Winter – 2

Nature dies down in winter. Certainly, at those latitudes where the days become much shorter and the temperatures plummet. Both wind and rain seem to become more frequent. Snow. It is a period of rest and renewal after autumn has put on a final glorious display of colour. Animals adapt to this in one of three ways: some will eat and eat of the autumn bounty of, especially, fruit, putting on large fat reserves and surviving the winter in a state of hibernation, their heart-rates dropping to a scarcely believable one or two beats a minute, their bodies slowly using these fat reserves for the little energy required to maintain a flickering life through those months. Some migrate, seeking a warmer climate until spring returns. These animals are, due to the obvious logistics required to travel hundreds of miles to reach those more hospitable climes, the larger animals and many of the birds. Travel over those kinds of distances would be out of the question for the smaller ones. Others stay put and, in the case of the plant eaters, scratch out a meagre living on whatever leaves and grasses survive through the winter. The carnivores, of course, stay and try to catch them.

Our Neolithic ancestors’ life cycles would be attuned to this pattern too. Autumn must have been lived fast and furiously. In the same way our medieval ancestors worked long hours to bring in the harvests, Neolithic man and woman must have used all the dwindling daylight to bring in as much food and fuel and dry bedding as possible before the winter period. Then by the end of autumn gathering would have largely ceased and they would have moved into a winter rhythm of life.

But how did they get through winter? What of the food they had gathered? Presumably, they had no way of storing fruit – could any of it be dried? Was it fermented for drink? Or was it all eaten as soon as it was gathered, as though they were all so many dormice seeking to build up their reserves? And could this, in fact, have been a part of their strategy to get through those months? To eat and eat until the perishable foods were all gone, and then to stop all but the most essential activities. To expend as little energy as possible and stay as warm as they could. Spending as much time as possible asleep.

And yet, they would still need to eat, and so with dwindling food reserves they would slaughter any beasts kept for that purpose, possibly smoking the meat to enable it to keep for as long as possible. Hunting would continue and might, in some ways, become a little easier. With less vegetation around, there would be less cover for their prey, and in snow there would be clear tracks to follow. But presumably this prey would still need to be pursued, and this would use precious energy, unless they relied more upon pits and snares.

18 thoughts on “Winter – 2

  1. I never studied the Neolithic diet, but I think it’s generally believe, when people made the switch from bands of hunter-gatherers to farming communities, the average person’s health & lifespan dropped significantly. Some of that may have been due to increased social stratification, etc. but of course some must’ve been due to less diversity in foods, crop failures, etc.
    When my family has done any sort of food storage – with the advantage of a gas range, glass jars, etc. – it’s always impressed me as a gargantuan task. Canning vegetables, making maple syrup, jelly, drying tomatoes, etc. is time-consuming and never amounts to more than a supplemental source of calories, just an occasional treat, really. Hard to imagine the amount of work to amass enough to live on for months.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. maryplumbago

      A book you might like is “Civilized to Death” by Christopher Ryan. Speaks to the downfall from Hunter gatherers to agricultural communities..well written and interesting.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I’ve read that too. I think the primary reason was less diversity, although settling down in ever larger groups brought, especially, the threat of epidemics, too.

      Something we can probably all identify with at the moment.

      I suppose any sort of food preservation and storage would have been a priority, and everyone would lend a hand with whatever tasks were needed.


  2. Your second paragraph brought my grandparents to mind, as well as today’s farmers. When the time for harvest has come, there’s no stopping. Of course, today there’s the advantage of mechanized tractors and such, and lights that make 24/7 gathering possible. Still, whenever I’m in the country at night and see the farmers working away in their fields, gathering the grain or cotton or whatever before bad weather sets in, I find it deeply touching.

    As for Grandma? That woman and her friends were demons in the kitchen. By the time their work was done, the fruit cellar was filled with hundreds of jars of canned cherries, plums, green beans, corn, tomatoes. It was a wonder to behold, and I loved nothing more than being sent to collect some jars of this or that by the light of the single hanging bulb. The jars shone like jewels.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know exactly what you mean about the stores of preserved foods. It’s rather like an Aladdin’s cave, only full of much more interesting and useful stuff than gold. Any time I’ve managed to do any of that (which has been very rarely, unfortunately) I always feel intensely proud of my efforts. I guess that’s my inner hunter-gatherer coming out.

      It’s certainly impressive watching harvesting at night, with the tractors fitted with huge lights on top. I think the first time I saw that I was on holiday with my parents as a child, wondering what on earth was going on outside just before midnight.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Snow would have preserved food (the original ‘freezer’), possibly areas with a high salt content would have done the same. People slept as soon as the light went down, unlike us – hanging on for dear life til way past darkness has fallen (or, like me, to the early hours of the morning!) My guess is that historically people’s bodies were differently adapted than ours. And of course, they died younger, much younger.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All of those, Val, yes. Admittedly, I had the area that became known as Britain in mind when I wrote this, so it’s very likely freezing food played some part – winters would have been quite a bit colder. That was something I hadn’t considered. I’ve no idea whether they learned to salt food, though. I think it more likely they learned to smoke it, although I don’t know, of course.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your post is certainly food for thought (pun intended). I’ve often wished I could go back in time, one to when the dinosaurs lived, because how amazing would that be, but also to the beginnings of humans, to see how they lived and survived. It’s so fascinating to think about. Years ago when I worked in a restaurant, it was around November and I commented to one of the chefs that I couldn’t stop eating lately and didn’t know why (I was a skinny minny back then). He told me that he’d learned in culinary school that this was normal at that time of year, that it went back to our “caveman” roots when we needed to fatten up in preparation for the winter. That must be what why I’m so hungry lately now – ha ha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That explains a lot, yes…I call it comfort eating. But I certainly think it could be a thing. Just finding a way to get through to spring.

      I think going back to the time of the dinosaurs might be a wee bit dangerous, of course, and likewise the dawn of humanity. I’m content to let the palaeontologists and archaeologists do all the legwork!

      Liked by 1 person

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