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A Love Letter to the Dormouse

Grace Clift discusses the dormouse as a metaphor for rest, self care and preservation.


Content warning: Discussions of depression and ideation.


My connection to dormice began in January 2023, in the late evening. I was lower than I’d ever been before; furious at the world for forcing me to stay, furious at my loved ones for loving me enough to care. I’d spent the better part of the last year treading water to keep on going, and finally, I was drowning. I went from being able to write essays and read classics to being unable to concentrate on anything within days.


I picked up the book Wintering, by Katherine May, in hopes that it would save me. In a way, it did. It taught me what it means to practice rest, the importance of stopping treading water and simply floating – allowing the environment to hold you up when you need it to. The solace it brought me as an autistic girl was immeasurable, but I think it could shift the mindset of any reader who connected with that same feeling of exhaustion. The part that has stayed with me the most, though, was her section about the dormouse.


The dormouse is an endangered species that resides mostly in English and Welsh woodlands, and is one of the three mammals that hibernate in the UK. ‘They spend the early autumn building up reserves of the liquid brown fat that make them squishy to the touch,’ May writes, and ‘in the last few days before hibernation, they build their nest, a tight ball of moss, bark, and leaves.’


A dormouse. Image credit: Saguari on Pixabay.


Autumn is a season of preparation; there is recognition that there will be difficulties ahead, but that these can be anticipated and cushioned. The fall can be soft. There is no guilt for indulgence; ‘from September, they gorge on hedgerow fruits… to get them through the long months to come’. The idea that winter could be turned into a period of rest, rather than relentless battling with the long, dark days, was unfathomable to me.


Dormice acknowledge seasonal shifts as requiring a personal shift alongside them; in summer, they live in trees, but in winter, they recognise that they need somewhere else. All my life, I had seen winter as a time to push extra hard, to stay at the same rate of activity and work that I could do in the summer, when the days extended for me to stay in sunlight. Katherine May (as well as many of my peers around me) had shown me that this wasn’t the only way. When you know you’re struggling, sometimes the best thing isn’t to ignore it and keep running. Sometimes you need to slow down.


It is a capitalistic idea that workflow and activity should stay the same throughout the year; workdays stay the same length in the winter, we wake up at the same times, we usually eat very similar foods. But there is preservation to be found in seasonal shifts. Mood inevitably changes with the shortened days, but this shouldn’t be something to fear. Instead, it can be welcomed with as much extra rest as is possible, and regularly scheduled check-ins with friends.


Many helpful adjustments are, of course, not possible for many people dealing with night shifts, the cost of living crisis, or parenthood. Everybody’s lives are fundamentally different, but we can all make small changes in our days to accommodate the seasons – choosing to read a book on commutes, or joining nature whenever we see it. Like the dormouse, we need to treat ourselves with care and attention. It is essential that we learn from these techniques of hibernation, to welcome each season with attentiveness to our own needs.


A tree in the woods. Source: Dave Meier on Pixabay.


A combination of support and care contributed to me feeling well again, but I do credit Wintering at least partially in the regaining of my life. It is the acknowledgement of rest as a choice rather than a failure that allowed me to finally breathe out; like the dormouse in the early autumn, anticipating the winter, I chose indulgence. Indulgence in myself, my family, and my hobbies. Like the dormouse, I became actively passive, embracing deliberate slumber until I could wake again. This Valentine’s Day, I am sending my love in the direction of the woodland creature, and the author, who recognised that life isn’t the pursuit of achievement, but the love you show to your environment and self.


About the author: Grace Clift is an English Literature student at the University of York with particular interest in UK politics, climate issues and literature. Grace can be contacted via her email, gracevclift@gmail.com, or Instagram, @gracevclift.

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4 Comments


Guest
Feb 21

A delightful read which invited me to think differently about the dark days of winter and the choice to slumber, self care and indulge in the things which heal our spirits.

Thank you Grace.

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Guest
Feb 16

I love love love this aptly written, beautifully connected piece and will definitely be sharing it. Keep writing and writing. Thank you. I have also read and recommended 'wintering' to many friends!

Kindness Always, Susie x

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Guest
Feb 15

Beautifully written and something for us all to consider x

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Guest
Feb 14

Such beautiful words!

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