Food Feature: Out and inn

A little light therapy for the winter blues

Unless you are reading this atop a sidewalk vent, I'm willing to wager that you have never been depressed because you were cold. This is the time of year, however, when a lot of people — otherwise comfortable indoors — are depressed because it's dark. Yet we spend the few available hours of daylight inside, to avoid being cold. If you are mired in the discontent of winter, I say get out in the cold. Get way out in the cold. Now is the time to go to the woods, where you can see the sky in Panavision, instead of the cropped, "full-screen" version on view in Midtown. Where there are no buildings to block it and the sun can shine on you from dawn to dusk, from horizon to horizon. Short winter days are longer in the great outdoors.

A trip to Amicalola Falls State Park fills the prescription perfectly. In addition to Georgia's highest waterfall, the park offers options to suit anyone's idea of a walk in the woods. You can drive to the top of the falls, but this, in addition to being lard-butt lazy, is pointless, as all you see is a little creek spilling over a ledge. Instead, take the stairs — nearly 600 of them — following, and at one point spanning, the falls in a crazy zig-zag. The little creek turns into a dramatic cascade and the stairs are the only place for a proper view of it. The stairs are also a marvel of unobtrusive engineering in a natural setting. Someone should get an award for them.

From the top of the falls, the possibilities for your Sun Cure are not quite endless, but they do go some distance. To Maine, for instance. The approach to the Appalachian Trail starts here. If that seems too ambitious, Springer Mountain is a 16-mile round trip. I was pressed for time on my recent visit, and opted for the 10-mile trip to the Len Foote Hike Inn and back. The trail (the only access to the inn) is lovely and not overly taxing. Not to bad-mouth spring, but for a good look at the landscape or a dramatic mountain view, the foliage-free months are prime hiking time. The walk to the inn takes on a holiday feel since most of the green on display is pine and holly. The leafless view from the inn is a thrilling 360-degree panorama of the North Georgia mountains.

If you must build on a pristine mountaintop, this is the sort of building it should be — a low, rambling affair set up on pilings. The place has a whimsical look to it, but its functionality is obvious. Parts of the roof are covered with solar panels. Snowmelt from other parts runs into a cunningly placed cistern. There is no part of the building that doesn't have a spectacular view, except for a cellar area where bins of worms dispose of virtually all of the inn's organic waste. (The proprietors once tossed a defunct pair of jeans in, just as a little experiment. Mere weeks later only the zipper remained.)

I started walking around 8:30 a.m., to take full advantage of the day's ration of sunlight, and yes, it was chilly to start with. "Clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to." So wrote Mr. Charles Dickens, and he knew what he was talking about. My need for the sun had drawn me out into the cold, and the cold demanded that I keep moving, and the moving felt wonderful. A coating of overnight snow, icicles on the dripping rocks, acres of therapeutic sky — how can you stay indoors with all this waiting for you? Ungrateful, I call it. Get out here.

I sat on a boulder by the inn to take in the view, the sun, the air and a snack. I had my vintage Secret Squirrel/Atom Ant thermos with me, full of hot spiced cranberry juice. The sun by this time (it may have been 11 or so) was warming up nicely, but my boulder and the parts of me associating most closely with it were not getting the message. The rest of the forest was feeling it, though. As I walked back, I saw that the ground was now striped, the snow remaining only in the shadows of the tree trunks. The trail was thawing to slippery mud. Chipmunks dashed around with obvious, if unclear, purpose, and woodpeckers set up a sound like distant small-arms fire. I strode squishily along the trail, feeling better than I had in days. I'm telling you, it's good for what ails you. I took long, deep breaths, and I swear I felt the sunshine in my lungs.


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