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"No animal, according to the rules of animal etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter. All are sleepy--some actually asleep. All are weather-bound, more or less; and all are resting from arduous days and nights, during which every muscle in them has been severely tested, and every energy kept at full stretch." Kenneth Grahame, "The Wind in the Willows" as quoted in Living in Season: Hibernating

How to Hibernate

I know that we've only just passed Thanksgiving, but the cold nights and long darkness are sending the message loud and clear: Winter is coming. It's dark when I wake up to get my husband off to work and the children off to school; and it's already dark when my husband gets home from work. There is too much dark and too little sun, --and the shortest day is still weeks away, on the Winter Solstice (December 22 at 2 AM EST).

Since I moved south to Texas from Upstate New York, I haven't been feeling the effects to the same degree, but I used to suffer terribly from SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. This disorder can make a person feel profoundly depressed in its severe form, but even its milder form, the "Winter Blues" can make you sad and sapped of energy. Sunlight deprivation causes biochemical changes in the body that can cause an imbalance in the brain requiring medical treatment in people who are otherwise healthy.

No wonder people feel like hibernating in winter like bears do! And scientists have discovered that humans have genes for hibernation! With the advances of science, someday, when you feel like crawling into a hole and sleeping your troubles away for a few weeks, you may actually be able to do it.

Sunlight deprivation also triggers biochemical changes in animals' brains, signaling them to begin fattening up for winter, and slowing some of them down for their hibernation cycle. Bears are the best-known hibernators, but many animals, such as frogs, bats, and gophers, hibernate for all or at least some of the winter. Contrary to popular belief, many hibernating animals wake up, scrounge around for food occasionally, and then return to sleep. And it isn't really "sleep": an animal's body temperature and heart rate are reduced so much during the hibernation state that they appear dead. If researching the topic doesn't make you feel too sleepy, you can learn more about hibernation from here or here

Hibernation sounds like an appealing solution to the Winter Blues! Here are some excerpts from a webpage where two women explain how humans might go about hibernating:

Bex: Today we're going to discuss Hibernation. While once thought to be an excuse for bears to gain weight and avoid the hassles of winter, we're here to tell you that this natural phenomenon is in reality the perfect way for anyone to spend winter. And we're going to guide you through it.

Amy: The first step in Hibernation is to carefully construct the essential layer of body fat with which to protect yourself from the frigid temperatures of the coming season. This can be done easily over the next few months. Begin by purchasing numerous bags of "Halloween candy" and stashing it away in various hiding spots throughout your home, much in the way a squirrel stashes nuts. If, like the squirrel, you forget where you've hidden it, just steal your kid's candy. Use the cavity excuse.

Bex: My personal favorite method of enhancing that fashionable fat layer is all the party and holiday food coming up in the next few months. I love ham rolls, filled full of cream cheese, almond roca, pecan pies, and let's not forget-

Amy: Sausage Balls! I LOVE Sausage Balls!

Bex: Of course you do, and why wouldn't you? But let's not forget the old standby -- the Hickory Farms cheese and meat assortment pack! However, sometimes it's difficult to make the party food stretch and you find you must prepare meals. Spending hours over the stove is not compatible with the hibernation lifestyle! Throw some stuff in the crock pot each morning and by dinner time you have a hot healthy meal. Throw in a loaf of bread you popped in the oven for a couple minutes and a glass of whole milk and you have a complete meal, guaranteed. There, that takes care of the family, now back to the hibernation thing. The clothing. Amy?

Amy: Ah yes, the clothing. The first thing one must do is purchase multiple pairs of pajamas. I personally am fond of heavy flannel with a big wooly pair of socks. However, you might find that long underwear with a button flap at the rear to be more to your liking. Regardless, pajamas are essential to successful hibernation and you should refuse to wear anything else whenever possible. Unfortunately, friends tend to wonder when you show up for holiday parties in your p.j.'s. Bex, how would you describe appropriate Hibernation clothing when one must venture out into the world?

Bex: As loose, warm, and comfortable as possible. This is also important in disguising the essential layer of Hibernation body fat. It's important to feel no remorse in spending hundreds of dollars on wool cable-knit sweaters and fur lined boots, because unlike Amy, I prefer to show up for holiday parties while NOT wearing my pajamas. Besides, it's enough of a spectacle when I feed at the trough, uhm, I mean, stand at the table and scarf all the food that's not nailed down. Let's see, we've covered the body fat, the clothing...how about the essential Hibernation activities?

Amy: This is my favorite part! Hibernation activities include: as little as possible. Or, anything that involves curling up on the couch with the Essential Blanket and a good book. In your pajamas of course (which, contrary to what SOME PEOPLE might think, can be worn most anywhere). Sometimes the Essential Blanket and a good movie will do nicely. Bex, did we mention the Essential Blanket?

Bex: The Essential Blanket, for me, must be nothing other than something filled with goose down. It's important to invest in several of these and place them strategically throughout the house. This eliminates the need to carry them from bedroom to TV room and back. Besides, your hands need to be free in order to carry food, book, remote control and hot chocolate.

Amy: I prefer something fuzzy for my Essential Blanket. Though the perfect combination would be fuzzy on the outside and goose down in the middle; kind of an Essential Oreo Blanket. And speaking of Oreo's, they go well with hot chocolate, and both are crucial to Hibernation. I think we've covered about everything. Any other thoughts Bex?

