Dormancy Interrupted (Insomnia)

“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.”
~ Homer, The Odyssey

Nature shows us that infinite growth and infinite busy-ness are not only abnormal but also counterproductive to life.

All animals rest during either night or day (or both) and human beings are no exception. Plants also rest (their processes change between night and day and depending on other environmental factors, for example, photosynthesis, digestion and respiration may speed up, slow down or stop altogether when exposed to stressors)

But there is another interesting “rest” that happens to most beings: dormancy. This is a period where organisms “stop” growth, development and (in animals) physical activity in order to save energy (see more in Wikipedia)

Dormancy responds to two factors: the “internal clock” that “tells” some species that is time for hibernation or to shred leaves and “go to sleep” and a response to external factors (climate, available resources such as food, water, etc).

In regular circumstances, dormancy responds to patterns and is usually predictable. When species experience stress (changing temperatures, draught, etc.), they may go into dormancy; or it may be interrupted when the organism has not yet gained enough energy or when the resources out there are not available.

This “winter” I noticed that the small tree growing on my front is breaking its dormancy: its shoots are starting to sprout as if it were spring.


I have no memory either of any past winter where grass remained green for so long…

I know winter is just starting in BC (Canada), but temperatures are higher than usual and we have had the sunniest year since we moved here 10 years ago…

Now, this is all anecdotic and I am just one person among seven billion.

There are others who are reporting similar issues, such as this article on “peak snow” or this story of hail and rain storms in plain summer (reported by my mother, but you can see data here, here, here and here …if you click, you’ll see the reports are from different years: the “new pattern”)

I wonder what you (who read this post) have noticed or experienced…and whether you could help me to monitor the changes: as the article on peak snow above mentioned, the new pattern is that “there is no pattern at all”; and that is, unfortunately, climate change: a change in the patterns of natural variations of the weather so we can no longer recognize any patterns that is useful for us. This is what makes it even more challenging: you may try to respond and adapt to new temperatures or patterns for rain and draught, but how do you (or nature around you) adapts to something that has no pattern?

Dormancy in humans and the importance of Darkness

“Sometimes at night I would sleep open-eyed underneath a sky dripping with stars. I was alive then.”
~ Albert Camus

Till electricity was discovered and channelled for our use, human beings were much more dependent on the environment and wouldn’t dream to see themselves as a separate entity: we were “forced” to understand Nature’s limits: we would go to bed when the sun went down and would wake up when it was back on the sky.

This, as this article reports, allowed us for more time to rest, think and dream…it also allowed us more time for touching and listening to each other. We may have lived shorter lives, but were not so stressed out and chronically tired as we are today.

Darkness allowed us to watch the stars, to communicate with the Divine and to connect with the mystery of life. Darkness also forced us to fully appreciate light and warm, to save resources and energy and to share: we couldn’t always just stick to one candle each, nor retire to our rooms to read or have warm…families and entire communities would gather around a fireplace, a fire or a candle: many generations together.

The invention of “light” has created an eternal day: we never rest, there is always some type of light around us (TV’s, the alarm clock, the front door’s light, our neighbours’, the nearby stadium, the street’s lights, the highway) …we can go to our rooms and disconnect from others, we can play games or watch movies through the night, we can have our own heating…

We have “gain” time but we have lost community, rest and the necessary focus to connect to what we are…

“’Do not let your hearts be troubled,’ she said. ‘Tonight you shall sleep in peace’.” ~ Lady Galadriel (from Lord of The Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring)

May you have a good night.


Impacts of Climate Change in Latin American countries:

Evidence of climate change affecting hibernation in animals:

Evidence of climate change affecting dormancy and sprouting on deciduous/temperate trees:

8 Comments on “Dormancy Interrupted (Insomnia)

  1. My wife and I noticed the same thing when out on a walk yesterday, on a tree that might be of the same type as in your photo.

    Which reminds me of what David Holmgren said about why we need design principles rather than just a toolbox of favorite strategies and techniques:
    “More recent pulsing models of nature suggest dynamic understandings of sustainability that can deal with continuous change. Continuous change expands the scope of possible futures. Strategies can become inappropriate over time. Spreading appropriate answers by just replication inevitably leads to them becoming inappropriate, useless, or even dangerous. In the future, change won’t slow down. ‘Energy Descent’ is a continuous change culture. The ideas of ‘permanence’ or ‘sustainability’ that are embedded into our thinking are actually false – that we’re just going to get it, put it into place, and that then it’s all going to be right. Climate change, for one thing, makes a bit of a nonsense of that. We’re going to be dealing with continuous change, so that means we need to be working down at the basic level of principles, where you can build responses to constantly new situations.”
    – from the David Holmgren Permaculture Ethics and Design Principles Teaching Kit (


