(February 2, 2005) Hear the audio version

Today is Groundhog Day. You may have heard already whether Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow when he emerged from his burrow. If he did, legend has it there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If the little critter does not cast a shadow, spring will come early. The notion that weather conditions at the outset of February predict what will follow dates back centuries, to Northern Europe. German immigrants who settled in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania brought the shadow/no shadow custom with them. In 1886 they designated a groundhog named Phil the official prognosticator. A group called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club vigorously promotes this dubious holiday and contends that Phil, who sees his shadow about 90 percent of the time, has never been wrong.

Out here in California, I don’t need a groundhog to tell me we’re only halfway through winter. My body relies on the sun to set my mood and energy, and alas, el sol is still too low in the sky for my liking. I begin every February wishing I could skip it altogether – the rain, fog, cold. I long to escape to Australia. I diagnosed myself with SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, even before it had a name. It’s a depression that creeps up on me around the end of September and keeps me down until March. I can’t stop it, even when I know it’s coming. What I can do is stand in front of my “full-spectrum light box,” a two-feet long, one foot high bank of bright lights I have perched on my kitchen counter every morning. People come into my house and ask, “What the heck is that?” and I tell them it’s drug-free therapy for my winter blues. It’s probably also cheaper than Prozac.

When the sun does come out, I make myself take long walks to soak in as much of it as I can. As winter drags on I also rely on snippets of hope that spring is on its way. My favorite expression of the month is “Pitchers and catchers report to spring training.” I watch for the first wildflowers in the foothills. And I’m grateful that unlike other forms of depression, mine will end with the season. But long after Groundhog Day.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.