Today is the Mongolian Lunar New Year, marking the beginning of the Year of the Wood Sheep. Here is a little synopsis of what lies in store, from the American Center for Mongolian Studies:
On that note, our second missive to Ms. Wolverine deals with something that wolverines are especially equipped to advise on: snow.
Dear Ms. Wolverine,
I don’t have a relationship question, but I am looking for advice dealing with all the snow we’ve received in the North East. How do you maneuver through snow pack? How often do you go outside and face the elements, and how do you not get frustrated with it? I fear this winter may break many of the primates back east—whether they are trying to entertain their young, train for a marathon, or just get to work. Please advise….
-Snowbound in MA
First things first: can I move in with you? Our snow out here in the Rockies is pitiful this year. Here’s a fun real-time snow map that allows you to keep track of snow cover all over the country. You will note that the entire northeast currently looks like an ice-cap. We still have a fair amount of snow in the mountains, but the weather is so warm that the trees are budding and the crocuses blooming. I’m concerned. We may have to consider a mass migration.
Now, on to how to survive extreme snow conditions.
Here’s the thing: you are a human. Humans evolved in Africa where there is not a lot of snow. Therefore you are not naturally equipped to cope with these conditions – unlike the far better adapted wolverine. We have nice thick fur coats that keep us warm down to -40° F. You may also have noticed that we have gigantic feet. Wolverines, like humans, are plantigrade walkers, which means that we walk with our heels on the ground. Bears do this too. Animals in the cat and dog family walk on their toes; they are digigrade animals. Plantigrade walking is far superior in snowy conditions because you have greater surface area to support your weight. This is why wolverines can bound along in snowbound regions, while animals like wolves have more difficulty. Possibly this helps explain why we wolverines do so well in snowy regions: our competition is seasonally excluded. Importantly, too, ungulates have difficulty in deep snow conditions, which gives us an advantage that sometimes helps keep us fed, especially when those stranded ungulates are already weakened by winter conditions. But I digress. Back to the point: Even though you humans also walk plantigrade, you only have two feet, and they are not that large when you take into consideration your relative body weight. So you will sadly never be able to be as elegant or efficient in the snow as a wolverine.
I know, however, that you have that amazing capacity to substitute things made with your little monkey hands for all the natural gifts that you seem to be lacking, so I suggest that you acquire some of those fake snow feet that you people have invented – either skis or snowshoes – and put those on. Then you’ll be able to move around more easily in the snow. By “going to work,” I assume you mean “finding food,” so these items will help you corner those stranded ungulates I mentioned above. I’d recommend that you get some of those detachable claw things – arrows? bullets? – to help you dispatch them, though, because your teeth are also pretty pitiful.
Likewise, I suggest that if you are in training for a marathon, you figure out how to use skiing as a partial substitute for running. I know the impact on the muscles is different, but from what I have seen, the cardio workout can be just as good. Snow provides its own opportunities for being a great athlete. Also, you have those treadmill things, and even if you don’t like them, I suggest that seven feet of snow on the ground might constitute adequate extenuating circumstances for adopting the practice, if you insist on running.
As for entertaining your kits, here’s something fun that you can do that will help prepare them for survival as adults: take all your food out of that funny freezer thing in your house, and bury it in various snowbanks here and there in your yard. Then test your kits’ ability to sniff it out. If they can’t do it quickly, frankly they are going to need some serious help surviving in the future. If they can find it all within a reasonable time, they’re doing well, and when they disperse, you’ll know you’ve helped give them a good education.
Aside from that, though, snow is a lot of fun for adults and kits alike. You asked how often we go outside – I don’t know if you are aware of this, but we actually live outside. We only go inside when we want to destroy a cabin or something. We spend all our time outside and are experts on snow activities. So here are some other things that you can do, either on your own just for fun, or with your kits: Ski. Snowshoe. Build a snow den. Build a gigantic wolverine out of snow. Find some icefalls and climb them really fast. Find a mountain and do the same. Establish territories and have a snowball war in which you try to keep the other wolverines….I mean, the other humans out of your territory. This is also great practice for adulthood. Track wildlife – this is much more fun in the snow! Find a long hill and slide down it. Run back up and do it again. Repeat until you are hungry and need to go retrieve some food from the snowbanks in your backyard.
Seriously, snow is fun. Especially for kids, who don’t have to stress out about “going to work” yet. Don’t be afraid to send your kits out and let them enjoy it. They will have great memories. And find ways to appreciate this unique winter even if you are an adult. Maybe it’s an opportunity to get out and about by new means, see things in a new way, and gain a new perspective on the human place in the natural world.
I know that people in New England and especially in Boston are very stressed out about all the snow. My final admonition is this: Remember that Mother Nature is the boss. Your trains aren’t running on time because you got seven feet of snow? People’s roofs are collapsing? Those hives of human activity called ‘cities’ are basically shut down? What did you expect? Welcome to climate change. It’s going to wreak havoc on my home….and probably yours. We’re in this together.
Tell me your address, and when you stash all that food in the snowbanks for your kits, be sure to include some moose, a bit of deer, maybe a beaver or two….I’ll be along once I run my own cross-country ultra marathon to reach my new home.
See you soon!