How to Hibernate


The ice fog has descended. This photo was taken midday today, but you can see how dull and flat the light is. Cold air has settled into the valleys fingering up into the Cascades to be dammed by the mountains. The air is still. No wind. Above the blurry fog, there will be clear skies and sunshine, but down here there’s no way a person could imagine such a thing. The freezing temperatures bring out the moisture in the air, and it crystallizes on any surface. If it was above freezing, it would be dew. Instead intricate formations of hoar frost develop. I noticed how furry my honeysuckle vines appear when I took the compost out last night.

This fog can linger for two weeks or more, trapping fumes and particulates from human activity. The woodsmoke and vehicle exhaust have nowhere to go, so the air grows increasingly stagnant and dirty. People’s moods get stagnant too, as the gray and cold settles into the soul. I have been known to refer to this weather as “Killer Death Ice Fog from Hell”, adding expletives as necessary. The inertia settles into bones as well, and it can be difficult to force oneself out of the house. I feel myself slipping into careless eating and Internet surfing late into the night, so that I wake up disoriented and slow.

Yesterday I spent hours twining a little basket. When it wasn’t turning out the way I wanted, I tore it out and patiently started over. I am genetically and temperamentally a person of northern latitudes. I could see myself in another time and place (Scotland or Germany before electrification) being content to wrap up in shawls and sit weaving at a loom through the dark winter days. Or in a Pacific Northwest longhouse making baskets of cedar bark and spruce roots. My hands like to be busy during the dim time, and I don’t need to be fully awake. I can understand how winter was storytelling time in so many cultures. While I twiddled with my basket project, I listened to stories on the radio while my imagination wandered far and wide. What could be better on a gray day?

This morning I decided that I need to try a little harder to take my lethargy in hand. In spite of the gloomy fog, there are things that I would like to do: write New Year’s cards and send them; pound cabbage with salt and set to ferment into sauerkraut; bake bread; clear up piles of books and papers; put away the Christmas ornaments. Turn away from the glowing screen at a reasonable hour, putting aside the seduction of the World Wide Web. Sleep, and get up tomorrow to write for awhile and consider getting on my skis. (No midnight revelry for me. Sorry, not into it.)

Outside, juncos, chickadees, pine siskins and house finches sit on the fence with their feathers puffed up. Now and then they flit to the feeder where I’ve put out black oil sunflower seeds. They’re conserving energy to survive the cold. Hibernation is the most extreme way of conserving energy in the winter, and most animals here are not true hibernators. Many stay somewhat active, relying on caches of food they’ve stored or foraging for what’s available. But during storms and dark periods it’s nap time. I’m one of those.

Forecast is for a low of 5 degrees tonight.

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