Friday, October 22, 2021

Friday Ramble - Hibernate

This week's word offering comes to us from the Latin hībernātus, past participle of the verb hībernāre (to spend the winter) and the noun hiems (snowstorm, winter), both related to the Greek cheimá (winter) and Sanskrit hima (cold, frost or snow). All of the above likely originated in the Proto Indo-European (PIE) root forms ghei-, ghi-, and ghimo- meaning snow or winter. Our word is kin to the mightiest mountains on earth - the name of the Himalayan mountain range is a combination of the Sanskrit hima (snow) and alaya (abode), meaning "the abode of snow" in that language.

Many birds in the northern hemisphere migrate south, but other species of wildlife go dormant or sleep through winter, and we refer to the process of doing so as hibernating. Bears exhibit an elegant and impressive physiology as they hibernate through the long white season in their leaf-strewn dens. Squirrels, prairie dogs, groundhogs and hedgehogs also den up when temperatures fall, sleeping until temperatures in their native place rise and food becomes available again. Northern frogs, toads, salamanders, snakes and turtles are also masters of the art of hibernation.

Humans "do" hibernation too, and we do it in various ways. Some of us migrate to warmer climes to escape ice and snow and cold, but many of us simply withdraw from the outside world to warm dens of our own. Our protocols for getting through winter are highly personal. We retrieve shawls, sweaters and gloves from cedar chests, accumulate stacks of books, tea, munchies and music. We kindle fires in fireplaces, pull the draperies closed and surround ourselves with things that are warm, embracing, spicy and redolent of quiet comfort. For me, a big mug of tea and a favorite shawl in deep, earthy red chenille are the right stuff.

I buy more cookbooks between now and springtime, make endless pots of tea and pummel bread dough, listen to classical music and jazz, pose still life camera compositions on tables and window sills, pile up leaning towers of reading material. The books brought home are usually hardcovers - there is something uplifting about holding the real thing in one's hands, the way its thick creamy paper feels, the smell of the ink, the shapes of the illustrations and the typefaces used. I can get totally caught up in the color of a morning cup of tea, and I have to resist the temptation to add cinnamon sticks, anise stars and peperoncino to anything I brew or stir up in the kitchen. In October and November, it is is almost impossible to pass trees, hedgerows and drifts of fallen leaves without getting utterly lost in their golds and reds and bronzes.

Hibernation also means wandering around with a camera in the cold, trying to capture the light of the sun as it touches clouds, contrails and migrating geese, sparks across frost dappled fields, farm buildings and old rail fences. It's a meditative process holding out stillness and tantalizing glimpses of something wild, elusive and elemental. 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 in exactly the same place.

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