A blog focused on nature, science, environmental topics, and happenings at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC).

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

This photograph is our short fieldstone wall, which I call the “Mouse Hotel.” Most of the year I see many mice in and out of the little crevices. Squirrels and chipmunks hide their lunches; toads stay cool there. It drives Violet the Corgi crazy. Now it is as quiet as a hunter’s cabin off-season.

Almost everybody but the mice are hibernating. Mice are looking for a warm place for winter, perhaps in your foundation, near your chimney or, best of all, your cupboard! A great number of beasties hibernate, including black bears. Maybe. Depending on your definition.

Bears alter their metabolism considerably and can sleep for as long as seven months. However, some experts do not consider this true hibernation. A bear’s temperature does not lower nearly as much as the true hibernators. More importantly for naifs in the forest, they can be fully awake almost instantaneously. True hibernators require a long time to awaken.

The quietude bears attain in the winter is sometimes called “torpor.” I get that. Torpor is what overcomes me in the seventh inning, the third quarter and the next to last act of any Shakespearean play. I can’t say I arise from it almost instantaneously.

I recently asked a Pike County Facebook group when it was safe to put out bird feeders. That is, when would bears likely be in their long, deep sleep? The answers were most various: “I never take my feeders in.” “I never put out feeders.” “After the first hard freeze.” “After the first big snow.” “I put feeders too high for bears to get.” “Bears always get to my feeder no matter what I do.”

The ability of bears to awaken suddenly, and not truly hibernate at all, might be why I received such a broad spectrum of responses. I might have a bear in my part of the forest who can, figuratively, stay awake during five pitching changes in one inning, while your bear may dose off and continue sleeping even as Hamlet is going insane.


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