Grumpy Bears Go to Bed

by Susan Eirich, PhD

Usually each year the bears give us clear notice that they are ready to go to bed for the winter. They start to look pathetic; droopy, like a sleepy child before nap time. But this year it was different. It has been warm and they continued to eat. And eat. And eat. Not that they needed to. They had rather well developed layers of fat. Enough for two winters I would say. But the weather apparently just didn’t seem like winter. Plus we got in some mangoes…..and some really good honey crisp apples……

bear_dens_puppy-and-humble-bumble-new-hay-031120120070281Humble Bumble preparing his den with new hay – Photo by Earthfire

Eventually their appetite declined. Finally, the day before our first real snowstorm, they seemed ready and last Thursday we did it. First we locked them away so we could work in peace. We prepared each of their dens with fresh sweet hay mixed with leaves we had gathered in the fall and dried, to add texture and scent. They watched our every move intently, like a dog or cat watching as you prepare its meal and add special treats….total focus.

Fetching enough for five dens took a while and I guess we were taking too long because they started to get impatient, trying to open the doors and get in, making their displeasure known. They wanted bed. NOW. When we finished we opened the doors and they each made a beeline to the entrance of their respective dens. Amazing how they could squeeze their huge bulk into the narrow entrance, sort of like an octopus squeezing itself though a narrow space. And then they were gone. No more bears for 4 months. The place is going to seem empty……

Huckleberry Bear Bear entering his den for winter sleep – Photo by Earthfire

It is an annual ritual, letting us know when winter has truly arrived. And when they wake up, hungry and grumpy, we know it is spring. Of course they are grumpy when they are sleepy in winter too so grumpiness alone doesn’t give us an accurate measure of what season it is. And the grumpiness is mitigated by the intense pleasure they show as their needs are met. Very elemental. Grunts and emanations of physical satisfaction. Not subtle. But very endearing. I share a short video I took of Huckleberry, our black bear, arranging his bed to his liking……

Living with the cycles of the seasons adds a beautiful rhythm to the year.

Keeping ourselves tuned to the cycles of nature helps ground us, calm us. We would love to hear how you experience the changing cycles of the earth; day and night, the months, the seasons. There is a place for your input below.

Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.

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