By Sue Murphy
Winter officially began Dec. 21, but we were in the throes of our Christmas merriment and no one seemed to mind too much. In December, cold and ice are just part of the Currier and Ives holiday experience, not to mention that they bring with them the distant possibility of having snow, without which riding in a one-horse open sleigh is just mudding.
But after Christmas, the cold and ice are just that: cold and ice, and they only bring with them the possibility of being chilled and inconvenienced and sick, and since this is not the year to wing our way to some sunnier clime, we crank up the thermostat, we put on a coat. We adapt.
I recently read a book that described how several species of animals deal with the rigors of winter. We all know about the bear, who prepares for the onslaught by ravenously eating. I kind of did that part over the holidays, but I don’t think I’d get away with snuggling down in a cozy den to sleep the winter months away unless I could convince my dog, Dave, to do the same.
It might not be that hard a sell. Dave is not a fan of winter. When I indicate that it is time to go outside, he hides under the dining room table. When finally forced onto the frozen sidewalk, I try to explain that the quickest way to get out of the cold is to do your business post haste, but I’m not sure he sees the connection.
When the temperature dips, the painted turtle buries himself in the mud and stops breathing entirely. I don’t know how scientists determined this. Turtle sleep studies? I know you can get a grant for just about anything. While this no-breathing strategy may work for the painted turtle, it is not a good coping mechanism for me (or Dave) because it has been determined that not breathing has serious side effects for both our species.
Until the spring thaw, bats hang wing-to-wing in large groups in caves and drink the water vapor on their fur. Garter snakes gather in large groups for shared warmth also, but since they have no equipment for digging, they have to appropriate the abandoned hole of another animal, often that of a woodchuck. Skunks will winter in a woodchuck hole, too, sometimes when the woodchuck is still inside. The author said that the woodchuck is OK with that, but again, how does he know?
My guess is that the woodchuck, or groundhog, simply dislikes confrontation. He would have to be pretty laid back given the fact that he does not go into attack mode when he is hauled out of his slumber by a Punxsutawney man in a top hat every Feb. 2 to make a call on how much winter still lies ahead of us. I don’t know how the groundhog was first determined to have such meteorological skills (another grant?), but I am guessing that even the type-B groundhog will have had enough of such nonsense sooner or later. Perhaps that’s where his skunk boarder comes in.
“Sure, I’d love to have you winter with me. Take the room by the front door (wink, wink).” Well played. I don’t know if the skunk would be able to predict the weather either, but I think I can say with certainty that Mr. Top Hat would need a bath.
On Feb. 2, I will be rooting for old Chuck. Even if we have six more weeks of winter, I will spend some of it laughing.