The Similarities Between People and Bears

By Bill Hall

The only difference between bears and people this time of year is that a lot of people have to get up and go to work Monday morning and bears don't.

Except maybe this winter. Black bears were slow to hibernate during this warm western winter. The same is true of people. Both have been seen out puttering around, including me.

Normally, this time of year, you will find me on a Sunday afternoon stretched out on the couch, napping. Bears aren't the only ones who save energy in winter when you can't accomplish anything outside anyway. Napping/hibernating is an effective way to conserve energy and to conserve food. Few of us have mastered the art of eating and sleeping at the same time, though some couch hibernators are working on it.

But it is not merely the need to be unconscious on a Sunday afternoon after burning out your brain during the work week that causes people to nap. Part of it has to do with the depressing gap between the end of football season and the start of baseball season. Bears are a creature that can't stay awake when it snows. I am a creature who can't stay awake during televised basketball or golf.

A cold winter intensifies that tendency. During most of the year, a householder has outside chores he really should be doing -- but not in the dead of winter. So those days can be used to conserve energy. And there is not much doubt that humans have some tendencies toward hibernation in their genetic nature, just as bears and assorted other creatures do. A human can sleep best of all during the kind of weather that makes outside chores impossible. It is the only time a person can loaf with a relatively clear conscience.

This winter has been different around here. In fact, it has been so different that bears can't even clear their consciences enough to nod off. The Nevada Division of Wildlife reports that black bears, who usually go into hibernation between Thanksgiving and Christmas, were still up and about long past Christmas, rummaging around out there making a living. It wasn't until heavy snows finally arrived, burying dinner, that the black bears gave up, crawled into their respective caves and waited out their hungry time in the usual temporary toes-up condition.

There has been no such luck in this part of Idaho. I was out again last Sunday in a light jacket pruning trees. No snow, no cold, no excuse. The couch yearns for me and vice versa, but something in my farming background doesn't allow naps while all this lousy nice weather commands attention to shaggy trees.

Even if I had been irresponsible enough to remain inside, that course risked a television set coming on by accident and assaulting me with golf or basketball before I could run from the room.

But there are those at our house who go into virtual hibernation every winter, no matter how mild it is. Cats show their jungle heritage this time of year, shunning the outside most of the time. You can tell they prefer heat by the way they love to go outside and lie in the full summer sun with their coats on.

And while those coats thicken noticeably in winter and the cats do go outside for brief periods, they don't stay long for the obvious reason that they are poorly designed. Somebody up there forget to finish their boots. They are expected to walk around on the cold winter ground in their bare feet. How long would you stay outside in that circumstance?

So they come inside and, like children, are bored stiff -- stiff as a carp from what I see. You find them scattered all over the house, looking dead as a Democrat in Idaho. At first glance, you would think we have three extra throw pillows this time of year. Some of our pillows shriek if you sit on them.

Our cats sleep twice as much in winter as in summer. They're about half bear when it comes to winter sleep.

On the other hand, there is a time each morning when, again like small children in winter, they get a little stir crazy. They race around the house, leaping and tumbling, playing and fighting, keeping their little bodies limber for the peppy days of summer.

That lasts about 20 minutes -- a brief frolic during an interlude in their long winter nap. And then they crash on a bed or couch, glaring at anyone who dares disturb them. Sometimes it's like living with bears.




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