|Wet, cold and dark induce dreamy illusions as a storm envelopes Long Ridge.|
The season of glorious clouds has been superseded by the wet season with increasing periods of cold and darkness. Morningside, I argue with myself in the hot shower, "See you are waterproof. Get going!" Instead, I find lion faces in the fake marble patterns of the cheap shower walls and the daylight just gets shorter.
|Planting wetland plants along the edge of a future red-legged frog pond.|
We don't usually pen in our volunteers - the orange construction fence is to temporarily keep the cattle out.
|Little plants to start a forest.|
|Lupine cotyledons are kidney-shaped and reticulated.|
|Freshly hatched California poppy plants.|
Usually when I'm outside in the fall and winter months, I'm working and/or hiking and expend enough energy to stay warm. Sometimes, I end up with a thin layer of mud smeared on my clothes from knees to toes and elbows to fingertips. Body heat dries the layer of mud and it forms an insulating layer (and later a laundry headache). If you get too soaked, however, your fingers swell up and skin gets soft, your hands slip on tools, and it is hard to walk on steep slopes without sliding. Your body can lose a lot of heat if your skin and clinging clothes are constantly wet. You are a two-legged version of a water-logged earthworm.
|Mud - a badge of honor.|
Still, as it gets colder and darker and wetter, pit zips aren't enough to get me outside every day.
Hibernate - to pass the winter in a dormant state usually accompanied by lower body temperature, slower breathing and heart rate, and a lower metabolic rate.
|Dark cold sunset on November 21.|
Are there mammals that hibernate in the mild winter climate of the Santa Cruz Mountains? With an annual average of only 10 days that fall below freezing, the winter is not as challenging here. The coastal hills green up with grasses in the pelter of California's winter rains, and this becomes food for grazing animals of all sizes from cattle to mice.
|Sneaking around on a drippy December day, coyotes are still active in the winter.|
Most carnivores do not hibernate.
Most bats that remain in the Santa Cruz Mountains for the winter probably hibernate. Merriam's chipmunks are listed as hibernating throughout the state. Spotted and striped skunks may remain in their dens during periods of inclement winter weather. California and San Joaquin pocket mice show reduced activity above ground during winter cold spells. California ground squirrels may become torpid during cold temperatures at high elevations and during late summer in hot areas, especially when food is scarce, but I couldn't find any specific information about our area. Not many animals actually hibernate here. Maybe they have other strategies for dealing with the wet, modest cold and dark.
Last week between rainstorms, I hustled outside to move everything off the porch. The porch is slowly falling downhill and dragging the house with it, so we are tearing it off. Another rainy season construction project, go figure. I folded up the chairs, table and kitty toys on the porch and carted them to the barn for storage. As I walked in and out of the vacant barn, the wind was slapping the heavy hanging doors, rain was falling on the vacuous roof, and the walnut branches were scratching the eaves. Among all that noise and my labored breathing, I kept hearing voices, "I know it's in here somewhere." And, "Never throw anything away." The ghosts of the former Dipper Ranch residents tend to visit me when I'm struggling to get something done inside of one of the creaky buildings.
Brumation - reptiles in a winter state of inactivity usually spent in a protected den or other type of hibernaculum. During brumation, reptiles usually do not eat, may drink, are not in a deep unconscious sleep as are mammals, and their body temperature is similar to their surroundings (but that is what reptiles do year round anyway). Some scientists dispute the need for another term to describe winter sheltering by reptiles.
I'm fairly certain snakes spend the winter under the barn floor boards because I see them lingering about the barn on those warm days between the first cool fall days, and on the first consecutive hot days in early summer. When the barn speaks, I wonder how much of the voice is tempered by those slow reptilian brains underfoot.
Winter lethargy - Walking hibernation - Carnivorean lethargy - more hibernation terms to describe the different winter metabolic processes undertaken by bears but since bears no longer live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, you'll have to go to the link.
With the winter solstice and a lunar eclipse tonight, look around you at the slowed pace of life. How do you see your human companions responding? Where might they stand on the spectrum of strategies to deal with the wet, dark and cold conditions of wintertime? Humans have a greater ability to deal with these limitations, but still, I bet you will find some that are hibernating, brumating, torpid, winter lethargic or germinating. I'm giving myself until mid-January to test the limits of denning behavior.
|My hobbit neighbors in Devil's Canyon|
bedding down for a cold, wet night.
Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation. George A. Feldhamer, Bruce C. Thompson, Joseph A. Chapman, editors. 2nd edition. John Hopkins University Press.
Climate data from Western Regional Climate Center, Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, 1995-2010.
Thanks also to W.D. Padley, S. Abbors and G. Basson for their personal field observations in the San Francisco Bay region.