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The August blues: out of sorts when the natural world is bountiful and magnificent

The subject here is that pensive, everyday form of angst that is bitter and sweet, happy and sad, an ache that makes us irritable for no apparent reason.

My friend says the problem with August is that “it’s like a Sunday night — great day but night falls and there is work, school, responsibilities …” 

Jane Ahlin
Jane Ahlin

She and I are talking about having the August blues while glorious summer still reigns. Actually, we’re talking about how socially unacceptable it is to be out of sorts when the natural world around us is bountiful and magnificent. (Not simply sort of out of sorts, you understand; we’re dramatically out of sorts, laughably out of sorts.) Of course, nobody is interested in why older women get cranky while the sun shines and soft breezes blow.

Amend that: Nobody’s much interested in older women, cranky or not. Come to think of it, nobody’s much interested in older men, either. But that’s another subject.

When our children were growing up, we could blame low moods in August on being thrust into back-to-school shopping and planning fall schedules long before we’d had enough of summer. It seemed as if July 4 sparklers hardly had sputtered out before we’d be inundated with ads for backpacks and lined paper, gym shoes and lunch boxes. 

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And Trapper Keepers. What ever happened to Trapper Keepers?

In those good-old days, I truly believed the melancholy that hit me in August was all about the children and how quickly they were growing up. The problem would disappear once high school graduation was in the rearview mirror for our youngest child. When that day came, time would slow down. I would step off the hamster wheel of their school years, shift into summer gear early in June and stay there, one carefree day following another. By August, lazy, hazy days would define me. Good grief, I might get so lackadaisical as to carry a white purse after Labor Day and wear sandals to work in September.

Ah, pipe dreams.

Some years back, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz had a piece in the Sunday Review of the New York Times. In it he insisted that according to “Google searches,” the happiest day of the year is August 11, a date he came to by using “anonymous, aggregate data from tens of millions of queries … over a period of nine years.” According to his results, “depression is lowest in August” and “highest in April.” He also found that the “state with the highest rate of depression is North Dakota” and “the one with the lowest, Virginia.”

He said “the data imply that moving, for example, from the city with the 30th coldest climate in the United States (Chicago) to the city with the warmest (Honolulu) lowers the probability of September–to-April depression by some 40 percent.” In fact, because antidepressants “decrease the probability of depression by only about 20 percent,” moving appears to be a better choice than meds for mental health.

Hmm. Not sure that study holds up. Maybe my North Dakota pride is showing, but do Google searches of “depression” really constitute a measuring tool for clinical depression? Certainly, I’m not equating true depression with the blues. The subject here is that pensive, everyday form of angst that is bitter and sweet, happy and sad, an ache that makes us irritable for no apparent reason. Well, other than at the zenith of nature’s fullness (life’s fullness?) there’s never enough time to savor it before we have to move on.

Two mornings after my friend and I were commiserating, I was at our lake place and woke up before 5 o’clock. There was no wind at all, the lake a mirror. In a clear predawn sky the full moon was the color of butter, its soft light illuminating a golden path across the water. For a moment I experienced utter contentment. And I wondered why virtue, as America defines it, is tied to activity — frenetic activity, really. Why are busy-ness and goodness one and the same? Is life a competition for how much we can accomplish? 

Bathed in the light of the moon, I guessed not.

A writer and columnist from Fargo, N.D., Jane Ahlin also has taught English at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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