It’s difficult to write a column this week. Actually, it’s difficult to do anything but eat, sleep, belch and scratch. I’ve always felt desperately sorry for those who had to work the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Unfortunately, there are those who must work, like the people who sell us food and all those first responders.
I was blessed with a great supervisor during my last job, and the day the vacation request calendar came out, we were on it like chickens on sowbugs. We arranged for me to have time off from before Christmas until about the third of January. It made a huge difference in the year, that chance to begin it rested.
Over the last couple centuries humans have begun to live the same way during every season, and it ain’t natural. What’s natural this time of year is eating, sleeping and growling. We may not be able to do that as often as we’d like, but we can at least understand the impulse and be gentle with ourselves and others.
It was at the beginning of the industrial revolution that factory owners decreed that peasants who wanted a job in July had better be prepared to work in January, and it’s been getting worse ever since. Until that time, people flowed with the seasons.
In July we had boundless energy; we worked and played all the hours of daylight. Locally, that meant catching and drying small surf fish, picking berries, repairing homes and traveling for the purpose of trading dentalia, sea urchin shells, hides and brides. There were weddings, powwows, and other inter-tribal celebrations. The people danced for joy and the overflowing exuberance of the season.
In fall the salmon came upriver and deer were fat and ripe for harvest. So were acorns and huckleberries. Food was stored and hides were dried and treated. And then came winter, the time for eating and sleeping, for storytelling, for passing on the verbal history of families and tribes while turning those hides into warm clothes.
Humans were never true hibernators. Hibernators like the jumping mouse drop their heartbeat from 500 beats to about 30 beats per minute, which helps conserve energy. The heartbeat of a bear slows to about 8 beats per minute. We’re more like raccoons, prone to a behavior called “denning up,” during which we will, if left to our own devices, sleep long periods of time.
You may have to work in artificial light, but when you’re free, curl up for a nap. You need it and deserve it — honor the life you’ve been given.
In the evening you might turn off the television and the lights. Now gather by the light of candles or holiday lights, tell stories and listen to the wind.
A mammal by any other name is still a red-blooded beastie, and we’re all affected by the turning of the seasons, so let’s be good to ourselves and each other. We’re doing well to stay awake.