When the Japanese adapted the Chinese 24 season calendar into 72 seasons they created a series of micro-seasons. Each one of these micro-seasons lasts five or six days. Today, we are nearing the end of the micro-season of “Hibernating creatures close their doors” (Sep. 28- Oct 2), which is part of the mini-season Autumn Equinox (September 22 – October 7)
The season of “Hibernating creatures close their doors” marks the time when the insects and animals begin to prepare for winter hibernation. At this time, temperatures start to drop and the plants begin to die back.
The beginning of October is about the time that my home state of Vermont receives its first frost. This first frost kills many small insects like crickets and Katydids. So it is around this time that the crickets and Katydids lay eggs underground and in the stems of plants so the eggs can be protected from the cold and survive the winter. This will ensure that they are ready to hatch in the spring and start the cycle over.
Mammals such as groundhogs, skunks, and bears also begin to prepare for hibernation around this time. The hibernation cycle for mammals is driven by both the colder weather and the availability of food. For example, Black Bears have been known to delay hibernation until November if there are plenty of nuts and seeds to eat(2)
Some mammals like groundhogs and ground squirrels are true hibernators. True hibernation is where the animal drastically lowers their body-temperature, slows their breathing and heart-rate, and has a decreased metabolic rate. Bears, however, are not true hibernators because their body temperature only drops to about 88 degrees, which is only 12 degrees below normal temperature.(3) This is very different from the true hibernators who may drop their temperature to about 40 degrees.(3) Scientists believe that bears maintain this higher body temperature so that they can react to any danger without spending a lot of time trying to warm up their muscles.
Some Seasonal Poetry
As I thought about this season of transition, two haikus came to mind. This first one makes me think of the last mini season Autumn Equinox.
don't get hoarse katydid! tomorrow is autumn too -Kobayashi Issa
This next one makes me think of the impending frost and the end of the insect songs,
evening cicada-- a last nearby song to autumn -Kobayashi Issa
If we think about longer form poetry related to this mini season, I think about Susan Mitchell’s lovely poem titled “The Bear”. In this poem she talks about the bears hunt for a winter den. Below is a portion of that poem.
“The Bear” by Susan Mitchell
The bear is long gone. Drunk on apples, she banged over the trash cans that fall night, then skidded downstream. By now she must be logged in for the winter. Unless she is choosy. I imagine her as very choosy, sniffing at the huge logs, pawing them, trying each one on for size, but always coming out again. Until tonight. Tonight sap freezes under her skin. Her breath leaves white apples in the air. As she walks she dozes, listening to the sound of axes chopping wood. Somewhere she can never catch up to trees are falling. Chips pile up like snow When she does find it finally, the log draws her in as easily as a forest, and for a while she continues to see, just ahead of her, the moon trapped like a salmon in the ice. (Excerpt from "The Bear" by Susan Mitchell)
I really appreciate the imagery used in this poem. The bear being “drunk on apples” and then being very choosy about finding the perfect den makes me imagine a black bear wandering through the woods with a slow meandering gait. I also get a sense of coziness when she finally finds her spot and the “log draws her in” . Finally, she keeps an eye on the moon before transitioning to sleep. The picture that this poem paints for me is so magical. It is truly a joy to read. You can read the full poem here.
Do you have any poems that make you think of hibernation or the impending frost. Please share below.
- 72 seasons app
- Audubon: Black Bears, Oh My!
- National Park Service: Denning and Hibernation Behavior
- Susan Mitchell, “The Bear” found on PoetryFoundation.org
- Susan Mitchell, The Water Inside the Water (1983)
Susan Mitchell has published seven books of poetry. “The Bear” can be found in her book The Water Inside the Water. Mitchell is also been the recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lannan Foundation.
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