Missing out on time spent on my land is changing me subtly, not so good, thankfully temporary because any day now some warming will come. I need to put foot to sodden soil pretty soon, though. Hard to explain when you’ve loved one spot of earth faithfully for almost 18 years. It’s like a marriage.
 
There’s the house, the yard, the chores–and there’s the path, beyond the gate, the woods we’ve let go wild all this time, the native grasses returning strong. This larger mystery I live next to, my temple and school, has been closed for too long now.
 
 A relationship of such duration should be able to handle some literal cold-shoulder. And at first it was a gift, the beauty of astounding and silencing snowfall. The land in white ruled. Looking up and out, I could see how that which springs from the land abides. Pristine hills make the trees stand out, their march down a slope stately against stark backdrop. I can always put my back against a tree, but in the SAD-making snows of ’11 it wasn’t the same.
 
Their life force drawn far inside, the trees’ bark was no warm touch. As if I could feel it through layers of flannel and down anyway. As if there was enough sunlight to imagine “the force that through this green fuse drives the flower.” (Dylan Thomas)
  
I tried bundling and sitting in my cleared circle several minutes stride from the house, a place where I meditate often, but it was hard to stay. Deep bone chilled. Freezing face. Even the loyal sentry dog ran back to the house. I was super-aware that my feet were not on the ground. The ground was gone, subdued.
  
As with all bouts of depression, it creeps up on you.
 
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common malady in climes where winter makes a stand. We need light to enter our retinas, to play along our skin. It makes for smiles and clearer thoughts. That’s just us–an ancestral pattern, a necessity. We’re not made to hunker down indoors all day long.  Light that is bright triggers the making of serotonin, and up until fairly recent times most people spent the majority of their day in natural light. With the disruption of the body clock, serotonin falls and we might binge on sugary treats to bring on the needed boost. 
 
Was this relentless gray world becoming my downfall, I wondered? The first thing to go was exercise, a bad lapse for me. My routines are twined with the outdoors, walking its ups and downs, or hitting a special trail where I experiment with interval training. I kept thinking the storms were freak accidents and the melt just ahead.
But as temps crashed into the single digits with more precip on the way, our old farmhouse shuddered and so did its occupants. We have to keep the woodstove stoked at this point–you just can’t pile on enough sweaters. The flames put a cheerful note back into my flat feelings, but the only exercise I got was sliding out to the woodpile and back.
 
Then came the school-closing days. Ah parents, don’t you hate to complain? Don’t you long to though? The first one is like Christmas: let’s pull the plug on our busy schedules, make popcorn and hang. Over and over though, home again, hmmmm. It’s hard. I will probably look back when the small people are grown and call myself a selfish fool for that feeling.  But it contributed to my sense of being hemmed in.
The ultimate irony is that at this time I launched a new year’s educational course on natural approaches to depression and anxiety . This work was the only point at which I perked up and enjoyed life, myself, and others. But each cancellation of class due to weather hit hard. Guest speakers brought their light boxes and for the first time I thought of getting one. Previously I figured they were a good idea for city folks.  I still haven’t purchased but I’m looking.
 
Then there were the nasty inner landscapes of this SAD state. I caught them even in down time. One night our family watched a DVD of “Despicable Me.” It’s funny. It’s poignant. I felt nothing. Our youngest kept asking, “Mom, why aren’t you laughing?” I couldn’t. Could not even fake it. At that moment I was alarmed because I simply felt dead inside and realized it wasn’t a fleeting thing.
 
There were other uncommon threads of stress bearing down at the time, compounding the weather problems. But still. After the last snow I consciously heard myself say in my head, “I wish I’d just have the heart attack and get it over with!”  Not a flippant voice, it seemed attached to an exasperated death wish.
HUH? Who was this person?  I didn’t know her. I had to ask: is she for real? Can’t she remember to be careful what she asks for?
 
I knew I was functional but pretty much not in my right mind.  I knew enough about SAD to question whether I’d caught it;  I’d always felt immune in the past. But I guessed–as I upped my Vitamin D intake and anti-anxiety amino acids–that this was about more than getting the required 10, 000 lux of bright light. 
I began to ponder and appreciate the human need to literally touch the earth. I was in the grip of a desperate longing to do so.
 
At last temperatures crested 40 degrees, there were patches of ground showing and my feet are drawn as if by magnetic pull to stand on them. How could the drab, soggy earth make me rejoice like a miner glimpsing gold?  Despite the overwhelm of snowpack still, a fingerling of primal joy reached into mind and soul. 
What I felt was like a mother and child reunion. She’s coming back and boy howdy did I miss Her!
 
We hear about Nature Deficit Disorder, the dangers particularly for our screen-addicted children. Ecopsychology explores how depression, anxiety and ADD are not only helped by time spent in green spaces, but caused by our profound alienation from Mother Nature. Being married 18 years to a particular patch of ground is a complicated and essential component of my mental wellness, I found. It is more than biological, but the biological bond spurs the sacred aspect of the relationship.
 
The land and I have shared rites: sitting, listening, talking, looking, walking, running. I need and count on enough time to be together. But I need also to see and sit with the creek running, to hop among the rocks and muse on what really matters. 
Maybe some of us crave movement or dynamism in a landscape in order to feel whole. In the snow, deer tracks everywhere were my connection to kinfolk and I followed their imprints like a lost fawn. The marks of their hooves today are where the ground shows through, little gems of black earth and smashed brown grass. Precious!
 
Don’t get me wrong, I deeply value the quiet and inward times of the year for study and reflection. During this SAD-plus spell I covered some real ground in my journal. Whining turned into insight on several occasions and I could dig in deeper than when the sun’s trying to flirt through the windows. 
Did our ancestors, living more naturally, ever experience SAD?  Hard to answer, since they had community support we can barely imagine, plus a passion for the wisdom of dreams, ritual, art and story that surpassed our addiction to productivity. So probably not. And if scholars on ancient ways are correct, our ancestors surrendered better (read: practiced true acceptance) to the power of freezing darkness, and found a myriad of ways to allay their fears while holding fast to hope for spring.
 
Finally I brushed snow off my favorite sitting rock in the blanketed creek as a hawk flew overhead, its outstretched underside burnished orange by the setting rays in the west. We the people are bodies and spirits melded and mentored by earth and sun. The snows of ’11 taught me not to underestimate this marriage to the land again–its power to affect mental wellness. Too often we say “my” land the way we say “my” (human) spouse, and get away with it. But there is magic in speaking of self and land as We.
 
Ecopsychologists assert that place is a sentient entity, responsive to human feelings. If “we” are one, then how could it be otherwise? Ultimately my mistake was in thinking that forced indoors, I was shut out from goodness and grace.
 
Well, it’s only February, and white curtains falling could reign again. Next year, it’s snow shoes and warmer pants for me. But if in a matter of days Winter rages once more, with a process of gentle inquiry I hope to derail another toxic spiral downward. I may sit inside and write a poem to the cruel wind. Many folks pore over seed catalogues during these times. 
But most of all I hope to remember: how to value our fleshy link to soil and sunshine–as well as snow and the frigid dark–as if these things were shifting hues of one skin, rhythms of shared thought–my tribe and true home.
 
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