Continuing our theme from last month, what some know as the “gray doldrums” between fall and winter are in fact a perfect time to explore the out-of-doors! With most of her foliage resting upon the low skirts of the forest – or sidewalk – Nature is bare…exposed to her most essential self. And although she appears as the great minimalist at this time of year, her secrets are merely in hiding. And this, the thrill of mystery, makes them that much more fun to discover. Also…the hope of a morning snow-blanket brings out the inner 8-year-old in almost everyone. Yes, think about that before you think about shoveling. Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Tracking. The first dusting of snow atop brown is a perfect time for tracking. Prints show up excellently as the snow is not deep or crunchy yet, and delicate foot pads and toes squish snow all the way to the dark surface below. Look for deer, fishers, raccoon, coyote, squirrel, rabbit, or your local house cat!
2. Watch the Edge Ice Grow. If you live up north, your lakes and ponds may already be frozen over. In central and south Wisconsin, however, those crystals are just beginning to creep. If you live near a river, you may get edge ice of changing shapes all winter – like nature’s water sculptures. Edge ice is so cool (literally…yup, I made that joke) because not only does it form gorgeous crystal structures, but also because it foretells of that longtime human dream…to walk on water. Get ready, ice fishermen-and-women. Neat edge ice photos.
3. Throw Rocks on the Ice. Speaking of newly-forming ice, when was the last time you launched some rocks onto a just-frozen lake? Too long? The sounds are mesmerizing. A great time to give kids permission for that old past time: throwing rocks.
4. Christmas Bird Count. This is put on every year by the National Audubon Society, and counts take place all over the US. Click on the link to find out if there’s one happening near you. A great way to take part in Citizen Science for folks of all ages. Speaking of birds, have you seen any Dark-Eyed Juncos? I hear they’re in from Canada, eh.
5. Evergreen Appreciation & Wreaths. I just attended an excellent program all about evergreen identification, and was truly inspired. What a perfect time of year to show your love for these consistent, colorful friends of the woods by learning their names, or simply going out to breathe in their delightful fragrances. You don’t have to be an expert at plant ID, either. Here is a basic guide, made for kids, but perfect for anyone, I’d say. If you have evergreens from which you can harvest some boughs, you could even make your own holiday wreath. Make sure to harvest smaller branches from a variety of trees so trees can go on thriving throughout the winter.
6. A Star of a Different Color. Crisp nights make for great star-gazing! Orion and Perseus are ruling the skies these days…er, nights. Can’t get out of town? Try “star gazing” at holiday light displays…you could even get creative and make up myths about them.
7. Outdoor Holiday Celebrations. Start a family – or friends- tradition of doing an outdoor activity to commemorate the holiday season. What about celebrating the solstice as well? Bonfires, hikes, sledding or fort-building and…some people say I’m crazy, but…there’s nothing like the beach in the winter!