Winter Bound

Narrow River, Winter’s Day.
All the leaves are brown or gone and the sky is gray. JAL

Winter bites with icy lips. The northern hemisphere has socially distanced itself from the sun as far as its axis permits. January’s early days of winter echo Kenneth Grahme’s rules of animal-etiquette; winter is the off-season when no animal is “expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active.”  

Hibernating is how bears deal with the stress of cold weather coupled with meager food sources. Thankfully, humans can adapt quickly to biting polar weather by donning layers of cotton, wool, and down clothing. Flora and fauna fashions are as abundant as Door Dash food deliveries so our closest connections with bears are when we’re naked or defecating in woodlands. The common northern exposure excuse for hibernating is simply, “days dawn frigid and nights fall early.” It’s not as if northerners are standing night watches on the Pequod fully aware that below decks in a dank, frigid berth “Ahab and anguish were stretched out together in a single hammock” going mad as they rounded the howling Patagonian Cape. Whaling is as out of fashion as wearing fur and scientifically, humans literally don’t have the proper guts to hibernate. NASA and Elon Musk are working on that problem as they ponder ways to induce hibernation in astronauts bound for Mars without having their bowels explode all over the capsule.

Space Works/ rendering of hibernation vaults for long-term space travel.

People aren’t equipped to hibernate because they are designed to shiver. Shivering, that involuntary tooth chipping response to being cold, prevents our bodies from chilling like bears and skipping winter. Unless you are an astronaut or billionaire buddy of Bezos, the better choice is to toss the torpor, as Henry David Thoreau did, and take a walk, get out on the water, stomp around in the first snow, or “pluck the nut of the world and crack it in the winter evenings.”

It’s nice to pick up a good book, sip a hot cuppa, and pause. Solitude offers assurance of self-contentment. Staying in for the evening with kith and kin is initially comfy like snuggling between Eddie Bauer flannel sheets but, as Captain Ron advised, “if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen out there.” We need to go a little nuts and round winter’s horn without going all out Ahab. The earth is heating up and nobody knows how many shivers are left in our timbers. Give winter a peck on its frosty cheek, hoist the mainsail and chart a course to the vernal equinox. Cruise through winter and you’ll sail right into spring.