Experiencing Nature in the Winter
With cold temperatures, bad weather and other challenges that come with winter, it can be hard to get motivated to get outside. However, if you can muster the strength to do so, you may find a winter walk can be quite calming and rejuvenating. At first glance, it can appear as though there isn’t much activity in the winter, but if you use your senses to take in your surroundings a little differently, you will notice signs of life all around you.
Most of the trees in our region are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in the winter. Leaves are one of the most common ways to identify a tree, but in the winter, you are forced to use other ways to find out what species you are looking at. Buds (or undeveloped flowers or shoots) at the tips of stems, scars left on a twig after a leaf falls off, bark and any remaining fruit or seeds can all be helpful in identifying a tree or shrub in the winter. Many of our herbaceous plants and wildflowers die back in the winter, but their remaining stems and seeds can still often be seen standing in the snow. Lots of invasive species continue to thrive late into the winter and get an early start in the spring, which makes them stand out and easier to identify.
But there is much more than dormant plants to be seen this time of year. With the winter comes a stillness that can actually intensify the presence of still active wildlife. Bird songs seem to be more pronounced and easier to hear on a still winter day. You may also hear the rustle of leaves as squirrels, deer or other critters bound through the woods. The absence of leaves in the trees may make it easier to see bird and squirrel nests. If snow is on the ground, it may be easier to see animal tracks or a brightly colored fungus. During this lull in activity, things like tree trunks that beavers have gnawed or even fossils may jump out at you a little more than they would on a busy spring day.
So just because it’s cold, doesn’t mean that there isn’t an abundance of wildlife still to be discovered. Why wait for spring? You may just find that taking a winter hike is just what you needed to rejuvenate yourself and your passion for nature!
Doug Stevenson, Naturalist, Glenwood Gardens