Torpor

I probably shouldn’t say this.

But I’m already over summer. 

I think it’s the heat and the bugs that mostly drive me to share this, but there are many other factors too. I’m one of those people who long for lingering spring and fall seasons and shorter winter and summer ones. I love autumn sunrises and spring temperatures. I think my perfect days come in October/November and April/May. You can keep the heat of August. Yuck. 

I’m heading to REI today to look for some new layering options. I’m a big fan of cold gear and mock turtlenecks and wool neck gaiters. I relish cool breezes and a little crunch on the trail. I really, really love the colors of fall. There is nothing quite like the way summer gives up its dry, colorless landscape to an explosive autumn palette. I don’t fully understand the science, but luckily I don’t have to. 

As I lean into shorter days I’ve also been reading up on circadian rhythms. More science I don’t understand, but I took a deep dive this morning. I don’t sleep well and maybe shedding some light on the subject will help. (See what I did there)?

Here is some of what I learned: 

All of us humans follow an internal timekeeping system known as a circadian clock. This system naturally regulates daily cycles of sleep, wakefulness, hunger, hormonal activity and other processes in our amazing bodies. Theoretically, these rhythms reset every 24 hours. Our wakefulness is guided by light, social interactions and hunger. It’s a pretty complicated cluster of neurons located in the hypothalamus. When we perceive light, a signal is sent along the nerves telling us its time to wake up. This in turn stimulates the release of cortisol. Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin. 

The factor of social interaction in this mix got me wondering about our last two and a half years with Covid. Could a lack of social interraction contribute to a disordered circadian rhythm? If cortisol is usually produced in the morning and melatonin is produced at night, could the fact that we spent so much time in relative isolation affect the production of those hormones? 

I’ve slipped down the rabbit-hole and I’ll keep you posted as to what I learn. Covid changed us, no doubt. But did it contribute to altering our rhythms? And what about worry and stress? Stay tuned. I’ve got more digging to do. 

Okay, not a rabbit. But ….

This year, the wildflower season in the mountains was short. The snow melted late and it altered the bloom cycle. A hike now is hit and miss with regard to flowers. The landscape, in all its thirst, is largely dry and lifeless. I watch the wildlife already preparing for the change and I’m eager for shorter days. Perhaps I should be working on my own version of preparation for a season of hibernating. I read yesterday that another extremely cold winter is possible around here. An extra layer or two will be good to have. That, and a plan. 

I’m imagining dark, quiet mornings with just the lamp in my art room. Maybe some soft music and a stack of journals at the ready. I can picture tubes of paint and color and cardstock. Words and art thrive on mornings like that. A hot coffee or tea … maybe even some soup or stew on the stove. I’m not one to wish away the days, but a girl can dream about some seasonal re-ordering of things. You know it sounds good, right?

August might be my least favorite month. Not only is the heat oppressive and the bugs ferocious, but the sun doesn’t feel healthy to me. Late summer rays strike me as though the ozone layer has thinned and no amount of sunscreen feels like enough. And who knows what the bug spray absorbed into our skin is doing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had an amazing summer of hiking! More so than I can put into words maybe, but I’m partial to the mornings that fill my lungs with cool mountain air. Days that look like fall and smell like fall and sound like fall. Did you know that some of those skeeters actually hibernate? And others overwinter in a torpor state?

I love the idea of torpor. Every night we enter some state of that, in sleep, but real torpor drops the heart rate, lowering metabolism, respiration and temperature. The body slips into a state of reduced physiological activity. It’s like a deep, deep dreamy sleep that protects us as we recharge.

What if the ideal circadian rhythm is a mix of wild enthusiasm and the regenerative power of torpor? Something a little magical about that, huh? And something else to think about.

20 Comments on “Torpor

  1. I’m in total agreement with you. Summer heat sucks. August sucks. My favorite season by far is fall. I’m probably one of the few crazy folks who also likes winter, cold and snow. Yes, bring on cooler temps, I’m ready!

    • Thanks for writing, Linda. This week is the perfect example of why I’m not a fan of August: heat advisories when we should be winding down. Bring on turtleneck weather!

