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Kittredge: On Hibernating


Black bears have been hibernating since December in Vermont and, as a result of global warming, are emerging from their dens a full month ahead of schedule. Cubs are born in January to hibernating mothers who surface from slumber only long enough to nurse and clean their young before slipping back to sleep. Their hibernation is marked by significant decreases in heart and metabolic rates. Their hearts can beat as little as 8 times a minute and they breathe once every 45 seconds.

This winter I've been hibernating as well. From early January until early March I stayed pretty much in my study - I'm tempted to call it my ;den; but my mother would roll over in her grave at the use of the word. I slept a lot and did a convincing imitation of, if not a black bear, then at least of my black lab, Nell: lie down, curl up, don't move. I had mononucleosis and resultant hepatitis and was flattened for a while. That I was married when I was nineteen might have something to do with my not contracting the 'kissing disease' in adolescence when most people do. But we don't want to go there lest we wonder why I would suddenly fall prey in my 60s.

I was perfectly content to nestle in this winter and not move. The difficult part was that for a stretch of time the doctors weren't entirely convinced it was only mono, and speculation about scarier things haunted us for what seemed like forever but was, in reality, only about six weeks. After the first month I instituted a virtual medical filter on my computer and refused to Google anything about bad blood and bone marrow.

When I was cleared at the beginning of March, I was elated but also humbled. I couldn't help thinking about all the people for whom bad diagnoses are confirmed. In the weeks when I thought I might be really sick, I learned a lot. I realized that my family and my friends are the most important things on earth to me. We all know this but I felt it with a visceral urgency and this was a gift. No longer did petty worries concern me, I just wanted to love the people I love. When I was at my sickest, like everyone else, I wanted my mom.

Today is Easter; black bear mommas are leading their tiny cubs from their dens, squinting at the radiant sun, listening to birdsong and feeling their hearts, slowed by slumber, quicken with hope and purpose. I feel the same way; the stone has been rolled away from my imagined tomb - at least for now - and it's time to rejoice and start my seeds.

The message of Easter, so entwined with spring and rebirth, calls us to rejoice.

But like mother bears, we are also entrusted with the care of those who cannot fend for themselves, those for whom, alas, the darkness prevails.