Whether you are a plant or an animal, a geranium or a bear, an ape or a human being, your winter sleeping habits are probably triggered by the lack of light.
Each winter, most of us find ourselves slower than usual to rouse from our nightly slumber than we are during the days of summer. Bears aren’t the only living things that are inclined to hibernate. The same, to a small degree, is true of humans. We are designed to fall more deeply into a state of rest during winter.
Bears are cuter than we are but they lack our self-discipline and are excessive in that they sleep constantly during days of darkness. It’s not entirely their fault. They lack the advantage of having an alarm clock, a telephone or a boss. No one calls them in the bear bedroom, insisting they get up and come to work.
We humans are also inclined to sleep more through the time when the sun is mostly AWOL, frolicking thousands of miles away on some South American strand of sand, watching the beach bums and the beach hotties dancing in the light.
But it is not bears and humans alone who slumber a lot during winter. Some plants also have their lazy days. Geraniums, for instance.
Each October, we take cuttings off that year’s plants, pot them and bring them into the greenhouse. They don’t do much for a couple of months – not until the winter solstice, not until that time when the sun completes its journey south and comes running home to us up here in the north.
The low point for geraniums in our part of the Earth is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Until the solstice, the geraniums just sit there sleeping, virtually hibernating. They hardly grow at all.
But in the first couple of weeks after the solstice, they suddenly surge. They grow larger and huskier. That’s because they are finally wide awake. The growth spurt is triggered by the returning sun. As soon as plants and animals feel the sun coming back, they get up and go to work. The sun is their boss and he is calling.
The visible sign of light returning instills a natural recognition of that change in the activities of humans, geraniums and all the other prisoners of the winter night.
When the sun comes closer and begins to flood our morning with light earlier and earlier each day, a gladness comes over our kind. And like a bear or a geranium, we rejoin the functional world. We stop overdosing on sleep. We get up and go to work.
Oddly enough, we humans who have reached an advanced age stupidly live our lives backward in ways we don’t have to. We are mostly retired, free from obligatory work and we have long since drowned the alarm clock. We have no boss, no telephone ringing, nobody asking why we aren’t at work yet.
So what do we do? When we finally have an opportunity in our lives to sleep in, we don’t. We rise from the bed earlier and earlier with each passing year. That alarm clock has invaded our bones and will rule our rising until the day we join the eternal hibernation (along with a lot of dead bears).
Nosy anthropologists have recently learned that we all have some Neanderthal genes from ancient times. We are part Neanderthal. Our ancestors once slept with the enemy.
It could be worse. I think maybe I’m part bear, with a few geranium genes thrown in.
But be of good cheer. Once more this year, here comes the sun.Bill Hall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501