I’m a Bear: In Praise of Hibernation
It doesn’t get more ‘dead of winter’ than right now, the middle part of February. The skies are gray, the ground is gray, the trees are gray…Colors seem to have disappeared from the world; when we’re lucky, the gray is broken up by the brilliant white of snow. And it’s cold. So, so cold. It’s February in Michigan. It’s time to hibernate. (Some context: As I write, it’s 19 degrees outside. It’s cloudy. It’s windy. And it’s snowing.)
I’m in the lucky (or incredibly unlucky?) position of working out of my house, which sets up a perfect situation for somebody who’s hibernation-prone. Somebody like me.
Some people thrive in the wintertime. They love to get outside! (Exclamation point because these deranged people are so enthusiastic about their winter activities that they just have to share it with everybody.) Skiing. Ice skating. Snow boarding. Snowmobiling. Fishing. I’ve come to the realization that people who love to be outside doing things in the winter are crazy people. It’s not right. They’ve been suckered into doing something unnatural by what I refer to as the “Winter Activity Industrial Complex.”
I’m convinced it is unnatural to enjoy being active outdoors during the winter months. Oh, I’ve tried. The Winter Activity Industrial Complex tried to get their claws into me, tried to suck the money out of my wallet (been skiing lately? It ain’t cheap.) But they failed. I realized early on as a young adult that if I didn’t feel like going outside in the wintertime, I didn’t have to. My parents weren’t around to force me outside to “get some exercise” or to “get some fresh air.”
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve even less desire to be out in the cold and the snow. I’ll go out if I have to, that driveway isn’t going to clear itself…And I’ll even admit that there’s a quiet and a peacefulness to the world when it’s covered in a fresh blanket of snow (until half the neighborhood cranks up their snowblowers to ruin the calm. And destroy the fresh air.) But still…that beautiful winterscape is enjoyed and appreciated even more when it’s taken in…from inside.
Be the Bear
Not having to go outside to get to work has its advantages at all times of the year, but in winter it’s especially beneficial. No cold car to get into, no snowy and icy roads to deal with, no reason to go outside whatsoever. Working from home is halfway to hibernation to begin with, so I’ve learned to stop worrying and embrace it.
Look at it this way: We’re humans. And what are humans? We’re just fancy animals. That’s it. We’re part of the natural world, try as we might to separate ourselves (and destroying that natural world in the process) from it. We’ve evolved to the point where we have the technology that allows us to live almost anywhere on the planet, even places that experience cold winters. (I wouldn’t get too proud of our intellect; we’re on the verge of nominating Donald Trump to be our President, so perhaps we’re not as evolved as we’d like to think we are.)
We’re able to build sturdy, heated shelters to keep us safe and warm during the cold, dark winter months. So why are we so quick to leave them when the snow flies?? The older I get, the less sense it all makes.
Being that we are mammals, I think it’s time we start thinking like mammals. What do most northern-living mammals do when winter rolls around? You know what they do, it’s hammered into our heads as children: they hibernate. We’re taught all about how bears hibernate all winter long; and then we’re told to go outside and play in the freezing cold.
Hibernation is defined as “a state of inactivity and metabolic depression in endotherms. Hibernation refers to a season of heterothermy that is characterized by low body temperature, slow breathing and heart rate, and low metabolic rate.”
Animals hibernate in winter because it’s cold. There’s little if any food. There’s nothing to do. They’ve got nothing else to do but hunker down and ride out the cold in their cozy dens until spring rolls around. It all makes sense to me.
Again, as human beings, we’ve found ways around the cold (heated homes) and food (grow it elsewhere and fly it in) and activities (TV) so there’s no need for us to slow down, right? Increasingly, my answer is NO.
Going back to my point about us “advanced” humans being part of the animal world, there’s part of our brain, deep down, that tries desperately to get us to slow down in the winter, to, in fact, hibernate. We tend to eat more as the weather grows cold and the days grow short. We tend to not want to be as physically active. Why? Because it’s winter, and we’re mammals, and mammals do these things. We just do.
Modern society and all of its marketing pressure tells us to fight these natural proclivities. Get outside! Stop eating so much! Lose weight, spring break is coming!
Now, I’m a runner. I like to get outside and run; it helps me clear my head. It burns unneeded calories. It’s relaxing and stimulating at the same time. In years past, I would get super-stressed in the winter if the roads and trails weren’t cleaer enough to run on. I’d worry if it was too cold. Often, I would bundle up and get out there and ‘Just Do It’ like the good consumer I’m supposed to be. I mean, it sounds good, and it sure looks kinda pretty…But have you ever run outside when it’s 20 degrees (or lower) outside? It’s miserable. It’s not fun, relaxing, or stimulating. Your lungs burn. You slip on the ice.
I’ve decided I’m too old for it, for the worry and the lung-burn and the slip-and-fall risks. I’ve decided to ‘be like the bear’ when the snow flies. It’s who I’m supposed to be. It’s who we’re all supposed to be. We’re animals. Sometimes it’s OK to just be that animal and follow our instincts.
So I’m hibernating now. Well, of course not actual hibernation. I haven’t completely lost my mind. If I were in actual hibernation mode right now, how would I be able to type these words? I wouldn’t. That’d be silly.
What I mean by ‘hibernation’ is the 21st century human equivalent. It’s cold and gray and snowy and icy outside. The place for this mammal to be is inside. Where it’s warm and safe. I’m trying not to worry (too much) about those extra few pounds I’ve packed on. Come spring and summer, they’ll go away when I become more physically active. Those powerful urges to curl up under a warm blanket and take a late-afternoon or early-evening nap? I’m not going to fight them, as much as that’s possible. I’m a mammal, and mammals sleep a lot during the long winter. It’s natural. And I’m not going to worry if I’m not out there on a rigid schedule running. If it’s too snowy, or too cold, I’m not going out. Simple as that. If there’s a break in the weather, like there was last weekend, I’ll suit up and head out. Otherwise, I’ll slow things down and go for shorter walks. (Physical activity is still beneficial, even in the winter.) And it being life in the suburbs in 2016, of course there’s still plenty or running around to be done in the car….errands, drop-offs, pick-ups, etc. etc. But again: I’m slowing it down to a more relaxed winter pace, as much as that’s possible.
I’m just not going to worry about all of it so much. It’s winter. It’s OK. I’m at home, working and writing. I’m holed up in my human version of a bear’s den, my office. The space heater has it up to about 78 degrees (the rest of the house is a cool 60. Why heat the whole house when I can just heat one room during the day?) The snow is gently falling, and it’s so pretty to watch from in here. There’s plenty of delicious hot coffee to get me through the morning, and then a civilized switchover to herbal teas in the p.m. There’s a nice strong wi-fi signal and my handy-dandy laptop to work on. But there’s also a comfy couch and a warm blanket, so should my hibernating instincts kick in, and they undoubtedly will, I shall give not fight them.
Relaxing with a warm drink (or an icy cold one) by a roaring fire. Cuddled up with a good book. Relaxing music on the hi-fi. Gooey cookies fresh from the oven. You can keep your snow shoeing and your downhill skiing…these are my winter activities.
At night, my wife and I have a 60 pound dog who loves to snuggle in between us to keep us warm through the cold cold nights.
So I’m not going outside for the rest of the winter. Or att least not until it’s time to bundle up and shovel the damn driveway. Again.
And f I can’t be a hibernating bear, then at least I’d like to be like Nick Offerman, drinking old scotch next to a crackling fire..
It’s true what they say: the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful…You really don’t have any place to go, so here are some hibernation-inducing tunes to convince you to stay in where it’s nice and warm…