glass menagerie, glossy frozen shapes bent in curious forms.

I walked down to the mail box. Empty.

The wind was picking up and getting colder.

Inside the house, the bathroom mirror told me it had been a rough day.

I felt a lot older than I looked.

Without a shave and my hair out of place, I was reminded of my dad in his latter days.

The nondescript nature of this nagging feeling of nothingness is hard to reconcile. It’s strange and new and I hope it moves offshore and soon fades over the lake like a summer thunderstorm.

Outside my window, the sun was sinking down behind the trees, bringing up the shadows of another winter’s night.

— — —

John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula. Send correspondence to pepinj@michigan.gov or 1990 U.S. 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.

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