Hibernating animals spend the fall feasting, putting on weight in preparation for the months to come, when sufficient food won’t be available. During the winter, they lay secure in their dens and don’t eat or drink for months, instead subsisting on their stores of fat.
It’s a model that has some application to the human animal, too.
When Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who explored the earth’s poles in the 1920s and 30s, described the kind of men able to endure the isolation, icy winds, freezing temperatures, and long, dark nights attendant to manning a remote outpost in the Arctic, he observed that those “who survive with a measure of happiness are those who can live off their intellectual resources, as hibernating animals live off their fat.”
The men who could weather the hardships of living at the poles were those who had built up an internal cache of ideas, memories, experiences, and faculties that they could draw upon in barren and spartan circumstances.
While bears get a biological prompting that tells them it’s time to hibernate, and explorers know when to prepare for an upcoming expedition, we never know when we might enter a societal winter or dark night of the soul.
But we can be constantly feasting in every season, gathering up the cognitive and emotional supplies needed to weather such a period if and when it comes.
Every enjoyable outing taken, every laughter-filled conversation engaged in, every book read, every mental model of how to live and what to live for absorbed, stores a life-giving deposit in the spirit. No crumb of life’s goodness is ever lost to us. Each adds to the reservoir of rich, nourishing fat that will gladden the heart in the good times, and sustain it during the lean.