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A Long Winter's Nap

Glory, Madagascar Hedgehog Tenrec in torpid

With our first snowfall behind us and the solstice just weeks away, it’s time to start thinking about winter. The beautiful orange and yellow leaves of autumn have fallen to the ground, leaving only bare branches. Most of our summer migrants – Bullock’s Orioles, Barn Swallows, and Turkey Vultures – have already left, migrating south to Central and South America. The little garter snakes that solicited squeals of delight from children – and shrieks of terror from others – as they slid across our sidewalks in pursuit of prey, have all retreated to their underground hibernacula, where they will spend the cold winter months sleeping off their summer stores. Just as the arrival of the Western Kingbird to the field behind my house always marks the beginning of summer for me, so the day our little Madagascar Hedgehog Tenrec, Glory, retreats to her hide for her long winter’s nap always heralds the beginning of winter.

In a strange way, even Earth yawns out one long exhale each winter caused by the lack of photosynthesis activity that had so recently been taking place in all those leaves that just fell. Photosynthesis is how plants take CO2 out of the atmosphere to make oxygen and sugar. No more leaves means no more CO2 absorption. Despite the fact that “Down Under,” the Southern Hemisphere is just beginning their summer, along with their own beautiful green plants, the majority of deciduous forests are located in the Northern Hemisphere. So, when we experience winter, overall global photosynthesis decreases, causing a rise in global CO2. By the end of June, when all our leaves are back and operating at full tilt, CO2 levels drop back down. This cycle repeats itself every year, like one big Earth breath, that inhales in the summer and exhales in the winter. NASA has produced an excellent animation of this effect:

This winter let’s take our cue from nature and use the season to slow down, breathe, and make a cozy den for ourselves to share with friends and family. Hygge is a Scandinavian practice that encompasses all things cozy and who better to teach us how to survive the cold than Scandinavians, whose winters last from October to April. They even have a fifth season they call “The Dark Time," when daylight only lasts a few hours. The principles of Hygge include simple pleasures, gratitude, mindfulness, healthy lifestyle, spending time outdoors, and enjoying the company of family and friends. Maybe, just as important is what Hygge is not: it is not buying trendy things and it is not staying inside all winter. If we apply these principles to our holidays, be it twelve days of Christmas, eight days of Hanukkah, or seven days of Kwanzaa, we can make our celebrations joyful and sustainable.

Let’s start with holiday gift giving. According to the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, consumption around the holidays increases by a factor of five for food, travel, lighting, and gifts, but it’s possible to play the part of Father Christmas without straining Mother Nature. Nature maintains its abundance by closing the loop on all its systems. Just like the leaves that have piled up on our grounds create a blanket for hibernating animals and plant roots, then break down in the spring to provide nutrients for the soil, there are corporations that are looking to maintain Earth’s natural abundance by closing loops on their manufacturing processes. B Lab is leading the way by certifying B Corporations, which are companies that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Here are all their gift guides for the holidays, including Gifts for a Cozy Home – very Hyggelig!

We can also lower our impact on the environment by gifting experiences rather than things. Did you know that Americans spend about $8 billion dollars on unwanted gifts each holiday season (mostly clothing)? How about giving tickets to a show, lessons, or a donation to a favorite cause instead? You can save yourself the trouble and expense of elaborate holiday lights by sharing in the wonderful animal-themed light show at the Pueblo Zoo. ElectriCritters runs from November 24th through December 27th on the weekends and some weekdays in December. You can find tickets here:

The Pueblo Zoo wishes you a happy holiday however you celebrate and our gift to you, please enjoy this lovely poem that will bring you gratitude and mindfulness throughout the winter:

Winter Morning

When I can no longer say thank you

for this new day and the waking into it,

for the cold scrape of the kitchen chair

and the ticking of the space heater glowing

orange as it warms the floor near my feet,

I know it’s because I’ve been fooled again

by the selfish, unruly man who lives in me

and believes he deserves only safety

and comfort. But if I pause as I do now,

and watch the streetlights outside flashing

off one by one like old men blinking their

cloudy eyes, if I listen to my tired neighbors

slamming car doors hard against the morning

and see the steaming coffee in their mugs

kissing chapped lips as they sip and

exhale each of their worries white into

the icy air around their faces—then I can

remember this one life is a gift each of us

was handed and told to open: Untie the bow

and tear off the paper, look inside

and be grateful for whatever you find

even if it is only the scent of a tangerine

that lingers on the fingers long after

you’ve finished peeling it.

Poem copyright ©2019 by James Crews, from

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