  2. My favourite podcast has taught me “Don’t yuck someone’s yum!” And so one of my first thoughts when reading this is, “Thank goodness the season suits someone.” For my part, August makes me desperate to suck the last bits of heat out of the season, spending every moment outside I can get away with, fingers crossed for one last sunburn to remind me of the blessed sun that finally warms my marrow. I feel perpetually chilled and somewhat mildewy, and the heat of summer is the only time I feel in full health. Sadly, I live in a place where that is the least common weather. Isn’t it lovely that when one of us is least appreciative of the weather, the other is satisfied? Mother Nature gives a little something to everyone. Splendid photos as always. My favourite is the swirly spiderweb.

    • Tom Robbins ( I love the guy) says ” There are only two mantras, yum and yuck. Mine is yum” I get that. It’s just that yum and yuk can vary widely! I’m happy for you now as the heat is rising. Think of me in October as the temperature falls. Besides, how boring would it be if we were all alike? Thanks for writing.

  3. I finally got back to this. I still can’t get my brain around all the sciencey stuff, so I’ll stop trying! It worries me a little that I didn’t (and still don’t and maybe never did) miss social interaction during the pandemic. As for the seasons, yes, I like autumn and winter best. Spring too, but it means yard work. But summer started too late for me to be tired of it quite yet. And after living in the southeast, the three hours a day that it’s hot here is hardly blip on the screen to me! Maybe that was the blessing of 36 years there—there needs to be something! I love dark mornings, until I get used to early light, and now I want it not to be dark. (I’ll adjust.) I always like dark evenings, though!

    • The two books I recently read by Susan Cain (Quiet and Bittersweet) were really fascinating to me. I know your life is quite busy these days as you prepare for publication of your own book, but maybe these two will find a place in your lovely dark mornings this winter. Thanks, as always, for writing.

  4. Oh yes, I’m planning another hike in a few days while longing unapologetically for the return of 60 degree days.

  5. I too prefer fall and spring. Can’t wait for the cooler days ahead. Cute sleepy looking squirrel!

  6. You are a girl after my own heart. Summer is my least favorite season. (I am soooo different from my mother.) Can’t stand heat and humidity and aridity. I also love the mysterious connection between spring and autumn. I’ve thought of spring as a watercolor and autumn as a creation in oils, same scene, same artist, . And I love that fat, saucy rodent in the photo!

    • Lovely visual I get from that. Yes, the heat feels oppressive and it makes me believe you really can have too much of a good thing. Thanks for writing, Jo Ann.

  7. heartsleeve310 here, in case it makes me “anonymous.” I am with you 1,000 % on the hating of arid, buggy, humid temps. It is an age thing with me, I think, because I used to look forward to “summer.” But there is little to recommend it as I age. It isnt sleep or light for me, tho’… I have trouble sleeping regardless of season. But I do crave moderate temps, moderate rain, moderate/filtered sun and LOW humidity, and living at the beach, those things only come in the off-season. So, I feel your (sun-bug) pain…*

    • Thanks for checking in here. WP has been a bit “buggy” too! My enthusiasm for summer is definitely tempered. By age ? Maybe. The longer I live the more clear I am about what I love and what I don’t. Tempered by clarity, methinks.

  8. I am sleeping better now than during most of pandemic. Also taking Cortisol Manager regularly–my brain feels better in a lot of subtle ways. And I always feel better after a leisurely scroll through your words and photos. Thank you, Bonnie Rae.

    • You are too kind. Always makes me so happy to see you here. When ot comes to supporting creatives, you are the real deal. Thank you*

  9. This line: “What if the ideal circadian rhythm is a mix of wild enthusiasm and the regenerative power of torpor?” YES! YES! And how vital to us two-legged animals to be outside and allow the changing seasons to change us.

  10. This is a great one! Thanks for sharing the sleep info. I too sleep poorly. And the photos—wonderful! Definitely a change in the air-today a cool one after several hot. A relief! Again-thank you!

    • Thanks, Bailey! It feels really good this morning. The circadian rhythm and sleep stuff fascinates me. I may make some adjustments this winter to see if I can’t get my body back on track.

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