Teri Orr: The slant of the light…
Shades of gray, Parades of days. … Those were the first two lines of a very sad song I wrote the winter I was 26. (Think Joni Mitchell meets Leonard Cohen with none of the depth or eloquence and all of the depressing notes.) I had a 6-year-old and 4-year-old and I was leaving my abusive marriage. I was so scared. And even though I would have said sad at the time, in hindsight depressed would have been a more accurate word. It was January when I filed and it would take six full months before the divorce would be final. It was such a long winter that year at Lake Tahoe where I lived. It might have been the snow and the endless days of flat light, the icy walkways and the bitter lake cold. But the sadness sunk in and it seemed, as I remember, inescapable.
But escape I did. And two years later I moved to Park City in the winter with my two kids. We moved to town in March and on the Park City Golf Course that very first weekend was a snow sculpture contest with the most incredible vignettes — made in one day — and completely out of nothing but snow. There were Viking ships and fairy tale scenes and dragons and sea creatures and gingerbread-looking houses and charging wild horses in a pack and a giant rabbit with a giant carrot. The contest had been going on, I learned, for a few years and mostly college kids competed for the prize money which was something incredibly impressive like — $500 for the winner!
My kids — who were understandably sad at leaving behind the only home they had ever known and their school and friends — were suddenly smitten by the coolest place we had moved to. The sun was out that day so we wandered among the giant sculptures and took pictures in the too bright light of white on white snow works of art. The photos — once developed — turned out to be horrible indistinguishable blobs of whiteness. We still loved them. Because we loved where we were living by now. Our small neighborhood had met us with open arms and baked goods and wine (so those rumors about Utah weren’t all true)! And when they learned I was a single mom they offered to babysit, set me up on dates. They shoveled the driveway and dropped off firewood. I don’t know that winter was any more or less heavy than those at Tahoe but it felt lighter. And the lightness equated to hope.
In the few past weeks I have been struck by the large numbers of friends and just working world folks I know — who are all saying something along the lines like — they have the blues. They are all fully employed professionals — both male and female — in positive relationships with mostly grown children. They have all lived in Park City more than a decade. A snowy winter is not new to any of them. But they are — to a person — blaming their sadness on the snow. I just think that is too easy…
I don’t ski anymore. A softball injury to my ankle from my Tahoe days (a fancy slide into third base where the person tagging me out stepped hard on my ankle instead of the bag — multiple casts over multiple months) eventually became degenerative arthritis in my 40s and skiing made it worse. But in the day I skied that PCMR mountain with my kids all over. We loved it. And since they had every Friday afternoon off school in the winter to ski (ski passes for them were under $100) and they had the free bus to take them there, they had great independence in our safe little town of less than 1,800 people.
I just don’t remember being depressed back then. If I was sad it was short lived and situational.
Now the sadness in high altitude towns is given as a reason for the high rate of suicides in those towns. And no one can quite unpack all the “whys.” Some speculate the giant gap between the haves and have nots is so visible and so seemingly unattainable that normal sadness just creeps in and becomes something greater. Heavier. And I suspect there is truth to that and the lack of vitamin D and sunlight for days on end. And the cold that can feel inescapable.
But this winter I would suggest it is something heavier in the air we share on the planet. The weight of the reveal of centuries of the Catholic Church hiding a litany of lies about crimes against each other and young children. The lies of our president which some poll just released said most Americans — maybe as many as 70 percent — believe our president lies, often. The photos we can see in the news of giant cliffs breaking off the North Pole and crashing into the ocean and scraggy-coated polar bears invading towns foraging for food. The war photos from far corners of the world with sad-faced children in brightly colored clothes separated from their parents. Oh wait — those same photos could also be from our own southern border and we bear the shame of the inhumane treatment and separation taking place there.
The list of things to weigh us down has never been greater. And while corrupt institutions imploding will eventually leave us lighter and more hopeful — right now it just leaves us feeling unmoored.
Here’s what I know works to beat the blues — you do it together. One shared coffee, loaned book, armload of firewood, plate of cookies, bottle of wine at a time. The world, to steal from William Wordsworth, IS too much with us some days. Some weeks. And we need to find both solitude and the shelter of companions to find our way through the dark days. Even a less than light Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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