“No one can walk in a road cut through pine woods without being struck by the architectural appearance of the grove, especially in winter when the bareness of the trees show the low arch of the Saxons. In the woods on a winter afternoon one will see as readily the origin of the stained glass window…in the colors of the western sky seen through the bare and crossing branches of the forest.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
1. Practice ID-ing Trees by Bark & Bud
What do you do in the winter when there are no leaves present? You learn to identify trees by their most stalwart characteristic – the bark! This type of identification is also helpful when the leaf canopy is too high up for proper recognition, no matter the season. If you practice, you begin to see patterns. Beech bark has distinctive smooth, gray bark. Shagbark hickory is just that, shaggy. White ash’s arrow shapes can be easily remembered by A = Arrow = Ash. Hornbeams or “musclewoods” will make you think you stumbled into Planet Fitness with their ropey brawn. Some say that the bark of older Black Cherry trees looks like burnt potato chips. The dormant buds and
Some great resources include
2. Go Burl & Cavity Hunting
tree is experiencing stress, typically an injury, virus, or fungal infection. Although they seem ugly on the outside, burls are highly prized by woodworkers who know the magnificence on the inside. (
Just like a rotten tooth, a cavity is a hollow, dark crevice – but that’s where the commonalities stop. Most of these nature cavities are found in “snags”or standing dead/dying trees and they’re beneficial, unlike those tender crannies in our mouths. These nooks provide life-saving shelter to so many animals during the winter months. Birds and small mammals sublet these sylvan condominiums,
3. Start a Nature Journal with Tree Silhouettes
Keeping a nature journal is wonderful hobby. Author Clare Walker Leslie describes it as, “your path into the exploration of the natural world around you, and into your personal connection with it.” In her books, “
When you were a kid maybe you passed a summer afternoon laying on your back, finding shapes in the clouds. For most of us, we can’t remember the last time we slowed down enough to do this (or if we could let our imaginations still “find” anything at all)! This practice, referred to as
With the absence of leaves, the forest canopy becomes a topographic map. The contour lines of the bare branches stretch across a sea of blue. Take a minute. Look up – and let your imagination unfurl. Better yet, pack a blanket or tarp, lay down and “go swimming.” It may be cold, but I have yet to find a simpler way to shift perspective.
5. Create a Slime Mold, Lichen, Moss & Fungi Gallery
Although there are numerous differences in lichens, mosses, fungi and slime molds; many are similar in that they find a host on tree trunks and rotting logs. With so many varieties – there are more than 900 species of slime molds found all over the world – wild formations, and colors; going searching for these unique organisms is so much fun. The white winter backdrop can make the all the different colors really POP! Take some pictures or draw what you see. When you get home, try to identify and keep a list of the varieties you’ve seen!
Please make this a “Hands Off” activity – Fungi are wonderful to look at but can be very poisonous so please don’t touch any!
Share your favorite Winter activities with us in the comments!