It’s the Pitts 3-8-10
March 8, 2010
As a kid I always hoped I’d have a career where I only worked six months or less, with the rest of the year off. I wanted to be like a bear or a woodchuck and hibernate for at least one season every year. I considered becoming a forest fire fighter, ski instructor, sheep shearer, snow plow driver, tire chain monkey, or a carny at county fairs in the summer. I had no idea what these people did in the off-season; all I knew was that I could get used to passing several months each year in a deep sleep. I considered becoming a teacher because having the summer off really appealed to me. Until, I realized that I’d have to put up with brats like me for the other nine months.
After daydreaming about hibernation what do I end up doing with my life? I become a writer and a rancher with no time off for good behavior and a deadline constantly looming. I swear, I’ve not had a vacation in over 20 years.
I had no idea what people who hibernate did in their down time but I envisioned periods of laziness interrupted by 23 hours of sleep. Now I know what some of them do every year with their time off and a “slumber party” doesn’t seem so appealing. For example, professional football players seem to spend their downtime in jail and employees in the tourist trade spend their off-seasons mostly starving to death. In the wild, it’s hunger that makes the sleeping animals wake up, and it’s the same with hibernating people. They are forced back to work due to their need for food money.
Lots of folks who work in agriculture hibernate. After stocker-steer operators sell their last feeder cattle they head straight to Arizona where they team rope for three months. Sheep shearers go back to Peru and Mexico to sharpen their blades and custom grain harvesters go home to become reacquainted with their wives and to refurbish their bodies, and their equipment. Mostly they live off the fat they acquired during months of intensive labor.
Animals can lose a third of their weight during hibernation and their bodies actually change shape. This is also true of the local veterinarian during preg checking season. Right before he starts shoving his arm up cow’s rumps the vet looks refreshed, fat, and happy, with corduroy lines on his face where he’d been resting it on the pillow. But after two weeks of 18 hour days he mopes around in a stupor, his face is as pallid as a lacto-ovo-vegetarian and his irregularly shaped arm hangs limply at his side. There is also a musty smell about him. Then when the last cow is pregged he goes back into hibernation to regain the strength and feeling in his arm for calving season.
Purebred cattle auctioneers are great examples that the hibernating instinct is not dead in humans. During the spring and the fall they travel the auction circuit selling cattle nearly every day. Then they get in their home away from home, their car, and drive all night before falling asleep in their clothes in some foreign motel bed for a few hours of rest. They do this over and over again. They grab empty calories from fast food on the run and by the time they hammer the gavel down on the last auction of the sale season they look more beat up than an empty pinata. Then they go home to get the car serviced and to rediscover the joys of sharing a bathroom with their family. At last, they get to live out of a closet instead of a suitcase. They regain their taste buds and their voice and they hear once more the snores of their spouse as they try to hibernate until the next sale season when they’ll do it all over again.
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After one such particularly difficult and long sale season I called an auctioneer friend and woke him up to ask, “Are you catching up on your sleep?”
“I’m sleeping like an old horse at night,” he drowsily replied, “and pretty good right up until lunch, but the doctor had to give me some sleeping pills so I could sleep in the afternoon.”