Thursday, February 12, 2004

15. Winter survival no sweat

On a recent trip outside to feed the birds and the deer, as I slowly plowed through the snow, my bones froze as the brisk cold of January ripped right through me.

I could even see my dogs, which joined me on this quick endeavor, shaking, as their once adaptively sufficient winter coat now failed to provide adequate protection. "The poor animals," my wife always says. To which, I usually reply "Well, they have adapted to these conditions; I doubt they know the difference."

This, of course, is my standard line to reassure the both of us - fully understanding the hardship these animals face.

I quite enjoy feeding the animals; sometimes watching families of deer warm their bodies with our offering of "free" corn. Birds of several species, cardinals, blue jays, finches, doves and even crows, visit our feeders 24 hours a day - consuming the energy required to battle the harsh weather conditions. It is amazing how just a few minutes in the cold can both make you appreciate the progress made by our species and turn your stomach as to how spoiled we have become.

In a blink of an eye, relatively speaking, or namely, a few thousand years, our species fears little of harsh winter conditions other than the inconvenience of shoveling the driveway, cleaning off the car, and leaving a few minutes early for work.

Just a few short years ago, our species battled winters like all other species. We faced the challenges of shelter, hunger and disease. A December trip to Hocking Hills included a visit to the famous caves that surely provided shelter to ancient humans.

An eerie feeling overcame me as we battled the cold for only a couple hours through the natural heat of the campfire. What these people must have gone through, I thought. Moreover, how lucky they were to have found such a cave. Undoubtedly, many others did not have it so well.

Just hundreds of years ago, when the European settlers invaded this land, surviving the winter was an accomplishment for all those that did. There were no guarantees. American settlers often remarked on the winter conditions and how many did or did not survive.

Technology had advanced to include cabins and fireplaces but times were still tough. Travel could be difficult, even impossible. People worked hard and died young.

It is sad then that so much has been forgotten. And how much of what we have today is taken for granted. Families used to raise their own animals, grow their own crops. Kids worked the farm, families worked together, and our communities cared about one another.

How many of us today could survive those conditions of a couple hundred years ago, or even more difficult, of a couple thousand years ago? Daily "to do" lists included staying warm, finding food, protecting the children and living to see tomorrow.

The success of our ancestors made things what they are for us today. They worked hard, obtained and shared knowledge, and, most importantly, they survived. Compare their lives with ours today. Consider the leisure time we have. The time we have to choose between "American Idol" and "The Bachelorette."

And the time we have to care whether or not Brittany got married, or if Ben and Jennifer broke up. We have the luxury of passing up hard work because we can pay someone else to do it. We also have the audacity to pass up the opportunity for knowledge, because, it too, is too much work.

Today we worry about our diets, if we get enough calcium; our ancestors were just happy to eat. We get dressed up to go hunting, and hang the heads of our victims on walls as trophies- our ancestors hunted to survive; there was no time for gloating. How lucky we are today that 40 hours a week pays our way through life, considering that our ancestors put in 24/7.

Perhaps we can never completely understand the trials and tribulations that our ancestors may have endured. Maybe I'm wrong; maybe it wasn't that difficult. But at least consider what it might have been like hundreds or thousands of years ago. Step outside one cold dark night, walk into a forest or an open field and ask yourself- could I have survived?

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