By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.
About this time of year, we start to see lengthening days. It is a great relief to see this as we’ve just gone through the so-called “dark period” of winter.
Due to Seattle’s latitude, we have among the shortest winter days in the “lower 48 states.” Yes, Alaska has much shorter days in winter and much longer ones in summer. In fact, parts of Alaska have 24 hours of daylight in summer. Sort of makes the case for having sleeping blinders – to make the room darker.
Now we have here in the Pacific Northwest what’s called seasonal affective disorder. That’s when a person becomes depressed due to the lack of sunlight (and here in Seattle) the gray drizzly days of winter.
Some of us relocate to Palm Springs or Arizona for several months in the winter. Others go to tanning salons (the Vitamin D one gets there helps fight this malady off). As for me, I simply make the “best” one can given the cards we are dealt. Staying active and getting lots of exercise also helps. The exercise helps the body manufacture a surge of chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters, which include endorphins. These chemicals contribute to a feeling of “well being” which helps fight off our winter depression.
In German, the four seasons are called vier Jahreszeiten. There are hotels named Four Seasons. Generally they are very high-end luxury hotels where a guest is pampered beyond one’s wildest expectations. One of the things I particularly like about the four seasons in Germany is that the weather, year round, is similar to Seattle’s, except their winters are generally much brighter than ours. So a typical winter day will have sunshine, little precipitation and moderate temperatures. So it is generally quite pleasant to take a walk in the daytime sunshine. Even in the Bavarian Alps, you get lots of sunshine. It makes skiing much more pleasant than having to fight dreary sunshine less days.
Now I’ve experienced the four seasons all over the world. Perhaps one of my least favorite spots is Helsinki Finland. Why? Because Helsinki is farther north (in Latitude) than Seattle. I’ve been there in January – the darkest time of year. There, the sun doesn’t come up until about 10 AM or so. It sets about 3 PM. Furthermore, the sun never gets very high in the sky. Sort of comes up about one third of the way to directly overhead. So you get that “earie half-light” that you see around here near dusk. In fact, it is so depressing that as you walk around the streets, you hear the constant sound of Ambulances. They go around the city gathering up the inebriated residents of the city – who clearly drink to lift their spirits then often pass out on the sidewalk until picked up by one of the ambulances.
The only thing I recall that was pleasant was going to a sauna. (The Finnish people get very upset when you call sauna a Swedish thing. In fact the Swedish word for sauna is bastu.)
In a Finnish sauna, you strip naked and sit in a very hot room. Then you walk next door into another room where a stern woman washes your entire body with a very course cloth or brush. Then dive into an ice-cold pool, then go back into the sauna. You do this over and over until you are completely relaxed.
Winter in Scandinavia includes books, which describe this horrible feeling one gets as fall evolves into winter. As the days shorten, some Scandinavians (who can afford both the cost and the time away) flee the area and go to southern Europe, particularly the beaches of the Mediterranean. They have an expression they use at this time of year. It’s called “going into the tunnel.”
Now I’ve written a lot about winter, as it tends to affect many of us more than the other three seasons.
One can’t avoid describing fall in New England. The color of the trees is simply unmatched just about anywhere else in the United States.
But what I also recall living in greater Boston, was the immense amount of leaves that one had to rake up. People used to burn the piles of leaves, but that was outlawed. I can still “smell the burning leaves” in my mind. Then the other seasonal event was making a great big pile of leaves and having all the small kids jump onto the pile.
But my favorite season is spring. What is, to me, most appealing is that it represents the “rebirth” of everything. To the Scandinavians, it is “coming out of the tunnel.” Here in Seattle as we don’t have a very cold winter, some outdoor plants grow year round. In fact, just last week (late January) I actually had to cut part of our lawn as the grass was growing and getting too long. I have on my “list of things to do” to introduce sauna into the Seattle area. I volunteer to scrub all the naked bodies with a stiff brush.