The Wisdom of Bears


I’m thinking these days that bears may be on to something… Hibernation. The older I get, the more appealing that idea becomes. There’s always Florida, or innumerable other year-round warm places, but I’m looking for the best way to live in the environment I’ve come to love – a place of cycles and changes – of greening summers and frozen winters.

So here I still am, once again, probably more than halfway through what really hasn’t been a “bad” New England winter. As was the case last year, we seem to have gotten our big snows around Hallowe’en. But, that aside, as always in a place like here, the days get shorter until they hardly seem to matter at all, and nights now begin in what used to be the middle of the afternoon. And it’s cold – everything from “chilly” to, “Damn! It’s freezing out there!”

I am not a winter sports person. I do not look forward to layering on the thermal underwear and puffy jacket, strapping on special footwear, and well-waxed extensions to that footwear, and swooping down anything. (I am actually quite concerned about the possibility that I may accidentally “swoop down” my own front steps.) I made my last snow angel probably more than forty years ago. I find looking at snow-covered evergreens quite lovely, and so is the sight of the red flashing light on top of the snowplow grinding its way down my street. My idea of a Perfect Winter Day includes (1) Not having to leave the house; (2) A big fire in the woodstove; (3) Something delicious simmering away in the slow cooker all day long; and (4) A really good book and/or a functioning computer.

Given these facts, I find the idea of hibernating – say, from December 1 through March 31 of any given calendar year – more and more attractive. Just hunker down and rest, in a warm and quiet place. Prepare for it. Eat a lot. Acquire the required stores of fat (something I seem to be inclined to do, anyway). Then go lie down where we won’t be disturbed, and hibernate until Spring is just around the corner once more – that great awakening, that seemingly-always-miraculous reappearance of life and growth, that annual natural rebirth – and become a quickened part of everything, once again. And we’d be ready for it… Because we have rested, and have lain quiet and dormant. We will awaken refreshed, full of energy – hungry, eager, and ready to go, to take our places, fully alive, in the Universe. Maybe some serious stretching and limbering would be needed when we reawaken, but that seems a small price to pay, in my opinion.

Might we be wise to take a lesson from the bear, from the badger, some frogs, hedgehogs, and even some moths? (I do realize that they do not “choose” to do this, but “bear” with me, for the sake of my narrative…) Do we really need to be “awake” twelve to fourteen hours a day, or more, all year ’round? Mightn’t eight months of that be enough for us…? And good for the planet, as well?

And some of the advantages of a period of human dormancy for four months a year…?

No shoveling or car scraping. No broken bones from falling on ice. Trillions of dollars saved on the production and consumption of fossil fuels. (That alone would probably bring the rate of global warming to a more reasonable pace.) No forced joviality at holiday gatherings with family members we don’t even like the rest of the year. No New Year’s Day hangovers – and no obligation to make those pesky resolutions, since we will awaken well past the date most of us have forgotten about them, anyway. Turkeys could look forward to living out their natural years, and our children would not be trained to believe that the sole purpose and reward of good behavior is getting their hands on the latest electronic device.

Human hibernation would offer a regular annual hiatus, of significant duration, from all our conflicts, our agendas, wars, politics, needless consumption, planetary destruction, our relentless depletion of natural resources, personal bad habits and animosities, ideological extremism, the blathering of pundits, the stock market, brutal competition, and all the general havoc we humans wreak daily on the planet that continues to do its best to support and nourish us, no matter what.

Frankly, I think the Universe would welcome an annual respite from us and our activities.

I still have a few questions: Would we dream? Would we need to get up to pee every six weeks or so? Would we continue to age as we hibernate? Would it matter? What things might we forget? What might we remember…?

The older I get, the more the Universe apparently insists that I understand the potency of dormancy, of Darkness, and the inevitability and value of it. We are foolish to fear it; the Universe invites us to welcome it. All birth, and rebirths, come from the Darkness, and it is the place to which we inevitably return. Even as it is the unavoidable destiny of all living things, it is also the source of all our beginnings.

This is the wisdom of bears.




As one calendar year passes away, and we embark upon what we choose to consider a “new” one, I am reminded of a life that suddenly ended this time of year, not long ago. The following was written on the death of someone I barely knew, but who was deeply loved by someone I love. I send it to you in remembrance of all the lives that began and ended in the past year, and appreciation for all that will begin and end in the days to come. Many of those lives we never know, and never will, but, like all of our lives, they inevitably carry their portions of grief and joy. They are all sacred. May yours be filled with the richness and deep mystery of life.

“We are grateful for your loving presence here, to honor the life of a singular man. We have come together to reflect on a life about which each of us knew only a part. Many of you never knew him at all – but only knew of him, through your friendship with his family. His long separation from his family was his choice, and he worked hard at it. We may never know why he made that decision, but it was his. And, now, the Universe has brought us all here together to remember him.
What we do know is that he was a son, part of a family, a brother, a co-worker, and a friend, and – beyond that – maybe even much more. Only one person knew the whole story of his life: The child, the boy, and the man, who lived it. The entirety of his life belonged to him alone…
We do not honor him because his life was perfect, or close to perfect, and we need not even try to pretend that it was. None of our lives are. But his was, by any sacred measure, a real and valuable LIFE!
As we all try to do, he did the best he could with what he was given, one day at a time. He had brains and charm, secrets and shame, a will to survive, great courage, and many challenges. His deepest struggles, and his greatest victories, he took on, and accepted, alone, for many years. I like to think that he often found strength in what we have learned that he loved: His belief in magic, in mystery, in things that none of us really “understand,” but things that could be possible – life in the stars, worlds beyond our own, heroes and heroines and mythical creatures able to conquer all obstacles, in any circumstances…
And a belief that all problems may surely, somehow, some day, be resolved, if we are diligent, determined, hard-working, and hopeful.
I am sure he was all those things, even when his life may have sometimes have been unspeakably difficult, and lonely, and full of anguish.
It has been this man’s great gift to remind me, yet again, that each of our lives inevitably holds within it the possibility of both excruciating pain and of exquisite joy; that every life is truly sacred; that the Universe is full of magic; and that each and every one of us is a blessed part of it all. I am grateful for what I have learned of his life, with all its flaws, all its struggles, all its dreams and accomplishments, all its failures, all its hope, and all of its humanity… What I have learned of his life is enough, for it has given me strength, and courage, and hope.
If we grieve, perhaps it is for the realization that none of us may, now, ever know more about this very unique individual. He guarded himself carefully, and gave to each of us what he was able to share. His gifts, we have learned, were many.
When we look for comfort, let it be in our remembering that every life – however long or brief – is a great, and sacred, and joyous mystery, and that every life, including our own, merits our most profound love, our thoughtful attention, our deepest gratitude, and our greatest honor.”