Brown-Eyed And SAD

In the Midwest, Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly known as SAD) is a real issue.  During the months between November and March, when the days are short and the skies are almost unrelentingly gray and gloomy — like this picture I took on Saturday from our back steps — lots of otherwise sturdy and resilient Midwesterners find themselves down in the dumps and absolutely sick to death of overcast weather.

Scientists are taking SAD seriously and have conducted several studies of the condition.  The data indicates that about five percent of Americans experience SAD — I’d be willing to bet that the percentage is a lot higher in the Midwest during the winter months — and women are about four times as likely to have the condition as men.  And now a study has concluded that people with brown eyes may be more likely to experience the SAD symptoms.  The study also indicated that blue-eyed people, in contrast, are less affected by the lack of sunlight.

Why would eye color matter?  Sunlight affects mood and vitality through the eyes.  The author of the paper about the study hypothesizes that “the blue eye mutation was selected as a protective factor from SAD as sub-populations of humans migrated to northern latitudes.” The mutation that led to blue eye color occurred about 10,000 years ago and was thought to simply be associated with “the general package of pale skin in northern latitudes.”  The scientist now thinks that “given that frequencies of blue eye coloration reach their highest proportions in the most northerly latitudes of Europe, and given SAD rates reach their highest figures at the most northerly latitudes, then another possibility is that the blue eye mutation is maintained in such areas in order to alleviate the effects of SAD.”  In short, in the northern climates natural selection may have advantaged people with the blue-eyed mutation because they were more capable of dealing with the gloom than their brown-eyed friends and therefore were more likely to survive and reproduce.

It’s now the SAD season in the Midwest.  Fortunately, I’m not brown-eyed.   My eyes are a bright burnt sienna, and I’m not prone to SAD.  But lots of people around here are, and I sympathize with their reaction to the grayness.  Many Midwest snowbirds head south not so much in search for warmth as in search for sunlight.

 

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“Wintry Mix”

The new preferred phrase for describing the combination of ice, rain, and snow that occasionally bedevils the Midwest during the winter is “wintry mix.”  You might hear a cheerful, overly tanned weather forecaster say something like this:  “Tomorrow we’re expecting to see wintry mix during the morning rush hour, so get ready for a long, ugly commute that will get your day off to an especially nerve-wracking start.”  Apparently “sleet” or “freezing rain” are no longer in vogue.

wintry20weather20returnsI was thinking about how much I hate the “wintry mix” as I was slogging through slushy, slippery sidewalks on my way to work the other day when I suddenly realized that “wintry mix” could have an alternative meaning — i.e., a mix of songs about crappy winter weather, rather than the dreaded, appalling weather condition itself.  So, for the rest of the dismal, cold, wet walk I mentally assembled the start of a “wintry mix” playlist:

Cold As Ice — Foreigner

Tenth Avenue Freeze Out — Bruce Springsteen

Ain’t No Sunshine — Bill Withers

Blue Wind — Jeff Beck

Ice Cold Daydream — Shuggie Otis

In The Cold Cold Night — The White Stripes

Ice Ice Baby — Vanilla Ice

Shiver — Coldplay

Beyond The Gray Sky — 311

Winterlong — Neil Young and Crazy Horse

The Sun Doesn’t Like You — Norah Jones

I’m sure I’m missing some songs, but the whole exercise made my trip through the “wintry mix” and the gray skies a little more tolerable.

Too Cold Too Soon

Yesterday I walked to and from the office with temperatures in the 20s and a sharp, cutting wind reddening my face and sending my suddenly flimsy raincoat flapping around my legs.

This morning I woke up and, as I stood in our warm kitchen sipping a blessedly hot cup of coffee, I heard rain on the roof.  I looked out into the backyard in the pre-dawn darkness and saw the glittering evidence of the Queen Mother of Crappy Weather on every plant, tree, shrub, and fencepost.  Yes, that’s right — a dreaded onslaught of freezing rain has coated every object in ice.  Freezing rain, for those lucky people who’ve never experienced it, means that it’s not quite cold enough for precipitation to fall as snow, but just cold enough for the rain to turn to ice once it hits the ground.  It’s the worst winter weather of all because it’s cold, and wet, and frozen all at once, and it means the commute this morning will be slick and treacherous for drivers and pedestrians alike.  There’s a breeze, too, and the weather page helpfully reports that it feels like 22 degrees out there.

It’s the kind of weather that makes February in Columbus inarguably the worst weather month of the year.  But, it’s only November 15.  Hey, Mother Nature!  What gives?

We’ve once again experienced an abrupt mash-up of the seasons here in the Midwest.  True fall weather has been fleeting, and it seems like we’ve moved directly and too quickly into winter.  For those people, like me, who think autumn is the best season of the year — well, we feel cheated.  We know Old Man Winter is going to arrive sooner or later, but can’t he at least wait until after we’ve had our Thanksgiving dinner before he hits us with freezing rain and another round of “wintry mix”?

If you’re in the Midwest, brace yourself, because it’s too cold too soon . . . again.

 

Raining Frogs

It’s been a tough few months for the people who live along the North Carolina coast.  First, it was abnormally heavy rains in June and July.  Then, in September, Hurricane Florence hit and left the area battered and flooded.

adult3And now, it’s raining frogs and toads.

The conditions are all related.  The heavy rains earlier in the summer, and the many puddles left by Hurricane Florence, created ideal conditions for tiny critters like the eastern spadefoot toad.  It’s one of a number of frogs and toad species that thrive in such conditions — and are biologically designed to go from birth to mature reproductive adulthood in a very short period of time.  In short, it’s high times for the eastern spadefoot right now, and it and the other frog and toad species are taking advantage of the many available love-puddles to engage in “explosive breeding.”

Once the frogs and toads take care of that biological imperative, their rapidly growing legions go searching for drier locations — and, because the conditions are so damp, that means houses, and cars, and other places where people don’t want or expect to encounter frogs and toads.  The darned things are everywhere, croaking and hopping and staring at people with those big yellow frog eyes.  Carolinians are finding frogs and toads in their kitchens, clinging desperately to the windshields of cars, and falling on them when they leave their houses.  It’s got to be unsettling, to say the least.

Over time, the puddles will dry out, the conditions will change, and the frog and toad population will return to its rightful balance.  For now, though, the people of North Carolina have to be wondering what’s next.  Locusts, perhaps?

AC Outage

We’re doing a long-distance drive today and — wouldn’t you know it! — mid-trip the air conditioning has gone on the fritz. No matter how longingly I look at the vent, hoping for the arctic blast to which I’m accustomed, only warm, moist air emanates. And, of course, it had to happen on a warm, humid day.

What is this — the ’50s? Time to roll down the windows and hope for a rain shower and a cool breeze.

August Toadstools?

Here’s a visible sign of just how unbelievably wet this August has been — a bumper crop of ugly toadstools has sprouted in Schiller Park.  A few days ago I jokingly posted about all of the rain we’ve been getting, and wondered whether the next thing we would see was mushrooms — and now they’re here, effectively mocking my idle attempt at humor.

Toadstools, in the middle of what is traditionally one of the hottest, driest months of the year?  I almost hesitate to ask this, but what’s next now — snow?