Out Our Back Door By Tom Baake
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Winter Churns Up More Than Just Big Waves
By Tom Baake
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Monstrous winter waves like this one at Shore Acres State Park near Charleston blast forth with untold millions of negative ions, said to be healthful.

With winter half over but spring still many weeks away, it might be tempting to huddle indoors and await better weather, but that would mean missing some of the brightest and best times of the year around here.

We’ve already had many unseasonable weeks of sunny, windless weather, far more than we have in a typical summer with its morning fog, afternoon wind, and more fog.

And the sunsets! Have you ever noticed they seem so much more colorful and dramatic in winter? Or at least you can see them, maybe that’s it. In summer they’re so often swallowed whole by a big fogbank.

As for fresh air, whether it’s been scoured by ferocious wind, sideways rain, sleet or even occasional snow, it doesn’t get much fresher or cleaner.

The ocean, meantime, is equally-refreshed. The season’s most spectacular storms occur this time of year. Some days it seems as if King Neptune himself has stood the ocean on edge. Made it into a wall, or many towering walls, of thick green liquid and creamy foam. (If visiting the beach under these conditions, always be alert for higher-than-normal “sneaker waves,” and stay away from logs floating around at the surfline.)

All this heavy weather is supposed to be good for you. Many studies have been conducted on the curative power of water that’s falling (like a waterfall) or otherwise oxygenated – that is, mixed up with lots of air. Churned up in the ocean.

The good stuff that results are called negative ions, although as many people have pointed out it’s kind of strange that something good for you would involve the word negative.

Search it out on the Internet and you’ll be told that negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress and boost daytime energy.

Negative ions are “odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in certain environments,” according to an article in WebMD. “Think waterfalls, oceans, mountaintops.”

These ions are “molecules that have gained or lost an electrical charge. They are created in nature as air molecules break apart due to sunlight, radiation, and moving air and water. You may have experienced the power of negative ions when you last set foot on the beach or walked beneath a waterfall. While part of the euphoria is simply being around these wondrous settings and away from the normal pressures of home and work, the air circulating in the mountains and the beach is said to contain tens of thousands of negative ions -- much more than the average home or office building.”

In another article, Columbia University ion researcher Michael Terman states "the action of the pounding surf creates negative air ions and we also see it immediately after spring thunderstorms when people report lightened moods.”

You can even buy “negative-ion generators,” although a trip to the beach certainly sounds more fun and is always free, at least in Oregon, thanks to some progressive thinking. It’s actually one of the many great things about living on the coast or visiting it. You’re never far from the ocean, whether you want to just look at it, breathe it in, or walk, run, drive, bicycle or ride your horse along it. Any or all of those things make you feel good – they’re also good exercise – and the effects are immediate.

In pursuit of pure science, however, Columbia University studied the negative ion machines and concluded they “relieve depression as much as antidepressants.” I know, I know, it sounds pretty far-fetched, but at least there weren’t any reported side effects.

 There’s also something about the sun, tracking its southernmost arc this time of year. Light is cast at dramatic right angles, giving objects a deeper shadow and sense of depth. In his book "Totem Salmon," author Freeman House wrote that the sun's trajectory "sinks toward the southern horizon and the light softens so that it increases the depth of vision. Light seems to gain body so that the skin receives it as a warm caress.”

Nice! So don’t just sit there, get out on the beach and soak up some ions . . .

(Shopper columnist Tom Baake is author of regional guidebooks.)

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