It's hibernation time. *nod*
So last night, Polly and I were having our usual rambling conversation, and it led on to the fact that we don't hibernate any more. Instead, we carry on doing what we always do as if the season, temperature and weather hasn't changed at all. We just put more clothes on, eat more fat and carbs, and soldier on. We don't actually get that slow, sleepy season of inactivity, rest, and boredom that our far-distant ancestors would have. We also don't get the late-winter starve, which is nice. But, are we mentally geared up for coping with winter?
So after this conversation, we strolled down Courtenay Place (for those of you playing along at home, CPlace is the restaurant/bar/club end of town), and observed the folks, all rugged up in coats over their work clothes, looking pale and cold and tired and generally as if they would rather be anywhere else but here. And it occurred to me that people are just like sheep.
Not in the usual way that people are compared to sheep. Not the 'following the leader, doing whatever the others do, panicking when left alone' kind of way. In the way that we cope.
Short treatise on sheep coping behaviour: sheep are pretty much defenceless. They have no top teeth, no claws, can't run fast or climb trees or lay misleading trails of breadcrumbs. So, how have they managed to survive the depradations of predators since time immemorial? Well, they breed like flies, and they adapt. One of the reasons I'm into breeding sheep is that it's easy. Breeding for traits is fast, and even in individual sheep, it doesn't seem to matter what you do with them - if you make it too hot, their wool falls out. If you give them less food, they adapt to live on less food. If you put them in snowy mountains, they grow thick coats, learn to dig, and they survive. Improve their situation even slightly and they'll start to cycle and breed. You can chase them with dogs all day and they'll get fit and learn to come to you without being chased. If they are injured, you won't hear them scream. They'll make out they're fit as fiddles until they keel over with blood poisoning. Etc. I could go on about the adaptability and survivability of sheep, but I'm talking about people.
People cope in the same way. We are not naturally inclined to get out of bed in the dark on cold winter mornings, keep up a sustained effort of concentration on some task for eight hours at a stretch, have meals at regulated times, travel for miles daily to reach the place where we concentrate, and sleep only at night for a set amount of time.
'In the wild', I'd suggest that people are more likely to kip in the middle of the day as well as at night, to move from task to task as the mood strikes them, to eat in more of a 'grazing' kind of way, and to spend more time sleeping in winter, staying home indoors and keeping warm. But, us domesticated types don't follow our natural instinct. Instead, we cope. And we breed under these conditions. We even pretend that we're ok, that the limitations of our lifestyle don't affect us - because if we are seen to be affected by external factors in a way that means we are less productive, we get 'culled' from the lifestyle. And nobody wants that, because we need to have the house, the car, the stuff...
Why do we need the house, the car, the stuff? Oh yeah, so that we can maintain the lifestyle that forces us to cope with unnatural ways of being. No job = no money, no money = unable to pursue life goals. And, what are the life goals? Um..
Well, for me, all I want from life is to be able to muck about with sheep, to life a more natural life in which I don't have to seek out a variety of things to do, or travel to a job, or keep to a crazy unnatural schedule when all my instincts are screaming "HIBERNATE!" The great irony is that in order to be able to do this, I have to be in a position where I don't need to make money. I can live off the land (yes I can - meat plus vegies = food, and I can produce both), and deal to my external needs (the occasional party, trip to 'the outside', ice cream) on around $150 or less a week, which I can make in a day dagging sheep. But in order to be in a position to do so, I have to not have to come up with rent or mortgage money. That money immediately puts me in a position where I need a job to support myself. At today's rate, by the time I'm freehold on a property I can support myself on, I'll be too old to do the work.
So, I adapt, like a good little sheep.
(at this point I could go all academic on your ass and rant about capitalism with the obligatory call to revolution, but I'm assuming you can fill in your own blanks, and this post isn't about that. it's about coping)
I've been reading Peter Newton. For those who don't know, Peter Newton was a high country musterer in the 1920s to 1940s, and wrote a lot of books. He wasn't the greatest writer ever, but he loved what he did, and he is almost single handedly responsible for my love of sheep, dogs and farming.
One of the big regrets of my life is that I wasn't born in the early 1900s, as a man. Being born to townie parents in 1970 meant that by the time I was old enough and had jumped through the right hoops and got the skills to be a high country musterer, most of the high country leasehold had reverted to the crown or Maori, neoliberalism had put paid to unprofitable tracts of vast tussock country, quad bikes had replaced horses as farm hacks, and paddocks were small enough so you could walk across them in less than half an hour.
(yes, some of the high country is still there, but i have to face the fact that Those Days Are Gone)
So, what do I do? I cope. I reduce my dream to 300 acres of my own land, keep an old sheepdog that occasionally gets to chase a few sheep (all of which have names and don't really need a dog to keep them in line), live in 'the country' and work an 8-4 job in the capital city, while yearning for the wide open spaces.
Those of you who've never handled mobs of sheep, there is nothing quite like watching 3000 of them stringing away across a hillside in the direction you want them to, knowing that the only reason they are behaving is because of the work you've put in to training your dogs. There's nothing like falling into bed every night dog-tired in the body but still alert in the brain, knowing that the lives of those 3000 sheep are your responsibility and you've done a good job of making sure they're looked after well. And there's nothing like being forced to stop and wait while those sheep string one by one across a narrow culvert. You have to wait, and while you wait, your brain can go wherever it wants. You don't have to deal with routers, customers, project managers, commuting, business meetings or power dressing. If you get rained on, you get wet, and it doesn't matter. It's just.More.Natural.
Dreaming of this is my coping mechanism. That's where my head goes when I'm getting up in the dark to go to my little box and be productive through the dark months. I want that simple life, instead of the complicated one we are all tied into, that gives us tired brains and non-tired bodies, and leaves us with spare time to fill up by desiring more and more complicated things.
I know it'll never be the way I want it to be in my head. But fantasising about being there instead of here, and making my plans for getting that life in the future, works for me.
So, what do you do? What's your way of dealing with the hibernation season that we don't get to hibernate through? Where do you go in your head?
And what happens to those who don't cope as well as the sheep?