We have entered the micro-season of “The Bear Retreats To Its Den”. This is the first micro-season of the mini-season Major Snow. All the micro-seasons within Major Snow are:
- The Sky is Cold, Winter Comes (Dec.07 -Dec. 11)
- The Bear Retreats to its Den (Dec. 12 -Dec 16)
- The Salmon Gather to Spawn (Dec. 17 -Dec 21)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you.
To celebrate this season, we will learn about a bear’s winter survival strategies and then read some seasonal haiku from Basho, Shiki, and Issa.
Do Bears Hibernate During Winter?
Animals have adapted many strategies to survive the harsh winter conditions. Birds migrate south, some mammals grow thick coats of fur, and others find places to rest until the conditions improve. Bears are one of those animals that find a place to wait out the winter.
However, contrary to what you might have learned in grade school, bears are not true hibernators. True hibernation is when the “body temperature is close to 0° C (32° F); the respiration is only a few breaths per minute, and the heartbeat is so slow and gradual as to be barely perceptible.” (1) Very few mammals enter a state of true hibernation. Bats, woodchucks, and chipmunks are some of the common animals that enter true hibernation. Bears, on the other hand, enter a state known as torpor.
Torpor is similar to hibernation with a decreased breathing and heart rate, lower metabolic rate, and slightly lower body temperature. However, unlike true hibernation which is a voluntary process that lasts until the animal is exposed to warmer temperatures, torpor is involuntary and is often broken up by periods of activity. (2,3)
One of the benefits of torpor versus hibernation is that it is easier for an animal to emerge from its “sleeping” state. For animals in hibernation, it takes hours for them to wake.(2) Whereas, animals in torpor are able to awaken quickly if there is danger or the opportunity to feed. Bears also give birth during the winter.(4)This means that the mother bear needs to be able to care for her cubs while in the den.
In order to awaken from torpor, animals will shake and contract their muscles. This process, which looks a lot like shivering, warms the body and gets the blood moving.(3)
Where Do Bears Den?
During the summer months, bears scout out their possible den locations. Security and protection from the elements are a few of the factors that influence the den’s location. Bears may den in fallen logs, rock crevices, or caves. Bears may also dig into a hillside, under a brush pile, or under a fallen tree to create a den. Bears will often create a bed of leaves and debris within their den. (5,6,7)
Bears often head to their dens in December. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. Meghan McCarthy McPhaul explains in an article for Northern Woodlands,
“Bears will remain out and about as long as good food sources remain available. But once cold weather settles in and snow blankets the ground – or there’s simply nothing left to eat – they take to dens they’ve already prepared for the winter.”(6)
Pregnant bears are often the first ones to head to their dens. This is followed by bears with cubs and finally the male bears.
The World Kigo Database tells us that there are a few words and phrases that align with this micro-season. Winter seclusion, or fuyogomori, is probably the most relevant. Dr. Gabi Greve says “Animals like bears sleep through the whole cold season, also called fuyugomori.”(8) Other phrases associated with fuyugomori are “winter confinement”, “winter isolation”, or “wintering”.
With this season in mind, let’s read some haiku!
winter solitude — in a world of one color the sound of wind. (translated by Robert Hass)
anyway celebrate I will this winter hibernation with apricot blossoms in my heart. (translated by Takafumi Saito)
tired of Kyoto this withering wind and winter life (translated by Jane Reichhold)
splitting wood my sister alone - wintering (retreived from World Kigo Database)
early winter seclusion-- whose thin smoke over there? (translated by David G.Lanoue)
my sinful dog at my side... winter seclusion (translated by David G. Lanoue)
The next two haiku by Issa were found on the World Kigo Database. The translations and the commentary are attributed to David G. Lanoue.
the welcome bell tolls at the temple... winter seclusion (First version)
the death bell tolls at the temple... winter seclusion (Second version)
“Shinji Ogawa notes that the phrase o-mukae no kane (Issa’s variant: mukai no kane) means “welcome-bell” in the sense of welcoming the faithful to the next world, Amida Buddha’s Pure Land. I first translated it, “the welcome bell,” but Gabi Greve feels that this loses the sense of “someone waiting for his death.” She suggests: “funeral bells/ starting to toll” or “coming to get me/ the bell is tolling.” I have decided to go with “death bell,” and to include the word “temple” (not in Issa’s original text but certainly implied).”(8)
A Haiku Invitation
This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that references hibernation or winter seclusion.
Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write!
- “Hibernation”; Britannica.com
- “Snug in the Snow”; Environmental Education for Kids
- Chris Bachman; “Do Bears Really Hibernate” National Forest Foundation.
- “Black Bears”; National Park Service
- “Winter Dens”; Bear.org
- “Bears Make Their Bed”; NorthernWoodlands.org
- “Bear Den Locations May Surprise You”; BearWise.org
- “Winter seclusion (fuyugomori)”; World Kigo Database
Basho’s haiku were retrieved from the World Kigo Database and “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations” editor: Gábor Terebess. Issa’s and Shiki’s haiku were retrieved from the World Kigo Database.
I am ten days away from my winter hibernation, when holiday work will be all done. I love each of the haiku you posted, they were all so evocative of the winter feeling.
Interesting question about torpor from my local nature center. Even a blind chipmunk, living in a climate controlled indoor environment goes in to torpor. What is driving her internal body clock?
What a fascinating question about blind chipmunk. I think this quote from research scientist Marina Blanco might some it up, “Hibernation is literally in their DNA,”. Blanco was talking about Lemurs, but it could hold true for your neighborhood chipmunk.
Good luck making it through the next few days! Have a great weekend. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/03/210312155440.htm.
What a wonderful resource you are for traditional haiku. And the World Kigo Database is fantastic! If I ever take up the art again, I will earnestly make use of it. You include the masters who are so important, and humbling.
