Last winter, as the sun started thawing the earth and visiting for longer periods each day, and my vitamin D levels started creeping back toward normal, I had a revelation. This revelation was also connected to an ongoing discussion in my classroom about mammals, and the children’s natural wonder at the thought that we, too, are mammals. I came home one day, cold and tired, and said, “Joe, I think that bears are geniuses and humans are incredibly stupid.”
Bears sleep during the winter. They know that there isn’t anything to eat, there isn’t enough sunlight to keep them warm, and that things are, for the most part, dead or dormant. Winter, by nature, is lazy. And bears aren’t the only things to take an extended energy vacation in the winter. Trees drop their leaves and conserve their energy in their roots. Squirrels huddle away somewhere, insulated by leaves and nuts. Fish slow their vital organs and all but expire underneath the frozen lakes. And where are humans? At the water’s icy surface, doing triple axles and drawing figure-eights. Wide awake and keeping themselves busy as ever, while the rest of the world dozes peacefully.
Not only do we fight against the natural flow of things – as a society, we have actually created more ways to use up our energy – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s – hustle and bustle when it is in our nature as mammals to slow and reserve. Travel when it is in our nature to stay put. As a species, we have decided that we are not going to take it easy during the cold months – we are going to push through, fight against, and basically ignore the natural cues which our genetic codes have held as dogma for millenia.
This brings me to my next theory. The explanation as to why I, and much of the rest of humanity in the Northern hemisphere (based on my far-from-empirical survey of about four people) feel so stressed and rushed these days. When you look outside your window during autumn, what do you see? Squirrels, who just a few weeks ago were happily gallivanting around, chasing each other, playing with each other, are now frantically stuffing their teeny mammalian cheeks with as many acorns, walnuts, and seeds as squirrel-ly possible. No time to play – must gather and store. Birds are flapping their wings as fast as they can to escape the bitter cold and make it to the seasonal Mecca that is the southern portion of the globe.
My friends, I believe that we are in the “get out before your ass freezes” time of year. Our DNA is telling us, “Go! Go! Go! Get everything done before the first frost! The mammoths/rival tribes/Christian holidays are approaching!” And unlike the disdain we express for our genetic messages about winter, humans choose to go full-throttle into this instinctual melee – shoving aside the squirrels and birds and bears and saying, “No! Me first!” Except that we don’t stop running at the end of the autumnal marathon – we keep going, even though our feet have blisters and our thighs are chafing. We practically sprint through the snowfall.
So what is the answer? I don’t have a bleeping idea – I just wanted to share my theory(ies).