Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

march 2013

Managing to Shiver

Daniel Swenson-Klatt

These first couple of pokes at the 40-degree range have restored my hope.  This has been a tough winter for my business and me. Every business has down times, and businesses that survive have developed a plan for getting through the down times.  My business’ down time is deep winter.  My survival plan in the past was based a squirrel’s mentality – stock up extra food and fuel, it will come in handy.  Then hope the winter isn’t too long.  But if it gets long, well, get out and get moving and find some more to get by.

However, being in a new space, and coming off a big move just before winter set in, there wasn’t much in the way of extra nuts and seeds to squirrel away this year.  I knew I didn’t have the luxury of flying south or even just turning off the lights and sleeping away the long, dark, cold days.  Instead, I found myself more like the sparrows who frequent my back yard feeder. 

They spend every waking minute foraging for fuel.  If successful, their constant attention to finding food builds up enough energy to shiver through the night and keep themselves from freezing.  With little insulation, no back up storage, and with little to shelter them, they eat to live to eat again.

I’ve learned that some small birds will huddle together overnight to share body warmth and reduce the energy they each need to stay warm.  Even birds that regularly wouldn’t associate with each other can be found together on cold nights under a common threat and with a common goal. Perhaps our instinct to gather often for events throughout the long cold winter is part of this hope of drawing on each other’s energy to pull us through. 

Shivering is a body’s way of naturally warming itself.  My shivering took on a few forms this winter – like running for supplies one piece at a time, instead of asking for large deliveries. Or staffing below our normal level and taking on the extra work myself to keep busy and active.  And although we have a snow removal service at the shop I think my desire to get out and push snow around could be a form of shivering.

Some animals go even further to avoid dealing with winter, frogs and turtles bury themselves into the ground, allowing their bodies to

nearly freeze (or in some cases actually freeze solid) and then waiting for the warmth of spring to wake them and stir them back to life.  While I can’t imagine this to be a good plan for my business, many seasonal businesses do in sense freeze up for the winter and wait it out.

Not being one to like long distance travel, I find it odd that some animals would spend so much energy to follow the sun and warmth, but someday, perhaps I’ll believe that just skipping winter altogether isn’t such a bad idea, if the place is somewhere warm and not buried under the snow.

Indeed, I have felt snowed in and bit buried under the weight of the snow this winter.  Whenever I reduce my workforce at the shop, the extra weight always lands on me.  So even though the shop itself is slower than the warm, sunny months of summer, I am working longer, harder, and faster to keep from being buried under completely.   Much like the sparrows, it won’t be until the lush days of summer that the feeling of abundance will begin to shape, and days of rest just basking in the warmth will arrive.  I hold the picture of sparrow parents watching from our fence as their little ones scurry around on the ground below them learning to forage and get back and forth to their shelter. 

This year, though, I’ll know that those days will also be reminders to plan a little differently for the coming winter.  Set aside a bit more firewood perhaps, or pickle a few extra jars for the pantry, or dry out some extra fruit while the harvest is bountiful.  I am going to aim to shiver less, rest more, and maybe even find some time to enjoy the beauty of winter.

For now, however, bring on the puddles along the green path; the bird songs say we’re on our way.