Bear, Bat and Honey Bee this Spring
For many years I wondered why there was so much hype about the arrival of spring. I grew up in the tropics, where there is one season but four variations on it—stifling hot, very hot, hot, not so hot. Then I left my home to attend college in North America. I arrived at a time the residents called autumn, and before I was able to adapt to that season, along came the one they called winter. By March of the following year, I, too, was hyped, watching, praying, preparing for this season they called spring. For they promised me that in spring nature would get back all her hues—the green grass, gold marigolds, purple and green leaves. And they assured me that the sun would not only shine but would give off warmth, and the people I had not seen in months would come out of hibernation. Hibernation?
Human beings don’t hibernate, right? During the winter months people do tend to spend lots more time in their houses, coming out only to go to work, to squirrel away some food, attend an event, or visit family and friends. And, yes, when they put on their Parkas they sometimes resemble that big furry animal. But hibernation is more than being holed up indoors for a few weeks or months. Hibernation is a state of inactivity that can vary from long, deep unconsciousness to light spells of inactivity. It occurs during the winter months when creatures such as the bear, the bat and the honey bee turn down their metabolism to save energy and to survive winter without having to forage for food or migrate to warmer climes.
So, no, humans do not hibernate. But winter can leave older adults feeling isolated and lonely, as cold weather often prevents seniors from leaving the house. Spring is the time not only to get out of the house; it is the time to prepare for a great summer and to put in place things that would cause you to have a good winter season. This is the lesson from creatures who do hibernate, such as the bear, the bat and the honey bee.
It’s April and it’s spring and the bear has been in his den for about five months. He emerges, but he’s not himself. It’s not that he’s not happy; he’s thrilled that it’s spring! Bears “generally do not eat, drink, defecate, or urinate during hibernation” and spring is his first opportunity to do so. But he has lost up to a third of his body weight during hibernation and his metabolism is not yet back to normal. So he’s a bit lethargic and will spend the next few weeks in “walking hibernation”—slowly moving around, sleeping a lot, not roaming too far from the den. He’s in no hurry to find food because he doesn’t have a huge appetite yet. He’ll just snack on some aspen catkins, pussy willows or snow fleas. The mother bears and their cubs will emerge a few weeks later.
By May his lethargy ends. The greens are returning to the earth—grass, herbs, young trees—and he begins to eat. He’s getting his groove back!
By June he can find ant pupae in abundance, his main food. It’s also mating season and he is now able to roam as far as he must to find females—who don’t have cubs. He must put back on his weight and sire some cubs before winter comes.
The bat emerges from winter hibernation with a purpose—the female bat, that is. Within a few days she will be fertilized. Then she will travel to the maternity property and become part of a maternity community. According to the New York Times, “Bats often return to the same maternity property year after year, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles to get there.… Dozens of mother bats congregate at the maternity sites, cuddling to keep warm.” When the pups are born 50–60 days later (about July), “mothers help each other by taking turns foraging for insects and roosting with the group.”
What about the male bat? Well, since he has no parenting responsibilities, he gets to hibernate longer.
The Honey Bee
As soon as the weather gets warm, the honey bee is out of that hive! Who can blame him! He was cooped up with other bees for months, clustered around the queen, shivering his “flight muscles” to generate heat, and holding his poop because bees don’t believe in soiling the hive. Spring is his chance to breathe again. He takes flight and defecates all over the place. Then he looks for fresh water.
Once he has taken care of these basic needs, he’s on the lookout for the first signs of blooming flowers to gather pollen, which will stimulate the queen bee to lay eggs.
Early spring is a critical time for the honey bee. During winter his colony consumed all the stored honey and pollen. If there is no new pollen and nectar gel, the queen would not lay eggs and the bees would die of starvation. So worker bees are busy pollinating and finding food for the colony, Drones (male bees) are reintroduced into the colony to mate with the queen, the queen bee is laying eggs, and the eggs are developing.
During spring the bear, the bat and the honey bee busy themselves doing the things that would ensure the continuation of life when winter returns. How can you maximize your time this spring to help yourself have a great summer and healthy winter?
How to maximize your spring
Remember that your senior years can be the springtime of your life, a time of new beginnings, of doing some of the things you dreamed of for so many years. Remember also that the challenges of growing old should not stop you from trying and enjoying new beginnings in your senior years, because you are wired for growth, change, adaptation throughout your life. So plan to try new and old things this spring and you might prevent the boredom, depression, anxiety, or stress you might experience during summer and winter.
Spring is the right time to focus on your fitness. You can be creative and choose outdoor activities, such as gardening, biking, dancing, or spring cleaning to upbeat music. Exercising outdoors will not only help to get you in shape for summer, it will also expose you to the sunlight where you can absorb the all-important vitamin D you need to keep yourself healthy during winter. Check out the National Institute on Aging at NIH’s creative calendar of fun activities for each season. If you can go into winter in good health, you may be able to avoid or minimize the impact of illnesses that are common during the season.
Spring is also an ideal time of the year to connect with new people, to experience other cultures without leaving the country, and to become part of a larger community. Cities around the country are holding fun events to entertain folks outdoors. Philly is hosting more than 50 awesome events and festivals that include:
- African-American, Chinese, Italian, and Mexican festivals
- Food Festivals
- Strawberry Festival
- Music Festivals
- Film Festivals
- Fitness Run
- Baseball Games
- Penn Relays
- Horse Show
- Art and Craft Bazaar
- Museum and Antiques Show
- Technology shows
- Science Fairs
- Outdoor Rink Skating
These are great ways to meet folks who might blossom into friends by the time winter comes again.
As the honey bee shows, spring indeed is a time of cleaning, decluttering, detoxing. Equally important, spring is the time to prepare yourself for how well you will live out the rest of the year. Your choice of spring activities will affect how well you enjoy your summer and the winter that is to come. Let it be your goal that you will use this spring to build a summer and winter of health and wellness. You might start out sluggishly this spring, like the bear, but once you keep your goal in mind, you’ll be as busy as a honey bee and happy as a bat when summer and winter come.