Sure, it’s cold. Classic winter move. You’re settling into a comfort zone with blankets, something hot and a TV remote and that’s part of the beauty of the season. But dropping temps don’t have to put your outdoor exploring into full hibernation mode.
Not a ski fan or into snowshoeing? Doesn’t matter. Even a walk in the woods or along the edge of your favorite river or lake will banish your cabin fever. I swear it. That blanket and hot cup of something will be extra sweet when you get back.
Winter shows off all sorts of different views in the landscape (those show-offy leaves are gone!). And the trees and flowers you loved in warmer weather can look totally different when dormant — holding onto intricately-dried blooms and seed pods or just revealing their naked shape. You may get to know a familiar area in a new way this winter.
Listen — I know being cold sucks. Start off with several layers*, good gloves and a hat. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself warming up and paying attention to the flitting birds and running stream instead of your frosty nose.
*If you’re expecting to barge your way up a mountain or get super-active in winter, make sure the clothing layer next to your skin is NOT cotton. Lovely as it is, cotton will absorb your sweat and chill you down in a bad way once you stop moving. Go with a synthetic wicking fabric or wool blend…even if it’s just a workout tee between your skin and a long-sleeved layer.
Here’s how winter changes our woods in West Virginia:
— The first snows flatten the grasses that remained from the fall. Views are open, and animal trails are more visible in compacted leaves.
— Here and there, bright red berries still hang onto spiny shrubs, attracting overwintering birds.
— Only a few intact acorns are laying on the forest floor. More signs in the leaf layer that animals are digging down to find nuts or grass to eat. Black spots alert you to this…where an animal has shoved its snout through the leafy layer to find the humus, or pawed up a small area to see what’s to snack on.
— This is a good time for deer hunters to find buck rub on trees and to look for antlers that bucks have shed since fall.
–Squirrels are frisky in the cold. Fat, too.
When it hasn’t been too cold, the streams are running with rain and melted snow. Where fallen trees or branches lay across a stream, or even a small waterfall creates a splash, ice forms in bulbs and fat icicles, often in a wide marching procession along the edge of a log.
If you get wrapped up early in the morning and head out, you’ll see how frost forms on everything in the winter — from a single blade of grass to the inner cup of a field-dried Queen Anne’s lace standing in the meadow. Walking across a frosty field at daybreak, it’s easy to see where a deer has been bedding. Their indentation is bright – no frost there because of the heat of their body. As the sun rises in the sky, you can watch the frost melt away in bands…anything in shade will keep its whitish sparkle until the sun hits it.
Exploring in the snow is its own kind of magic. Your clothing choices matter even more on a snowy romp, especially if you’ll have kids along, so take extra care to pick fabrics and boots that will keep you dry and warm as you play. Hypothermia is not in the “fun” playbook, so plan ahead to stay safe and comfortable.
Once you’ve braved the cold and gotten a taste of winter’s special offerings out in nature, you’ll probably find more and more reasons to head out the door. That hot chocolate will taste extra good when you get back.