Happy New Year! I hope 2022 started off well for you. It did for me, just a bit odd. Usually Hubby and I do a First Day Hike at one of the state parks. We did Saturday morning . . . but it was close to 80 degrees when we finished. Not usual, even for the Carolinas. Still a good hike along the Catawba River; we saw an eagle’s nest and heard its owner–which is a good segue into today’s post!
In my first Advent post I introduced the book, All Creation Waits, a meditation looking at how different animals prepare–or wait–for winter. The Advent message was about preparing and waiting for Christmas.
Then Christmas arrived! For some it’s already gone, with trees at the curb or back in their boxes, along with all the ornaments. I’m in the camp that keeps decorations up at least until January 6th and quite possibly until Candlemas Day on February 2nd as snowmen gradually replace Santas. But no matter how long Christmas stays in our home, winter is here for all of us–that made me curious about those animals again.
Aside from the sacred, I also found the different wintering behaviors fascinating from a scientific viewpoint. Some sleep through the winter, some slow down but otherwise little changes, others rarely sleep, and several become social when they’re usually solitary creatures. As I reread the sketches, I wondered how I fit in those patterns. (I decided I’m a muskrat).This is by no means a scientific study, but it might be fun to see which animal instincts you have.
We all know black bears hibernate. Females will eat more than 3 or 4 times their normal calorie intake in preparation for the deep sleep, and the birth of a cub or two while she sleeps. Other animals that hibernate are the painted turtle, (which I mentioned in the first post), and the wood frog.
The frog prepares by freezing and thawing in the weeks leading up to winter, a sort of practice while his body adjusts to the falling temperatures. At night when it dips below freezing he takes fewer breaths, his body changes. He wakes in the morning, but different. Each daily cycle he deepens the freezing until the day he doesn’t wake up. He’s not dead, but anything moist has crystallized, and his bodily functions have ceased. He remains in this frozen state through winter.
I can’t imagine anyone shutting down completely like that, but there are those who ‘shut down’ one place of residence and migrate to another for the winter–like the common loon.
Opposite of those who hibernate are the ones who sleep in brief grasps of time, having to maintain a vigilant search for food. Opossums, most birds, and some burrowing animals like the meadow vole are in this group that can’t afford to sleep too long. They need to eat, but the supply is scarce and to forage comes with risks–from predators and their own bodies. There’s a balancing act between venturing out when predators are out too, and expending too much needed energy and fat to search for much needed food.
As I read about these animals, I thought of homeless communities, especially as they winter, and the risks they take to find food and stay safe.
Years ago I did 30 hour famine lock-ins with my youth ministry teens. I’ve mentioned those before – basically I took my high-schoolers, locked them in the church hall and didn’t let them eat for 30 hours. (It was fun. Really.) When I asked one why he withdrew to sleep, he said sleeping kept him from thinking about how hungry he was.
I also thought of those who work in finance and put in long hours doing month-end and year-end financial reporting, or taxes. Hubby and my cousin Judy dreaded the winter for that reason.
My muskrat self, along with porcupines and woodchucks, fall somewhere in-between. We slow down, but don’t really change. We insulate ourselves–for me that’s both figurative and literal–but otherwise we relish and thrive in the colder weather. My Midwest roots are showing here. Two of muskrat’s habits especially make us kindred spirits. First, he builds a mound on the pond surface called a push-up that he can retreat into, out of the water, where he can shake his coat dry and rest. I’m an introvert by nature so after the holidays I need those retreat moments too. Second, he sometimes allows others to join him in his push-up so they can all keep warm together. While my natural inclination is to be alone or with family, I do make a conscious effort to mingle with other humans on occasion. I recognize the mental health benefits of being with friends.
And that brings me to the final group–those who need the togetherness to literally survive, like honeybees, brown bats, and common garter snakes. Even though they may sleep, it’s often a twilight sleep as they huddle en masse, their communal breathing and shivering warming the group.
I remember Ohio winters when it gets dark at 4:30 and there’s a gray felt that rarely lifts. I loved those kinds of days, but for those suffering from SAD (seasonal affective disorder, a truly debilitating condition), wintering can be harsh. Even if not to that extreme, the biological need to get out of the house and be with others can still be strong.
Hubby is a brown bat, needing to huddle with his golf buddies a few times each week, and volunteering with another group once a week.
Like the animals, we all have an inner voice telling us to quiet, to winter, in some way. This is time to renew our bodies and minds. The days are already lengthening, spring will be here soon, so let us all be patient with each other in our various wintering habits.
So how will I winter like a muskrat?
I’ll finish these books, my nourishment. Neither is a quick, easy read, but deep, sink-into-the-chair winter reading. The Woman Reader by Belinda Jack chronicles how women have been readers throughout history. Even when they were banned from doing so, they always found a way. All That She Carried by Tiya Miles is a National Book Award winner tracing the life of a cotton sack heirloom through three generations of Black women, the first owner being a 9 year-old slave girl.
This is my busy work – finally converting a walk-in closet in my office into a small library. It won’t house all my books, but it will be a good start. The first thing I had to do was scrape the ‘lovely’ popcorn ceiling off. (I had it tested for asbestos.) Next is covering the dull, flat paint, and finally, new flooring, though it was hard getting rid of the old. I mean, who doesn’t love 70s yellow and brown shag carpeting?
And of course it’s time to order seeds for the garden!
Thank you for visiting through my window in 2021, I look forward to sharing with you in this new year. My wish for you in 2022 is a sense of joy and contentment, and the strength to weather whatever comes your way.
Kim my friend I love your blog. You’re a wonderful writer. Did you ever think in high school you would be here. I love seeing the pictures of your Mom and Dad. They were such special people.
Debra, thank you so much. No, I never did. In high school I thought about journalism, but ended up going into social work. I’m glad I found my way back. Thank you for the kind words about Mom and Dad. I think they were too, and Mom loved you too.