It’s December and winter time at the Chautauqua Institution. And the Quaker House has entered its season of hibernation. The porches are enclosed with canvas drapes protecting chairs and bicycles, the water pipes are drained, wall air conditioners stored inside, perishables removed, furniture covered in sheets, WIFI disconnected and stand by power turned off. The newly planted front yard of native ground cover plants, replacing a gravel lawn, are mulched and bedded down to survive the snowy climate of Chautauqua’s western NY accumulation of plus 200 annual inches of snow.
It’s not a hibernation like bears or groundhogs whose metabolism – heart beats, breathing, temperature and energy consumption – all slow down but do not cease. By winters end they may have lost a quarter of their body weight but for bears the young are born and nurse while the mother slumbers. But the Quaker House is more like a Wood Frog. During hibernation the frog’s heart actually stops beating and 35 to 45 percent of its body becomes frozen. Wood frogs actually go through a freeze thaw several times during the winter. In the Spring, the frogs thaw and begin the cycle of life all over again.
The Quaker House is frozen now with no breathes or bodies, still and serenely quiet, cold to the bone. Like the Wood Frog, it awaits the year’s Spring and the advent of a new season at Chautauqua. While the Steering committee envisions new programs and personnel, the house is looking at improvements and maintenance for the upcoming season. A new patio is in the works for outdoor gathering and hospitality along with the steady diet of carpentry, painting and improvements that are the blessings of being a homeowner.
Hibernation is one of many of nature’s tools for coping with the extremes of environmental change. For us humans, life is coping for sure but it is also transformational, where we become greater than where we started – at the intersection of Chautauqua Institution and the Quaker Faith, we have found a source of the living water. We invite others to this place.