--Random House Dictionary
If you or I were a black bear (ursus americanus) in New England this time of year, right about now, in the depths of January, we’d be sleeping, tucked deeply into a very long snooze, in a den we’d found for ourselves and our children. No need for food because we’ve stored up body fat to live. No need for a potty break either, in fact no bathroom visits for the whole time! Just sleep, for three to five months, from the time we enter our lair in late October or early November to the day when our biological alarm clocks ring and we wake up right around the beginning of spring.
Not such a bad idea. A long winter’s slumber. A mid-January siesta. A deep winter’s doze.
You see about this time each winter I tend to hit an energy low point and find the fact that spring is almost two months away a bit depressing. Maybe it’s because with the New England Patriots loss last Sunday, this year we won’t be able to enjoy a two week Super Bowl party, every one getting excited about the big game and all those parties. Maybe it’s because Christmas and the holidays are really, REALLY, over now. I have friends who just this week finally took down the tree, dragged it out to the backyard or up to the attic, a trail of forlorn needles marking a path. They just didn’t want to let go of that blast of light and joy in the darkest of seasons. Neither did I.
HO, HO, HO? No.
I suppose if I was one of those gleeful Nordic types, who bundle up like Eskimos in forty two layers of clothing, who ski or snowboard or snowshoe with unrestrained enthusiasm, in frigid temps and northern gales, I’d reject hibernation. You know them: the ones with big grins in the chill, icicles hanging off eyebrows, cheeks all rosy and red, ready to dive into the cold. But I’m not like that. Give me the lodge and a fire and hot cocoa any day.
Or perhaps I fantasize about hibernating because of that blasted polar vortex which swept down upon us from the Arctic just days ago. The thermometer at my house registered 16 degrees below zero one morning. Let’s be clear. That is not good. No. Really. That is cold, WICKED COLD, as we’d say in these parts. Given the choice between an August heat wave or a February frost, I’ll choose roasting over freezing my keister off every time.
The bears are on to something. Unlike humans they pay attention to the natural cycle and rhythms of the seasons and Creation. Way back when, before artificial light came to be the norm, our great-grandparents rose when the sun came up and hit the sack when darkness fell. They warmed themselves around a fire in the stove and read by candlelight. They slept more and worked less in winter. They listened to their bodies and nature. They took their cues from the calendar.
But in 2014 we can now do just about anything at anytime from any place, biological clocks be damned. Our devices are on 24/7. The harsh light of a screen keeps us up and keeps us on, in the darkness of a winter morning and the deep blue of a frosty dusk. We inhabit offices illuminated by the white glare of unrelenting fluorescent lights, and ignore Mother Nature, who is right outside the window.
What time is it? What month is it? What season? Who knows in this modern world of forever pushing back the dark and pushing through to that next thing we just have to do? No time for hibernation. No time for some extra zzzz’s in the den. No time to just chill in the chill.
Nature heeds the primordial and instinctual call to rest in winter. The trees and plants are in stasis, bare, quiet. The animals sleep or have fled to warmer climes. The day is short and compact, the sun low on the horizon, its thin light calling all Creation to take a deep breath and just be. It is January after all. Every body, every living thing needs precious time to pull back and slow down and recharge, get ready for spring.
So maybe, just maybe, we can give ourselves permission to hibernate a bit in the weeks ahead. Let go of guilt and spend an afternoon on the couch bundled up under a comforter with a favorite book. Turn off the phone and play “Apples to Apples” in the den in front of a blazing fireplace, with your family. Binge watch a favorite TV show for hours and hours. Take a mid-winter’s mid-day nap, cocooned under the covers. Fall into the rest of leisure and blessed January relaxation.
Those bears have it right. We may be human but we need to hibernate too.