Before natural historians understood that some birds fly thousands of miles south each winter, they looked for other ways to explain their disappearance. Birds were like snakes, they suggested, burrowing for themselves a hibernaculum, an earthy pocket in which to pass the winter. Under the ground the robin slumbered, her heart beating once in a while, her open throat not tweeting at all, her feathers caked in grit. This was another way to survive the winter: digging in, admitting no one, waiting for this too to pass.
Deep into the winter blues, I awake to early morning darkness and wonder, “Is there really no other place for people and animals to live? Is there no other way?”
Some people are practical in coping with the season; swift in booking cheap flights to Florida, they do not hesitate, they do not dally, they just depart. I am a member of that other tribe, those who dig in, those who let their thoughts grow warped on the grayest light of winter.
At some point, usually around January 14th, I surrender to the season. My most insignificant problems begin to appear to me as uncontainable irritations, crosswords I’m much too grumpy to solve. It’s hard then not to fantasize about my own hibernaculum.
How I’d stock mine with a five-month supply of coffee, chocolate, cheese, and wine, to be consumed in that order, everyday, all winter long. Add to that a pile of books, and a landline that only dials out for delivery. This would be the season of slow and silent contemplation, moderate melancholy, little to no exercise.
A wise friend of mine claims this is what winter is for: a natural slowing down, a time to reflect, a not so unhealthy space for feeling a little bit sad.
If it were possible I think I’d also loft my hibernaculum in a tree, and make of it a warm and protected nest. And then I’d also probably appoint someone responsible for yanking open the nest’s trap door once spring had truly come. I’d fall to the ground in an unwashed heap, stand up, blink my eyes. I imagine then that my pitying neighbors would gather round to watch as I stood for the first time in months, stretching muscles, cracking joints. “She smells even worse than last year,” one of them might mutter, as I crab-walk off to the lake for a bracing spring rinse.
But I won’t do any of that, of course, not really. I will climb out of bed when my son wakes each morning. I will be on time for work. I will remember to bring home that carton of eggs.
But some day I will also emerge vainglorious from winter’s pocket. It will be suddenly warm and I will be suddenly awake and soon – my naked ankles frisky from sun – I’ll wonder, “What could be better than here? What way is there but this?”
(This story originally aired on January 13, 2016 and was produced by Erika Janik.)