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Hibernating as a word

Alegria A. Imperial / Peregrine Notes

Wouldn’t you wish you could willfully hibernate, when before your eyes the tiles you have stacked up into an impregnable fort begin to tumble?

And when you wake up, these would have reverted into place as if someone pressed the rewind button. What a fantasy, especially for those in power, I imagine. Or on the opposite end, the very poor, whose daily life means to scrape the bottom of everything. Indeed, if some plants and animals shut down as if dead to survive winter, why not humans

I had long known “hibern    ating” as a word, though I used to say it to mean being lazy, feigning illness, or withdrawing especially from social whirlwinds, when bullied into assenting one’s presence.

I wished to puff out in smoke and hibernate as well, when once a classmate scared me by stalking. When as a new bride I faced daunting chores for which my mother couldn’t have prepared me, I also invoked hibernation in my prayers. As in the many words passed on to Filipinos in a borrowed language, I had played on it flippantly, having no idea how powerful this bodily state could be.

In truth, hibernation nuanced with winter has no bearing on life in the tropics; hence my fanciful use of the word, when I had not yet lived in North America. Like most Filipinos of my generation hooked on Frank Sinatra, I, too, had sung “Autumn Leaves,” and reveled in its haunting romance.

How could I have known that autumn actually signals a built-in death-like state to survive among deciduous plants and temperate animals when temperatures dip to sub-zero and the days shrink?

Hence, disabled to manufacture food, trees unplug into dormancy through the leaves.

Without fruits, leaves, and weeds, what would animals eat? And so, they hibernate, a coma-like state that could last 100 days on low body temperature, slowed-down metabolism and a heartbeat, like the Black Bear’s, down to 3-4 per minute.

Had I seriously read on hibernating then, I would have added these metaphors if needing to describe a preferred state: Like a frog or turtle, I could breathe through my skin in airless caves.

Or sink into the death-like torpor of a hamster in solitary well-stuffed burrows self-sealing myself from predators or a curious stray that might stun me to wake and die of a heart attack—on this, I would have cautioned Nonoy, my late cousin, who kept a pair. As well, relentlessly forage for nuts, hoarding these or even gorging myself, to fatten for deep sleep in the winter; don’t some of us eat as if famine leaves a daily threat at our door?

Learning of these for the first time, my sister had been wishing for winter months as blocked off for human hibernation not the kind I had imagined the word meant but like animals. Quite a pipe dream, of course; but winter does intensify maladies that hover among ghostlike figures on the streets, like the rather common seasonal affective disorder (SAD) sometimes synonymous with depression that hits across ages.

Illnesses, too, worsen among the elderly, who imagine their brittle bones crackling in the cold, hence, like most Filipinos at the slightest whiff of autumn, flee to the Philippines. Picking up on this, my sister declares that all the more, humans should have been equipped with a clockwork valve, which shuts off in winter. Or, better yet, a mechanism to induce it, whenever faced with figurative winter blasts like what some governments now do, I rejoin.

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