Boy with water cup
steps in deep snow for sparrows
waiting on the branch
I woke up this haiku from almost 2 years ago, and although I wasn’t always strict about Japanese seasonal themes, this one comes close. It was the first in a series of 30 but follows Midwestern U.S. seasons.
Hi Mary Jo, Thanks for joining the conversation! Your haiku is great and perfect for winter. Without looking it up, I think deep snow is a kigo for late winter. And if not a Japanese kigo, a Midwestern kigo perhaps?! Thanks again for sharing your work and linking up. Have a good weekend!
Oh my pleasure! Yes, the many seasons of winter. 🙂
under the coves
Thanks Mark for another inspiring post and great selection of poems. Have a great day My Friend.
Hi Goff, Thanks for the kind words!
Hi Mark. Here is my response to this week’s prompts ‘Hibernation’ / ‘Winter Seclusion’.
Happy Friday. Festive Greetings Everyone.
Hi Goff, another great haiku for the season! Thanks for sharing your work and ongoing support.
the hedgehog house
Sent from my iPhone
Hi Wendy, This is such a fun haiku and nice job pulling in an animal that is a true hibernator. Thanks for writing and sharing!
I really enjoyed this celebration of hibernation, Mark. Great info about the bears. I especially appreciated the poetry, the solitude…the process of slowing down in winter and heeding earth’s cycles goes back centuries.
Hi Jet, Thanks for the comment! I was just listening to a book today on Wabi-Sabi and they spent a good amount of time talking about the connection between the seasons and the human experience. We can’t deny that we are a part of the natural world. I hope you have a great weekend.
I have rewritten my haiku. I think there was a typo and I changed the last line. (I love your blog. I dread when it is over!) LaMon
under the blankets
I like both versions!
Thanks for the kind words. I am glad that you are enjoying this journey. So interesting reading the two version of your haiku. They are both great. Thanks for writing and sharing your work.
What a wonderful post…I love me some bears (and squirrels hibernate?? then why are they always at our peanut feeder??)
This one took my breath away as it so aptly describes what it too often feels like lately:
winter solitude —
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.
Here’s my contribution:
icy winds blowing
deep in hot tea and blankets
Hi Tracy, Good catch, You are right about squirrels. I think there are species of ground squirrels that hibernate. But our tree squirrels don’t. I need to change that. Chipmunks, however, do hibernate. And thanks for sharing your haiku! Nice job!
I’ll head over to your site in a minute and check out your weekly prompt.
Ah, I hadn’t thought of it in terms of ground and tree squirrels. Now I understand!
mom on day thirty-nine
in the hospital
I realize this is more of a senryu, but it is the reality in my family today.
I wish that translator had listened to the advice given:
starting to toll
What a great haiku, Issa!
Hi Evaonka, First, sorry to hear about your mom. That sounds like a very tough situation. Next, I agree the last Issa haiku is great. It’s pretty amazing that there can be that many translations available depending on how close the translator tries to capture the essence or the exact wording. Thanks for writing and sharing! I hope you have a peaceful weekend.
I know a lot of people find the idea of a bear encounter intimidating, but I’m grateful to live in an area with so much wildlife, including Blac Bears. It reminds me to be mindful of the environment
around me so we don’t accidentally startle each other. When I have the rare opportunity to observe them from a distance it is a real treat. Sadly, their lifespans are short here in Suburbia as speeding cars are the number one predator of everything around here.
Hi Melanie, I agree with your comment about being mindful while being out in the nature. You not only will see more of our non-human neighbors, we also won’t end up in an bad situation with those same neighbors. Bummer to hear about the amount of bears that get hit by cars. Thanks for the comment and sharing your experiences!
Great blog post about hibernation, Mark. I learned so much.
of my hibernation
~Nancy Brady, 2022
squirrels tucked into
exposed leaf dens
!Nancy Brady, 2022
Hi Nancy, I am glad that you enjoyed this one. Hibernation seems to be a good haiku topic! Thanks for sharing.
Mark, hibernation is an interesting subject for haiku. I’ve always thought that if people practiced it, we might get enough sleep so that we’d wake up a lot less cranky and maybe even achieve peace. Pie in the sky thinking, I know.
Have a good week!
I love this post as I gaze out on 30” of new Adirondack snow. It makes me imagine all the bears who must be curled up nearby, Now to find haiku inspiration.
Hi Sharon, 30″ is a lot of snow. I am located in central Vermont. We probably got about 15″ on Friday into Saturday. I hope you found haiku inspiration!
Basho “winter solitude” was my favorite. Never knew about “torpor.”
Hi Art, I am glad that you enjoy some of the haiku and the post. Thanks for commenting! Have a good week.
I like the philosophy behind “bear retreats to …”
Hi Eunice, Thanks for the comment and I am glad that you enjoyed this one! Have a great week!
Lovely blog Mark, here is my haiku 🙂 https://poetisatinta.wordpress.com/2022/12/18/the-bear-retreats-to-its-den/
Wonder job with your hibernation haiku! Thanks so much for sharing your work. Have a great week!
Thanks Mark – you too ❤
I’m really enjoying your blog and learning about micro-seasons.
like every season
with this global pandemic
Hi Dana, Thanks for the kind words and joining the conversation! Nice job with this haiku. Really stellar work! Have a great week!
With thanks again to Nan for the redirect…
I played here (the title is the blog link)
our papa bear, he
worked late almost into dawn
we dared not wake him
down duvet cover
I bare cold
one little black bear
sought the suburb yards had to
smart to retreat for
he retreated to
his den, the football game on
What a fun collection of bear related ku! I really enjoyed all the places you took this theme. Thanks for adding to the conversation! Have a great week!
I missed cold winter… but I’m working on some 🙂