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Winter in the Woods

January 17, 2013 by Tim

The quiet of winter in our woods is, for me, a season of discovery. It is a time when the absence of many visitors brings my wildlife neighbors close to my doorstep for observation and a time for my own sort of hibernation, curled up with a stack of books comprised of old friends and new.

Almost nightly, I hear coyotes in the woods behind my cabin. Some evenings it’s just faint howling – a call from the other side of the lake that’s initially written off as the wailing of sirens. Other nights it feels as if they are on every side of my house, though no amount of scanning the shadows through the window yields a sighting. Their barks, yips, and howls fill the air with the sounds of excitement and I often have difficulty falling asleep amidst all that wakefulness, knowing that the increased presence of people on property will soon make my nightly chorus an infrequent treasure. The sound of coyotes sends me to my bookshelves to find Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, where the survival of coyotes is just one part of a larger tale of the struggle for balance – on an environmental level, and in the lives of the characters.

The birds at my feeder – a noisy mix of nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and more – have me  laughing at their antics, making notes about who’s sticking out the winter and who’s moved on to warmer grounds, and re-reading the tale of chickadee 65290 from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. If I had banded that Carolina Wren this year, would I find that it was indeed the same bird flying in through my window and out the front door repeatedly, on a singularly focused mission to remind me that this home isn’t just mine?

Already, the cold days of winter have me excited for the morning I wake up to the thawing temperatures of maple syrup season. I’m cleaning out the sap buckets, scoping out trees to tap, and bringing the canning jars in from the shed in preparation of collecting sap from the sugar maples to cook down into the delicious syrup I’m currently rationing from last year’s batch. In case I need more fuel for my excitement, I have my copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s  Little House in the Big Woods. Laura’s Pa explains the sugaring process of old, and I find the story as fascinating as I hope the attendants of our annual Maple Syrup Camp will when they hear it in March.

Inevitably, the stack of books on my end table grows as I think of gems I need to revisit (like The Education of Little Tree, by Forrest Carter) and books I keep lending to others before actually finishing myself. I tell myself that this will be the year I finally read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods from start to finish. But first, it’s time to begin thinking about the approaching spring season – which means putting a little more wear in the spine of Sharing Nature with Children, an invaluable resource written by author/naturalist/educator Joseph Cornell.

And just when I think the pile of books and winter animal sightings have reached their limit, one more of each appears. My coworker Amran stops our work today to have us listen…and it’s not until I go outside that I hear the unmistakable rolling call of Sandhill Cranes overhead. As I stand and listen, I am reminded of All the Places to Love, where a young boy plans to introduce his newborn sister to the world around them, and author Patricia MacLachlan sums it up much better than I ever could…“All the places to love are here, I’ll tell her, no matter where you may live. Where else, I will say, does an old turtle crossing the path make all the difference in the world?”

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