New Year’s Eve in Chicago was unseasonably, freakishly warm. When we left the apartment at 9 PM to go to a friend’s house, the outside temperature was fifty-seven degrees, like a day in late April had somehow been transplanted to the end of December. When we left the party at about 1:30, the temperature had dropped and the wind was up and I shivered all the way home, cursing myself for wearing a dress outside in December, and by this morning we were firmly back in the grips of January. Although I can’t say I was exactly happy to learn that it was twenty-four degrees outside (feels like nine! woo) I did feel considerably less disoriented. After all, it’s supposed to be cold.
New Year’s has never been my favorite holiday. I feel like I already spend a great deal of time—too much, too often—lost in introspection, so I don’t really need a holiday to remind me that oh shit, it’s been another year. Also, New Year’s in Chicago is cold (usually) and it’s often felt odd to celebrate rebirth when everything is frozen.
I read a book recently, though, about the absolutely astonishing ways that animals survive winter and extreme cold. Some of it was fairly straightforward, or at least involved concepts I knew of or could guess at—constant foraging, torpor and hibernation—and some was not. Frogs and some insects, for instance, are capable in the right circumstances of freezing solid and then reviving when spring comes. (Just think about that for a minute, seriously.) But what really astonished me was that even the behavior I knew about was positively miraculous. Have you stopped to think about bears’ winter torpor recently? It’s something I learned about as a child in mundane terms, but as an adult it becomes something like magic. Bears, according to what we know about bodies and waste disposal and atrophy, should not survive the winter in good health, but clearly they manage somehow.
That’s what I love the most when I read about biology: real life is freaking magical. The ways that animals wait out the storm of bitter seasons defy my imagination and require biological technology that humans don’t really understand, but they exist and furthermore, they work. Magic. There’s something to be said for the ability to hold the fort, but there’s perhaps even more worth in the ability to wake up, to take back up with the world when conditions allow.
I also feel ambivalent about New Year’s because I don’t necessarily like thinking about the new calendar year as a blank slate, a clean start. Last year was hard in some ways but it’s still part of right now, even though I’m going to be screwing up every time I write the date for the next month or so, and I’m bumbling along just the same way I was yesterday. Sometimes I feel like life is really all bumbling, or maybe bumbling mixed with dancing when we manage to be mindful of the magic of everyday life. But regardless of the date, and even though it’s the middle of winter right now, I feel like I’m actually waking up from my torpor, and last night’s April weather backed me up. It may be winter in Chicago, but it’s also spring. Who says I can’t have both? So hey 2011, nice to see you, but I’ll just be on my way now; there’s soup to make and people to love and cats to pet, and I don’t have time to flip the calendar page just yet.