This week's offering is rooted in the Latin hībernātus, past participle of the verb hībernāre (to spend the winter), kin to the Classical hiems (winter), the Greek cheimá (winter) and the Sanskrit hima meaning cold, frost or snow. Theoretically, all are probably rooted in the Indo-European form ghei-, also meaning winter. That makes our word kin to the name of the mightiest mountain range on the planet, the Himalayas.
Most birds in the northern hemisphere migrate south, but other animal species go dormant and sleep through the long white season, and we call the process hibernating. Bears exhibit an elegant and impressive physiology as they sleep through the winter in their dens. Ground squirrels, marmots, prairie dogs, dormice, hamsters, lemurs and hedgehogs also den up when temperatures fall, sleeping quietly until outside temperatures rise and food becomes available again. Northern frogs, toads, snakes and turtles are also masters of the art of hibernation.
For humans, hibernation is something completely different, often involving retirement from the outside world to dens of our own or travel to warmer climes to escape inclement weather. We all have our mechanisms for dealing with short days, long nights and deep icy cold, and they are highly personal. For some of us, the accumulation of books, libations, potions and music is our hibernating thing—we kindle fires on our hearths, pull our draperies closed and surround our winter selves with things that are warm, embracing, spicy and redolent of comfort. (A fringed shawl in deep, earthy red comes to mind here.) We curl up like bears, cocooning ourselves within and enfolded in all that we love best.
In my own case, hibernation also means getting outside and wandering around with camera in hand, trying to capture the light of the sun as it touches clouds, contrails and migrating geese, sparks across frost dappling fields, trees, farm buildings and old rail fences. It's a personal meditative process holding out stillness and tantalizing glimpses of the wild, hoary and elusive wisdoms beyond the windows. Ice, frost, snow and the paucity of light notwithstanding, it's all good, and something to be treasured. Every view is a wonder and no two images are ever the same, even when they were captured from the same place.