by Nancy and Joe Conrad
My first glimpse of the world came during an Indiana blizzard blowing a foot of fresh snow over the ground. I have felt at home in the winter landscape ever since.
Although Mother Nature feigns sleep at this time of year, undercover she is alive with activity. She beckons into her wondrous, quiet world those of us open to adventure. Fortified with a down jacket, warm gloves, sturdy hiking boots, and a strong walking stick, you are ready to enter a tranquil world of sight, sound, smell and touch unlike any other.
First, the stillness: the hush of falling snow, the gentle swoosh of heavy-laden pine boughs swaying in the breeze, the barely audible scurry of woodland creatures out for a brief foray before hunkering down once again. Your ears become accustomed to listening for subtle, muted sounds often missed in the cacophony of different, more active seasons.
A woodland blanketed in glistening snow, undisturbed by human footsteps, brings calm and serenity lasting well beyond the encounter itself. Ice crystals sparkling beside a slowly trickling creek remind us how nature sustains life in all manner of conditions, even in the uncertainty of a season without warmth. Barren trees stand silent exposing the soul of their being. Strong. Steady. At rest. They hold the secrets of new life at their core.
The winter forest’s clean, crisp smell brings memories of childhood romps on sleds and frozen ponds, of unbridled energy without worry or stress, filled with the joy of the outdoors. Feel the soft kiss of snow on your cheeks, the sting of cold air across your nose and ears, the tingle of your fingers forming snowballs. Trees invite you to touch their naked bark, to crunch lingering leaves, to reach beyond the cold to feel the life deep within.
These are the delights that enchant in the winter woods where the world is peaceful, alive with the heart of all things natural. Get out there. Explore. Learn. Enjoy.
And don’t forget the hot chocolate!
I was once a fair-weather walker. Quick to the woods in spring or fall with its fair, fresh breeze, the beauty of the place soon drew me back (netting and DEET in hand) to enjoy summer bloom. But when yellow petals dropped with red leaves following, when earth blanketed in white, I sounded full retreat.
Why risk frostbite, slippery ice, belly-deep snow for a forest starkly stripped of beauty? Winter winds pierced my bones, ran my nose, numbed my toes, chilled my soul. I stayed by the hearth, wasting winter
months dreaming of spring thaw.
But when I married Elsa the Snow Queen—whose exuberance for the frozen months shalt not be contained—she dressed me in insulated boots, a hat that covered my ears, warm gloves, layers, and a proper coat. Then she took my hand and led me into her wondrous world—a world not dead (or even sleeping), a world of bright quiet, fresh clean air and endless marvel.
She led me to a meadow where hoarfrost encapsulated yesterday’s flowers, transformed them to gems, and reflected their beauty tenfold. She drew me by a tree whose bold black branches lay naked its soul across the white November sky. We followed snow-covered virgin trails and came upon a small cluster of hickories with the tale of a squirrel’s full travel itinerary laid before us on the snow. Sliding down a stream, peering through ice, we smiled at the minnows grinning back at us. We paused by a waterfall to note that the rain had paused there as well—perhaps just to reflect the sunlight upon all the places it had seen.
I began to see with my ears in this silent world—listening to the slow groan of trees, the breeze rustling dry oak leaves, a bird’s solitary trill, the melt of an icicle, the shuffling of a field mouse in his snow burrow.
Nature does not die in winter, it merely hunkers down and takes its sheltered place. To know winter requires a little more quiet patience and thoughtful attention than other seasons.
Winter may now be my favorite time to walk. And safety aside, a blizzard is perhaps the best time to go! Nature reveals her awesome wonder and mystery in a storm. How magnificent to be at the center of it all! I don’t miss flying insects, repellents, oppressive heat, the drip of sweat. I’m glad to be rid of the mud and the claustrophobia I feel walking in understory growth.
Given the ease of frozen stream crossings, the sense of solitude which comes with a winter hike, what better time to go? And the very best part of a winter hike—I get to walk beside my queen!
Once a fair-weather hiker, I’m now a convert to the winter walk. I do love to trek through ACRES preserves during the coldest months. That’s MY penchant!
(But please, don’t let this persuade you to try it. I love the solitude out there.)
The Conrads hike in Bicentennial Woods, Robb Hidden Canyon, and so many more places you help protect. Will you, too? Head out on your own, or go with a group—join an ACRES event. Happy trails!