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Winter darkness getting to you? Do what Mary Jean Rivera does and head to south to the sunshine this winter.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Longing for warm weather and sunny days, WLACC contributor Mary Jean Rivera plans to go south in February, like many other seniors.

Editor's Note: West Linn Adult Community Center member Mary Jean Rivera writes about her perspective on the darkness of winter, feelings shared by many seniors.

Waning light makes the leaves change colors and the flowering things to wither. Vegetables still on the vine stop growing. I bring the house plants inside and I put outside plants up near the house walls, and I hope they survive.

I get ready for the dark and cold, and put away the summer clothing and furniture. I wear long underwear and extra jackets, hat and gloves. I cook heartier foods. I walk very carefully on slick walks and stones and streets, not striding confidently as I would prefer.

I plan for activities I can do indoors. I turn on the lights and turn up the heat in the house and huddle near the sources. I try to enjoy it. But I was born in the spring, into the light and ever-lengthening days. Darkness makes my skin itch right into my hair. My footsteps are hesitant. I lose confidence. A flashlight doesn't help much. Darkness exaggerates my fears, and I expect it to be cold.

I am ready to put on my pajamas before dinner is served. Winter lasts a long time — too long. So always I make plans to travel to a sunny place for a few weeks in the winter.

One year, we drove our car south and stayed in a reasonable hotel in Palm Springs. We discovered a group of 30 friends, all from the same town in Wisconsin. They had Happy Hour every day by the pool. One night, they hired a caterer and a mariachi band and had a party. That was better than a week in Cabo San Lucas.

Some of my friends buy into 55-and-over communities with pools, tennis courts, regular bingo and pizza parties, with trailers or small mobile homes fixed in place in the sun. Many of them are rented out by the month, too, so I visit them.

Balmy sunshine bathes visitors to Phoenix or Tucson art galleries, fairs, pow-wows, museums, baseball fields, concerts, race tracks, gardens, state parks and bird sanctuaries. And then there is always relaxing, reading a good book in your shirt sleeves, while getting your tan back.

Been there, done that.

There is a whole community of RVers meeting up again in places like Yuma or Quartzite, returning to the same campgrounds every year. They greet each other as long-lost friends, or quickly become friends. Where do all those small-town fair booth people go in winter? They round up in the Arizona long-term visitor camping areas, just off Highway 8 or 10, not far from the California border. It's the biggest worldwide garage sale you ever worked your way through, looking for treasures or useful items. I have been there, too.

I take lessons from the birds. There comes a time when a body should just head south. Last year, I went on a Road Scholar program and visited my cousins and sisters, but I wasn't there long enough at all.

This February, you will find me five miles north of Quartzite on Hwy 95, one mile east on Plumosa Road. The paved road there only goes east, and then left a quarter-mile straight into the desert, parked on desert pavement on Patton's Tracks, listening to the coyotes at night.

The lunch menu planned for this week at the West Linn Adult Community Center features hot dogs, baked beans, peas and chocolate cookies on Friday, Jan. 5; pork stir-fry on jasmine rice with sugar snap peas and coconut rice pudding on Monday, Jan. 8; and chicken noodle soup, turkey sandwiches and brownies on Wednesday, Jan. 10. Cost is $5 per person.

The West Linn Adult Community Center is located at 1180 Rosemont Road. Call 503-557-4704 for more information.

Mary Jean Rivera is a volunteer at the West Linn Adult Community Center.

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