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.


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  1. Kathy Sumpter

     /  January 22, 2013

    I agree about all of the cold stuff…I’d rather be riding my bike somewhere warm.

  2. Kathy Sumpter

     /  January 22, 2013

    Not a very brilliant comment…just trying to log in etc. so I can comment more in the future!

  3. Hey, GF,

    Love your pic, and many thanks for replying here. Hope your fireplace is working, and/or you’re already tucked in somewhere snug.

    Warm works for me!


  4. lenny stein

     /  January 23, 2013

    loved your post — write a book — I do not know on what subject . but I thoroughly  enjoy your writing .

  5. sidney18511

     /  January 23, 2013

    My goal in life as I grew up in New Jersey was to move to Florida one day. I was never a cold weather person. I hated the winter. When I was 27, I did just that. All by myself. I was just young enough to see my move an an adventure. And it was. I made a wonderful life for myself in Florida. I met a wonderful man, opened a business, and had three beautiful daughters. And now my three beautiful daughters want to move. They want the cold and the snow, which is something they have never seen. So, they will all take their own adventure and I will stay warm and toasty and hibernate just where I am.

  6. Hi, Sidney – Good on you, GF! Hope your daughters will love their snowy adventures… It’s a good place to find coziness, if you want to work hard at it. The woodstove is still cranking, and I’m about to get myself under several warm blankets for the night…

    Thanks for being here!


  7. Iris

     /  January 23, 2013

    Hi Gato:
    What a wonderful idea. Sign me up. It’s been awfully cold (for us) here in the Pacific NW so far this winter.
    By February, I’ve usually had my fill of cold and rain and the occasional snowfall..

  8. People always think I’m nuts when I say I love winter – but it’s for exactly this reason. My “hibernating” takes the form of writing and reading more, longs naps under blankets, weekends on the couch with movies, roasted meats and veggies, and wearing pretty scarves all day long. Fingers crossed that Global Warming does not infringe too much on these pleasures any time soon! Great post – and artwork. Yours of course?

  9. Hibernation has its appeal, but since I live in a tourist trap, I’d rather crawl into my cave in early June (right after my birthday) and sleep till Labor Day. I like winter. Heat saps my energy. Cold invigorates me. I love layers of clothing, and with my Yaktrax I can walk anywhere. 🙂

  10. pelican

     /  January 23, 2013

    Great post, Carol. As someone who lived in southern Florida for 12 years and endured the heat, humidity and hurricanes of summer, I am inspired to flip your terrific idea…that is, persons living in the subtropical climes should be able to climb into their hammocks and sleep from June to September.

  11. Terry Waggle

     /  January 24, 2013

    Carol, I can almost buy into hibernating but then I remember all the reasons I tell myself I like winter: change of wardrobe, cooking the great soup recipes I’ve accumulated over the years, a respite from gardening or the guilt/regret when I’m not able to do so. Another plus is the joy my 7 yr. old granddaughter has when there’s enough snow to make a snow angel or a snowman. We’ve not had much snow or that dreaded ice so I’m content to watch the weather report to see if I’ll even need a coat the days it’s been in the 60’s or do I have enough layers to put on when it plummets the next day into the teens. There’s a saying about St. Louis – “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few hours.” – Terry

  12. lori

     /  January 24, 2013

    ❤ it Gato! My last stint in MI sesl the deal for me though. I shall forever remain a fair weather girl. Namaste

    • And Namaste to you, Lori, too… I used to think people who would change their lives because of the weather they experienced were kind of weird. Now that I’m “getting on,” as they say, I’m beginning to get the idea. I do love my place here in New England, and the work my husband and I have put into it to make it both snug (in the winter) and open (in the summer), and it’s hard to imagine leaving it… But we never know what we might do in the future, do we?


  13. dcg

     /  January 26, 2013

    “Namaste”? I had to google it. Clearly it has nothing to do with us clods who recognize that hibernating would cost us the best part of the football season. And observing all the nonsense in Washington. And North Korea and Mali and Syria and….. Why would you want to miss any of that wonderful stuff? Then again, it was minus 19 here the other morning……


  14. Hey, dcg – Yep; there could be sacrifices required of some! But if EVERYONE hibernated, football would start up in the Spring, along with everything else. No problemo!!
    As for North Korea, Mali, and so on, maybe, during hibernation, people would just forget what they were so determined about doing to each other before they hit the Big Slumber.. (Yes; I AM the Eternal Pollyanna…)

    Best to you and L-B, and congrats on the new computer! (MY birthday is coming up soon; I’ve already started pestering BMC…)


  15. waialeale

     /  January 28, 2013

    Hi Gato,

    I like your new blog and I am very glad you have joined the porch dwellers at M&H’s. You have and are making some valuable contributions. Please DO NOT GO INTO HIBERNATION!!! Ground Hog Day is just around the corner.

    For future reference though, you may want to consider moving to a more temperate climate some day. After being raised and spending many years in frigid climes, we chose to move out here when we retired. Lovely, lovely people there in cold country but gawd awful winters! It took three years to pull it off and many adventures, but living in Hawaii has proven to be well worth it.

    Contrary to common knowledge, we do have changing seasons, especially with the flora.
    One of our best examples is the Awapuhi Ginger that goes utterly dormant from the fall to spring. It disappears! But how many people do you know who grow their own shampoo! Saves us lots of money.

    Auntie Jean


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