Micro-season: “Hibernating creatures close their doors”

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.

Bear resting on log
Photo by Photo Collections on Pexels.com

Resources:

  1. 72 seasons app
  2. Audubon: Black Bears, Oh My!  
  3. National Park Service: Denning and Hibernation Behavior
  4. Susan Mitchell, “The Bear” found on PoetryFoundation.org
  5. 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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17 thoughts on “ Micro-season: “Hibernating creatures close their doors”

Add yours

  1. Hi Mark,
    Another wonderful post from you! You put a great deal of time and effort into these posts and I thoroughly enjoy reading and researching them.
    Love the poem ‘The Bear’. Susan Mitchell is new to me and I will look for her work. I followed your link and find that she is from Scotland; coast to coast only about a dozen miles from Northern Ireland where I live! I raise this because not long ago I read ‘The Last Bear’ by Mandy Haggith who whilst not from Scotland does live and work there, in Assynt. She teaches at the University of the Highlands and Islands. The book, fiction, really stirred up my emotions regarding how humans have treated the earth and in particular its inhabitants (the bear). I have other connections to her work as she helped guide me with some of my earlier poems.
    Regarding the seasons, I am also following the App you mention, however, I came across a new book, ‘Light Rains Sometimes Fall’ by Lev Parikian. Its subtitle is ‘A British Year Through Japan’s 72 Seasons’. Obviously it has more direct relevance to the seasons here so I’m reading it slowly taking a current mini-season at a time! It will take a year to read so can’t write a review (GoodReads) until this time next year! 😊
    The sun is shining right now, so whilst the Starlings gather on the telephone wires I’d better go and put the covers on some of the garden furniture! Have a great weekend. 🙋‍♂️

    1. Hi Ashley, Those are some wonderful connections! I love finding all the linkages between people, stories, poems, and other than human animals. It’s kind of like an energetic network. An energetic mycelium network perhaps?
      I heard that Parikian was releasing a book on the 72 seasons. I am looking forward to reading it. It will be interesting to see similarities/differences in climate between northeastern United States and the British Isles.
      Have a good weekend. Talk soon!

  2. This is all lovely, but especially love “The Bear” and was delighted when I clicked on link for the full poem to see that the bear dances beneath the apple trees. Talk about imagery. Thank you for this post, Mark.

  3. I agree with you about imagery in “The Bear” …. as if the bear was coming away from a dinner party (after imbibing too many apples) and searching for a new home. And what a wonderful flip of going from apple-drunk to “Her breath leaves white apples in the air.”

  4. Mark, I was just reading part of the 72 seasons app for this section last night. Thanks again for telling me about it. It does such a good job of linking us with the tiny details of each small section.
    Here are 2 poems I wrote about bears and hibernation:
    http://tao-talk.com/2018/12/06/meeting-the-bear/
    http://tao-talk.com/2020/06/16/what-do-you-see-34-mother-bear/
    Finally, here is a beautiful youtube I watched earlier today that I think you will appreciate:
    https://youtu.be/ebn-duW3c_k

    1. Hi Lisa, thank you for your poems! I am looking forward to reading them. And thanks for the video. I truly appreciate the extra information and resources. Thanks again!

    1. Thank you for your comment! I am glad that you enjoyed the poems and resources. Mitchell’s poem is great. I really enjoy her writing style.

  5. Yes, our black bears in the Pacific Northwest, which is a temperate forest, go into a state of torpor, not true hibernation. Many people are often surprised to see bear prints in freshly fallen snow or their bird feeder ransacked in December.

    1. Hi Melanie, seeing bear tracks in the winter must be pretty confusing for people. The idea that concept of hibernation is the same for all beings seems to be common misconception. I definitely don’t remember being taught about torpor in an biology class. But then again I was a horrible student.

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