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The beaver pond

Just think how many things we don’t know about nature.  

For example, I just had to Google the Question “Do beavers hibernate?”  

You would think someone who lives in the North Woods would know the answer to this question.  I thought I knew; maybe, perhaps, yes they do, no they don’t, let’s just get it over with and Google.  

Google pointed its wise finger to several websites which provided the definitive answer:  You Silly Questioner.  Of course beavers do not hibernate.  Don’t you know they eat the inner bark of trees during the winter?  Don’t you know that because the surface of their ponds may freeze solid, making it difficult to get trees, the beaver will chew down extra ones for an underwater food cache located near the den or lodge?  Don’t you know that?  

Pretty impressive sky, eh?

So now you’re wondering about otter, I suppose.  You want to know if otter hibernate.  I am here to tell you “Facts you Otter Know“.  They are definitively active all year-round. Cold weather does not inhibit their behavior.  In fact the author of the hyperlinked article insists that the otter loves ice and snow.  You otter know that.  

Bears hibernate.  You knew that, right?  Well, I am going to rock your world view, because some scientists disagree that bears actually hibernate in the same way as other animals.  That’s because they wake up frequently and their metabolism does not slow to nearly the same degree as, say, a possum or badger.  Why some mama bears even give birth during the winter, requiring a degree of alertness to care for the new cubs.  These scientists prefer to call this behavior denning rather than hibernating.  (It IS amazing what a Google search will teach you.)  

Another source just revealed that bears and raccoons torpor during the winter.  This source said that the raccoons sometimes go out to hunt before returning to their torpor-like state.  My husband can verify that.  He caught a big lake trout ice fishing and was saving the carcass in the snow and the raccoons stole it in the winter.  

Snowy tree, blue sky

Here is a partial list of animals hibernating around here this very minute according to wisegeek: chipmunks, ground squirrels (I beg to differ.  A red squirrel climbed the exterior wall, sat on the window and peered inside while I ‘denned’ at the computer this afternoon), hamsters (not any hamsters in these woods unless they escaped from someone’s house), skunks, bats, and badgers.   

Let us not forget our non-mammal friends, either.  The snakes that scared you last summer are sound asleep in a coma-like hibernation.  When we bring in our wood from the wood pile to wood room, we find shedded snake skins everywhere.  Sometimes we hang them up for decorations in the wood room.  I kid you not.  Back to our hibernation discussion.  Here are some more non-mammals:  lizards, frogs, toads, turtles and bees are all hibernating.   

One bird, the Western Poor Will, is considered a hibernating bird.  I can tell you what birds do NOT hibernate.  The chickadees, nuthatches, finches, blue jays, woodpeckers and juncos have all been seen near the bird feeder already this winter.  They are hard to photograph.  They flutter and swoop and dive so quickly all you can capture is a blurry whirr of wings.   

The chickadees at Catherine’s house yesterday were more relaxed.  You can see the non-hibernating bird here:  


Oh yes.  I would also like to add that I did not hibernate today.  Barry had to go to the Trading Post, so I hitched a ride.  Then he dropped me off about a mile or more from our house and I walked home.  It was cold, but not freezing cold.  Snowy, but not too snowy.  The only non-hibernating animals spotted were ravens lunching on a deer carcass.  (I decided to spare you the deer carcass photo.)

Shadows in the snow

Shadows in the snow

Day 26 of this commitment to go outside every day for a year.  It was cold.  Too cold.  It felt more like an endurance test, rather than an enjoyable stroll in the woods.  Every bit of exposed skin (only the nose and eyes, really) burned in the frigid wind chill.

The thermometer said four below, but the wind chill hovered at -25 below.  More than sixty of our Upper Peninsula schools announced cancellations or delays.  The woodstove demanded logs hourly, hungry to abate the chill. 

If you look down the road, a white misty hue colors the horizon.  It looks like a fine shimmer of white against the lake’s surface.  The world appears still; there’s no wildlife around.  One might think the chickadees and finches would be greedily munching sunflower seeds at the feeder; instead, there’s an eerie feeling of ice-cold silence.  No deer paw beneath the oak tree.  Even chipmunks and squirrels remain absent, perhaps hidden in burrows beneath the snow cover.

The bare branches of the bushes and trees seem etched against the blue-tinted snow.  The sun, at mid-day, rests so low in the sky, weakly shining its January light.  Remembering the old adage “never take a picture into the sun” I aimed the camera and snapped.  They couldn’t have been talking about this anemic sun, could they?

Weak January sun

Weak January sun

Last night a friend asked me to go cross-country skiing.  I mumbled something like, “maybe when it gets a little warmer….” and she shook her head and responded with something that sounded suspiciously like “wimp” or “wuss.”  Thank goodness she didn’t know about this Outdoor Commitment!  It probably would have been impossible to say “no”.

Some people seem so much better suited to spend time outside without even feeling it as a “commitment”.  Especially the avid skiers and snowshoers and ice fishermen around here.  They’re out & about daily, rarely contemplating wind chill.

I am a wimp and a wuss. That’s why this commitment is necessary.  Hibernation sounds more appealing at this time of year, let me tell you.  I am also not one of those souls so in love with nature waxing poetically about the snowfall, the chickadees, the diameters of maple trees, the positions of the stars.  I like the outdoors; don’t get me wrong, I’m just not head-over-heels-365-days-a-year- in love with it.  (That’s probably why it has so much to teach me this year….)

Last January our small school hosted an inspirational speaker named Frida Waara, from nearby Marquette, who skied with a team of eleven other women to the North Pole.  That woman is no wimp!  No one could call her a wuss.  She is a true inspiration….please check out her website at

In Frida’s words: 

“Everyone will cross an Arctic Ocean in their lives,” says Frida. “It may not look like the ice cap at the top of the world, but it will feel every bit as dangerous and alien.”

How will you cross that unfamiliar ground? Frida believes whether it’s to rescue your home, your health, your family or your finances, you must learn to rely on creative problem solving and teamwork–the same techniques that get off broken ice and back on solid ground.

Several of us took an afternoon ski with Frida last January and what impressed me most about her was this:  no matter what our level of proficiency, she actively drew the group together, praising all of us, making us all feel like amazing Outdoor Adventurers. 

I don’t suspect many of us will be headed to the North Pole anytime soon; however, opening the door and walking outside might prove a similar experience this week!

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