December 21, 2020

Dismal nitch

On the drive from Seattle to the Oregon coast, a few miles north and west of Astoria, along a narrow cove of the Columbia River, is a small rest area. It has a nice view of the bridge over the Columbia towards Astoria. This spot was named “Dismal Nitch” by the Lewis & Clark expedition while hunkering down during a winter storm, as they neared Cape Disappointment and the Pacific coast. I was reminded of it while reading this essay by Timothy Egan, about tough times and increased depression during these dark COVID-19 afflicted days. Here in Seattle, our solstice was a stormy one with rain and snow and flooded roads, reminding me too of how the rain at Dismal Nitch increased their misery. Not many places to hide from it there or on the streets here.

Today we are at the peak of darkness, both literally and figuratively. The pandemic rages across the country, some areas lightening, others darkening. That is the thing to remember, light will slowly begin to return. The weather will improve, the vaccines will be dispersed across country, the days will lengthen and warm. We need to hold on a little longer.

Winter comes now as a lesson. One of my favorite authors is Robin Wall Kimmerer, who wrote Braiding Sweetgrass. She is a botanist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her writings have helped me see the gifts of the earth, as well as some of the ways we humans fail. The essay about Winter in the New York Times resonates with me, especially about the Windigo, the mythical being that has insatiable hunger. Robin Wall Kimmerer is able to show that although winter brings darkness, there are stories of hope and renewal. Please read the essay, I found it stunning and hopeful, with lessons to learn about finding gifts and accepting them, learning to be satisfied with enough.

Tonight is the longest night of the year, tomorrow morning the light returns. Together, we can get through COVID-19. Here are some more ideas to help.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, look for the returning light.

From Timothy Egan’s story, a message I want to share: If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.