    • Well said, David…never was it more certain that “one size fits all” doesn’t work.
      In my Design for Disaster Permaculture classes I try to introduce all these uncertainties and share the understanding that there is no “strategy” but considering the general principles we may have a way to navigate the unavoidable: I encourage the “what if” and “out of the box” thinking, including principles such as: Patterns and Relationships, Work with Nature/not against, Relative Location, Multiple Functions, Succession, Guilds, The problem is the solution, Diversity/Inclusion, Edges/Margins…however, we need to start accepting that we may not be able to manage certain things and that Nature’s response may override any backup plan. Uncertainty and un-pattern is the new normal, more and more…


  2. Well usually this time of year where I live its hot and dry for weeks at a time, then we get warm thunderstorms and often the heavens open up. I remember many school breaks playing in the warm rain under a purple sky.
    Now it is completely erratic. The last 3 days for example, we have had bright hot days with a huge temperature drop coming with the change of wind direction. Some rain.
    Meanwhile, a few hundred kms away inland Nsw is experiencing possibly their worst drought in history.
    There really is no pattern to it. But a huge change has certainly occured even in the last decade or two.


    • Hi Susie,
      Thanks for sharing your observations. Apart from what I read from scientists and activists, it is important that regular people observe and somewhat take notes of their observations. In 1984 (Orwell’s novel) the authorities took advantage of the short-term memories of people. Today’s society have all of us “entertained” by being busy and constantly bombarded with “news” and we tend to forget how things were…


  3. This year we’ve had two major flooding episodes that washed out some local logging roads. Other years we’ve been left stranded by increasing flooding but this year we haven’t been stranded (yet). We just sigh and wait. The link to article about winter ski resorts in BC really reminded of last years weird winter weather, which I’m certain you recall Silvia. It was about mid January and an job opportunity came for me to replace a leaking shed roof. Normally I would never do a roof replacement this time of year but it was sunny and warm! I went for it and worked for 3 days in January in a tee-shirt. One of the days the temperature rose to 18 degrees centigrade! (65 Fahrenheit in the imperial system) As we know on the BC coast it’s often mild, but this was like a summer day in the middle of winter. A couple weeks later we had frozen and broken water valves.


    • Hi Bruce, I don’t recall last year’s January, but I do have a picture with a light blouse in late October (2012) and the year of the Winter Games when there was no snow…these days here in Lower Mainland have been unusual: this is the sunniest year I’ve experienced in BC since I came in 2004 and after a crazy week in late November with a fast snow and -15 centigrade’s, we are now experience temperatures closer to spring than to winter…my concern is the long-term impact in ecosystems. While with Permaculture we try to grow polycultures, guilds and design with succession in mind so if one plant/specie perishes there will be others that survive and even thrive with changing conditions, if the conditions are pattern-less no plant or being will survive: all life on Earth is based on more-or-less predictable patterns of rain, sun, temperatures and so on…even the concentration of gases needs to be between a certain range. While Permaculture helps to be covered through some “normal” disruptions of bigger picture patterns, it will not be efficient in a pattern-less world…in other ages when climate and gases concentrations have also changed abruptly, only a few species survived through adaptation. And in most cases the changes happened over centuries if not thousands of years…but with what’s happening and will increase now “thanks” to climate change, the changes can be so abrupt that scientists believe around 50% of total current ecosystems will be gone by 2050…I can’t even phantom how this will impact on other species and humans. People (mostly in the cities) seems to forget that we are also “beings” and that our lives depend deeply in the health of the ecosystems around the world…


  4. As always, this is a fascinating and important discussion, Sylvia. It reminds me of a book I read, “The Children’s Blizzard” by David Laskin (2004). “On January 12, 1888, a blizzard broke over the center of the North American continent” (p. 1). The blizzard was disastrous for the European immigrants who were recruited by the railroads to settle on the land freed up by the death and removal of indigenous peoples. They were unable to “read” the changing weather patterns. Thousands of people died as a result, mostly children who were caught on their way to and from school.

    This part of the country where I have often lived, the south western side of the great lakes, has been characterized by diverse weather patterns for as long as I can remember, although the last few years have been particularly variable. I moved to Duluth on the southwestern tip of Lake Superior in October of 2011. And despite my daughter’s warning about how cold winters here were, the temperature rarely went below freezing. Then in June of 2012, we got more than 9 inches of rain in 24 hours, a deluge that washed out roads and houses on the rocky slopes that surround the little city on the west side. Last winter (2013-2014), we had over 120 inches of snow and the polar vortex meant the temperatures were typically 20 to 40 degrees below zero (F) everyday. The summer that followed was mostly cold, dark, and rainy. These ever-changing patterns make it hard to start gardens in time for plants to mature, and it’s impossible to predict what plants will thrive or struggle.

    This year, so far, we’ve had little snow, freezing drizzle, and a return to milder temperatures (rarely below freezing). It’s impossible for me to predict what the spring and summer will be like…


    • Polycultures are one of the best ways to fight un-pattern: some species will die some will do well, some will survive and adapt or develop important changes…the changes that are coming due to rapid and unstoppable climate change (and thanks that we are not seeing a WWII-like effort from every corner of the world’s governments and institutions) are going to be even more unpredictable…

      Liked by 1 person

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