“I go down along the canyon rim and sit still against a rock. Northward, a snow cone rises on the sky, and snowfields roll over the high horizon into the deepening blue. Where the Saure plunges into its ravine, a sheer and awesome wall writhes with weird patterns of snow and shadow. The emptiness and silence of snow mountains quickly bring about those states of consciousness that occur in the mind-emptying of meditation, and no doubt high altitude has an effect, for my eye perceives the world as fixed or fluid, as it wishes. The earth twitches, and the mountains shimmer, as if all molecules had been set free: the blue sky rings.”
* * * * *
“We climb onward, toward the sky, and with every step my spirits rise. As I walk along, my stave striking the ground, I leave the tragic sense of things behind; I begin to smile, infused with a sense of my own foolishness, with an acceptance of the failures of this journey as well as of its wonders, acceptance of all that I might meet upon my path. I know that this transcendence will be fleeting, but while it lasts, I spring along the path as if set free; so light do I feel that I might be back in the celestial snows.”
-- Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard (Viking Press, 1978)
* * * * *
The shortest day of the year is the winter solstice, which on 12/21/16 marked the start of this winter. It’s when the sun’s rays have reached their lowest intensity.
One hears lots of complaints about the short hours of daylight in winter, and some people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or winter blues.
Full-fledged cases of SAD are said to only involve a small portion of the population, but many of us do notice that our moods are often lower in winter.
Of course, there are many things that can affect our moods, including events in the world and in our personal lives. But light alone can have major effects.
Light expert John Ott (1909-2000) researched and wrote extensively about the effects of natural versus artificial light on human beings and other living things.
He concluded that regular exposure to full-spectrum sunlight or other natural light is essential to our health and well-being, and acts like a vital nutrient.
Given that our species evolved outdoors in natural light, this shouldn’t be too surprising. It turns out that indoor living can result in “natural light deprivation.”
Without sufficient doses of full-spectrum light (which is available outside even on cloudy days), our immune system is likely to become depressed, and other systems of the body may fail to function as well as they ordinarily should.
Artificial light lacks such positive effects. “Full-spectrum bulbs” are available that simulate natural light, but they don’t have nearly enough sun-like intensity.
An obvious solution to this problem is to GET OUTDOORS into natural light as often as possible! Some of us already try to do this, but countless others don’t.
When we start to feel sun-starved, it’s important not to suppress that feeling, but rather to realize it may be a symptom of a deficiency that needs to be remedied.
It’s easiest, of course, during the summer months, when millions of people head for beaches or otherwise spend many hours outdoors, especially on weekends.
Winter, in contrast, is a season when much of the population essentially hides out from cold weather, aside from perhaps taking walks every now and then.
This is another important reason to try to get out hiking (or snowshoeing, or cross country skiing) as often as possible in winter. And since the sun’s rays are much less direct now, we don’t have to be concerned about excess exposure.
-- Charlie Cook