by Bill Monson

I always considered early December in Galesburg as a purple time--after the color of the sunset haze. Purple is a saturnine shade, and it seemed to fit this somewhat melancholy time of year. In my memory, it's always late Saturday afternoon. Milton Cross and the Metropolitan Opera are over. Red Foley and the Grand Ole Opry are still hours away. The sun is setting in a violet haze, and the last birds are frantically feeding before seeking shelter for the night. The mercury is dropping toward the teens. A long night looms ahead.

This time of year, we tend to think of long nights and short days of slanting sun glazed by high cirrus. Actually, by December 11, we've already reached our shortest days of the year. Today is nine hours and 36 minutes long; and upcoming days will shorten only three minutes more. From the 17th to the 26th, the duration is the same; and on the 27th starts the slow lengthening toward Spring. Yet the primitive part of our brains tells us this is a time of hibernation--so we see December, January and February as darker than they really are. We go into a kind of "cower in the cave" mode, which is not very healthy for us.

Of course, with winter weather, flu and colds, it seems the very pinnacle of wisdom to stay indoors. But it isn't. You get flu and colds from sick people, whom you usually encounter amidst crowds--so don't stay in, just avoid crowds. Shop when there are fewer people, be careful about shaking hands at church, frequently wash your own, and stay away from coughers. But don't go into seclusion. A brisk walk alone, with your dog or a friend-- or a walk at whatever speed you can manage--is always good for your system. If the sidewalks are slick, wait till mid-day. If it's raining or snowing, by all means stay inside. But if its sunny or cold, get off your gluteus and go. Bundle up, wear sunglasses if there's snow glare--but GO! To the corner, around the block--whatever. Your batteries will get charged nicely. Your cheeks will glow. What's more, you'll return home reminded that life is struggle. To cease to struggle is slow death.

My grandfather--F.H. Monson--died at 95 one mean winter because he couldn't get out of his daughter's house often enough. Trapped, depressed, cut off from the outdoors he loved and worked in all his life, he simply gave up. His will went first, then his system. The doctors termed it old age. Our family said he lost the desire to live. I wonder if they aren't different interpretations of the same malady.

In January/February 2003, I underwent something of the same thing. I suffered my THIRD attack of Bell's Palsy, had cataracts in both eyes, climbing blood sugar and liver enzyme numbers. My PSA was also rising and I had a panic attack in an MRI machine while being tested for signs of cancer. The weather was foggy and chill--so I stayed indoors. Eventually, I was barely able to write this column week after week. To be blunt, I was lower than whale dung.

But then I thought about F.H. and the way he went; and I would not give in. I was hell to live with, but I fought back against "the black dog" (as Winston Churchill used to call his depression attacks). Thanks to a loving wife and a wise counselor, I found my way back. I walked more and ate less sugary feel-good foods. I joined a Diabetes Wellness Program. My blood sugar numbers went down, my PSA steadied, and I worked until I could enunciate well despite my Bell's Palsy. I gave public performances at church and for service clubs. By the time I returned this past September for the 50th reunion of the GHS Class of 1953, I was happy and renewed.

So this may be a purple time of year in Galesburg; but here in Pismo Beach, where the days are mostly sunny and 65 degrees and the sunsets are a lyrical lavender this time of year, I rejoice at the coming Christmas season and hope it proves to be a happy one for all of us--wherever we are.