After a storm blew through the sky cleared and the temperature warmed up. The wind shredded what few leaves had remained on the trees. The storm also tipped quite a few garbage cans along the road so the ravens and crows had quite a holiday, as the wind created a carnival theme with the plastic bags and soggy coffee filters in the trees or flattened half filled bread bags out on the pavement. Most of the bears have snuggled down in their dens up high but if it warms up enough they might stumble down all drowsy to feed on the orange peels and apple cores along the roadside.
Jan went out in her skiff yesterday when the wind was blowing from the east to put out a recording buoy in the lee of the island to record the songs of the male whales still hanging out in the Sound. It’s possible the feed has been so thin this summer that more whales might want to stay in Alaskan waters rather than spend the energy to swim to the Hawaiian breeding grounds where there is very little or no feed. But the urge to go to warm weather is strong and whether wise or not they will often go. This may be why the calf rate is down and the whales are dangerously thin in the spring.
All the while we charge ahead toward the Solstice. Soon enough the earth will tip the other way and we will gather more of the sun’s light here in the Northern Hemisphere a few minutes each day. I look out at the cherry tree and I can imagine it aching for warmth, for the sap to begin to flow and the increase of sunlight to begin the regeneration of leaves.
But of course I’m projecting. I forget that there are places where people revel in winter’s arrival. Where white snow against the blue sky is a joyful time of year. The time of sledding and skiing, fires in the stove and cooking meat in the pot, bread dough rising. Hunters returning with their sleds: mechanized or pulled by animals. For these people the early days of Spring or “Mud Season” is a somber, depressing time of year, when the crusty snow melts down into muddy ruts and the trails bog down and for several weeks it’s not good for travel by any mode of transportation, and then the bugs hatch.
But summer will come with travel on the river and the fish charging up the current.
My doctor tells me that I have done pretty well this year with health kick 2018. The various medications I take are doing their jobs. My numbers are good, weight and blood pressure are okay, but I may have to travel out of state for mental health treatment. Something called “trans-cranial electromagnetic stimulation,” which is what they do nowadays instead of electroshock therapy for difficult to treat depression. Apparently, I am a little like this cherry tree in winter, I appear to be losing my life force…I yearn for it but I have none in reserve.
This is different than having nothing to live for. I have a lot to live for: Jan and Finn, my work, and all the beauty in the world, the books I haven’t read yet, the music I have not heard. I want to live. But there is a melancholy that inhabits me as if I have been left out in the cold somehow which robs me, sometimes… during my low periods …to have hope in the return of Spring. My medication keeps me alive and awake, but nothing more.
Millions of people suffer from this same thing and millions of people treat it in various ways: diet and exercise, meditation, philosophy, religion, healthy patterns of social interaction, unhealthy patterns of interaction, service to community. I have tried all of these things and find them all useful but the older I become I find the power of the Cold and Darkness as I’m calling it here, to be coming stronger every day.
I often think about narcissism and the role that plays in the disease. Like alcoholism, depression may be caused by a neurological programming problem in the sense of self… or the ego. I have gone to Church and pursued “giving my self to a higher power”. I have found that living for others, and giving gifts is quite useful in breaking out of the crushing lows. Meditation and exercise that drives the ego out of the focus of the mind clearly helps. Gift giving that expects nothing in response, is quite useful as long as it doesn’t resort to the manic. The poet Theodore Roethke used to mail a gross of golf balls to the Pope and to President Kennedy when he was in a manic high.
Lucky for me I am not bi-polar. I just have the lows. “Intractable, treatment resistant, unipolar depression” is what my psychiatrist calls it. “Just pull up your fucking socks!” is how my Father described it.
And before we start in on my poor father. He was a good man. He was an alcoholic but he did that to self medicate for his own depression. He was hospitalized when he woke up in his early forties and he couldn’t stop crying. When he came home I remember he sat in front of the windows of our house with a drink in his hand for hours at a time and just stared out at the garden.
But he was never violent. He said some terrible things, but he loved us and was very clever and funny almost always. My mom drank too much and was maudlin when she did, but she had a genius level IQ and read two or three books a week. I think my dad was intimidated by her intelligence and he loved her dearly until the day he died. Beside some verbal cruelty I never suffered any real abuse. I was lucky and had a mostly productive life with a wonderful education. We were rich in our little world, but my father suffered from genuinely debilitating depression. I believe my grandfather did too, and my great grandfather committed suicide. I know much less of the stories of the women in my family, who bore their burdens in silence as so many did. So, how much of my depression did I inherit and how much is situational: Jan’s illness, my losing my eyesight, the loss of friends and normal foolishness of life? I don’t know. Other people suffer much more than I do. Hundreds of millions of others… but the fact that I don’t live in Yemen or am not a twelve year old boy soldier during the Civil war at Shilo, doesn’t really help me when I’m standing on a bridge in Juneau on a cold and windy night thinking how much better it would be to kill myself away from home so Jan wouldn’t have to deal with the body.
But I won’t kill myself. It is murder. Even if it weren’t me, I would never kill Jan’s husband, or Finn’s father. I wouldn’t kill Nels’s, or Terrence’s friend. I wouldn’t even kill Katrina’s former friend, the man she won’t speak with anymore. I wouldn’t do that to them, because it’s selfish beyond words, and even if I am a narcissistic prick, I’m not a murderer.
But I am a writer, and I find explaining things to be a comfort. I had a friend who went to hear the Irish writer Ken Bruen read in New York once and someone asked him, “Your books are pretty depressing, why is that?” and Ken Bruen said, “You think I’m depressing, you should read this guy from Alaska, John Straley, Jesus, talk about depressing!”
So… everyone has a voice I suppose, I thought I’d come clean about it a little today, besides I don’t think my books are THAT depressing.
In this grey world
the frozen cherry tree
dares not bend.