Some humans and critters see a slow-down this season

Union Leader Correspondent
January 19. 2014 7:47PM
Kuruk, one of the bears that performs for visitors at Clark's Trading Post each summer, settles in for a long winter's nap when the cold weather comes. (Courtesy of Maureen Clark)

As the coldest months of winter descend on the Granite State, folks who make their living during the warmer months are taking a much needed break, and some critters that can be seen or heard three seasons of the year go into hiding.

From early spring to late fall, farmers who grow crops can be found spreading manure in their fields, planting, weeding, harvesting, and selling their produce. And while there are a hardy few that keep their farm stands open year round, and others who participate in indoor farmers' markets, most take the winter to rest and prepare for the coming season.

"Now is the time for meetings," said George Hamilton, a UNH Cooperative Extension field specialist in food and agriculture. Farmers also order seeds and supplies, repair and maintain their equipment and buildings, clean, organize, and do lots of planning for the new season. They also prepare their taxes, and do lots of paperwork, which Hamilton calls, "The most hated job in the world for most farmers."

"Orchardists that have controlled atmosphere cold storage room are still packing and marketing fruit," said Hamilton, "and if you have animals – their care, feeding, looking after is never ending."

A break from ice creamThough the ice cream shop Kimball Farm has been packed with customers on warm summer evenings for 17 years, in the winter the Kimball family boards up the shop and takes a much-needed break.

"We try to rest and enjoy our beautiful farm," said Robert and Donna Kimball.

The Kimballs visit with friends, attend trade shows, do some planning and prepare for the coming season in April. They're also preparing for a few new babies, including goats, lambs and calves, and grooming the ninth generation of Kimballs to carry on the family business.

Time to breathe (and sleep)

When Clark's Trading Post closes for the season, work for the Clark family doesn't end, but there is a little more time for going on vacation or pursuing hobbies. During the winter, Murray Clark has a chance to spend time with his young children and work on his snowmobile, while his mom searches eBay to find antiques related to Clark's Trading Post.

Maureen Clark, who trains the bears who perform at the popular spot in Lincoln, was able to travel to Las Vegas and see her stepdaughter perform with Cirque du Soleil. But despite the quiet of the season, Maureen Clark said everyone in the family keeps busy to improve and maintain the trading post before summer comes, repairing equipment, building a new accessible bathroom, creating new advertising, and forging connections with folks in the tourism industry.

The bears, however, get to take a long nap at Clark's, and need only hay to keep them warm and a little looking after here and there – except Moxie, who at 29 is an old lady who doesn't get much rest.

"Since Moxie's boyfriend Spooky died in 2011, she hasn't slept in the winter," said Clark. "I have to feed her and check on her six or seven times a day, and when I'm not here, other members of the family take over."

Sleepy critters

Moxie isn't the only bear having trouble sleeping these days, said wildlife expert Eric Orff who worked for New Hampshire Fish and Game for 31 years before retiring.

"We have some insomniac bears wandering around as the climate gets warmer," he said.

But most bears in New Hampshire like to tuck in for the winter, finding a comfortable spot to rest as their body temperature and heart rate slow down and their fat stores become their sustenance. Bears don't hibernate, though, Orff said. Though they slow way down and become lethargic, true hibernation means the critters are just barely alive and can't defend themselves, while bears still can.

Bats and woodchucks are true hibernators — their physiology drastically changes so that they can sleep through the coldest months and they don't wake up until spring, said Orff. And while squirrels are out year round scrounging for scraps, and birdseed, to eat, chipmunks are home resting easy.

"Chipmunks are savers so they can wake up and eat before going back to sleep," Orff said. "Squirrels are like that couple that hasn't saved for retirement so they have to keep working."

One critter who takes hibernation to the extreme is the wood frog. In the spring, the song of the wood frog can be heard around vernal pools, but during the winter, wood frogs freeze completely solid, said Orff. While their vital organs continue to operate at barely perceptible levels, they are little more than oddly shaped ice cubes in the winter. In the spring, they melt from the inside out, and start making a racket.

Bugs not bothered

Winter means a rest for humans from the two least popular pests in New Hampshire — black flies and mosquitoes — but the new generation is waiting to be born just beneath the ice and snow, said Dr. Alan Eaton, an entomologist with the UNH Cooperative Extension. How they spend their winters depends on the type of mosquito or black fly. Some exist as eggs, others are waiting to emerge as adults from their larval state, and a few just like to take a long nap.

"Some mosquitoes overwinter as adults in sheltered spots," said Eaton. "I caught one indoors last February, after bringing a load of firewood inside."

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