Bex: One important piece of advice. Remember, the bear is your role model and in order to have the best Hibernation experience possible, one must adopt a bear-like attitude. This includes acting grumpy when bothered by others, striking out if someone reaches for your food and rolling over, curling up, and snoring loudly when asked to get up. Six months spent in this manner will carry you through the winter and before you know it, Spring will be knocking at your cave, er, door!

Here's wishing you all a Happy Hibernation! Until next time, this is Amy and Bex, signing off.

-- from The Redhead Review by Bex Hall and Amy Eason. See the webpage for their lists of essentials for hibernation.

For those who might want to compose some poetry while settling down for a chilly night's hibernation, here is a link to a page that gives you all kinds of words for seasonal Haiku.

And remember, without the darkness of late autumn and winter, we wouldn't enjoy the pretty lights from seasonal decorations, candles, and bonfires nearly as much! Maggie Macary wrote an essay called "O Night Divine" in which she talks about the negative aspects of artificial lights and commercialism during the coming holiday season. I think she makes good points, but she may have been suffering from SAD when she made her interpretation. On a cheerier note, she wrote these words about our ancestral need for light:

"This is the season of darkness, a time of retreat and reflection where I hunger for a turning inward, for a hibernation of soul. The ancestors understood this time of darkness, fearing the dark and yet also welcoming it for its signal to rest and renew. In those old days, people knew when darkness fell, that it was time to rest and gather around the light and warmth of the fire. No one looked at the clock to mark the day. The rising and the setting of the sun told the time. After the final harvesting was finished, the nights grew long. Families spent more time gathered around the hearth fire and the sustenance of home lit the long winter nights. The fireplace with its shrine-like appearance, hosted a living divinity of flame."

Naturally or artificially, we need to fill the darkness with light during this time. Our bodies need it so our brain chemistry remains balanced; our souls need it so our personality remains balanced. Hibernation may be an appealing idea, but as human beings, we can only exercise that option on the weekends, and then only if we have no pets or children who depend on us. The better solution for us is to seek "enlightenment" and to devise ways to keep ourselves healthy. Here is a link to a site that offers suggestions to keep the dark and light in balance in our lives.

Love and light to all! -- Cat

Will we ever know the true nature
of things that come out of our minds?
MAD, adj.  Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence; not conforming to standards of thought, speech and action derived by the conformants from study of themselves; at odds with the majority; in short, unusual.  It is noteworthy that persons are pronounced mad by officials destitute of evidence that themselves are sane.  For illustration, this present (and illustrious) lexicographer is no firmer in the faith of his own sanity than is any inmate of any madhouse in the land; yet for aught he knows to the contrary, instead of the lofty occupation that seems to him to be engaging his powers he may really be beating his hands against the window bars of an asylum and declaring himself Noah Webster, to the innocent delight of many thoughtless spectators.

Every winter, I spend time reassuring my friends that it's OK to hibernate. One friend says, with distress, "I've got to stop eating. I'm gaining so much weight." I reply, "It's natural to put on weight for the winter. We're animals. You need the stored fat to get you through the time when fresh food is scarce." My daughter complains about how much she's sleeping. Although I know that for some people lower levels of sunshine trigger depression, I also know that it's natural to sleep more during the winter. When humans were more dependent upon natural light, people slept during most of the hours of darkness. It's a good way eo keep warm and to conserve calories.

When you live your life close to nature, there's not a lot to do outside during the winter. The native peoples of Southeastern Alaska left their camps along the rivers where they fished during the summer and returned to inland villages for the winter. The women wove the grasses they had gathered in early spring into baskets and the men carved wood.

Winter is the traditional time for story-telling in many cultures. Except for certain ceremonial occasions, the ancient Celts told stories only at night and only in the winter. To me, winter is the best time for reading and writing. I love curling up under a blanket beside a fire (or, in my case, the radiator) with a good book.

The indoor-directed attitude of winter also gives me permission to do creative projects. Besides the obvious holiday crafts (ornaments of bakers clay, thirteen kinds of Yule cookies), I always feel the impulse to sew during the winter. Perhaps this is bred into my bones as a human.

Of course, life in the modern world does not encourage hibernation. We can shop and do business throughout the night, thanks to electricity. We are expected to work eight hours a day, even if it's dark when we arrive and dark when we leave. Then on top of this, winter is the holiday season, when we're supposed to be constantly shopping and partying. No wonder winter is the most difficult season for most people. The demands of the culture are contrary to those of nature.

Over the years, I've learned to trust my natural impulse to hibernate during the winter. Luckily my work schedule, since it revolves around teaching, comes to a natural break in the depths of winter, so I'm not working as many hours. I choose one (maybe two) parties to attend and I don't go shopping.

What Egyptians Knew About the Mind

Ancient Egyptians believed the heart was the center of intelligence and emotion. They also thought so little of the brain that during mummification, they removed the brain entirely from bodies. (Source: Emode)

Read about some Egyptian contributions to modern medicine in The Ancient Art of Medicine.

Do you have a Criminal Mind?
Find out at "The Psychology of Crime"
More from Out of Our Minds:

Brain Benders and Mind Melders

  • Akiyoshi's Illusion Pages: Page upon page of optical illusions that appear to flutter, flex, bulge, and wiggle.
  • Optical Illusions: Moving circles, Find the Faces, IQ test, and more from MI Stupid, the Online Knowledge Magazine.
Eye on the Future
2nd Sight Magazine
Body and Soul Section
Sound Mind, Body, Spirit

Are you MAD? Speak out!
At "We Are All Mad Here!"
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