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Ode to Winter

by Kayla Wagner, Central District Field Crew Member/ AmeriCorps Member

An iconic line from the famous show, Game of Thrones, is “Winter Is Coming.” Here in Minnesota (or Minne-snow-ta, eh?) I think that line embodies how we as Minnesotans react to winter. Winter is never far from our minds. The warm months go by in the blink of an eye and winter seems to last forever. It usually comes fast and furious and lasts a long time. December 21st is the first official day of winter, but it always seems to come early. Winter is greeted with much grumbling and a myriad of emotions. Excitement, irritation, dread, sadness, uncertainty.

But for me, winter is a magical time of year.

Winter fills me with a sense of childlike joy. Dare I say, winter may be my next favorite season after fall. So many people look at me in disbelief when I say that I love winter. An unpopular opinion when it comes to the majority of people I encounter. Our days consist of more dark hours than light. The world is blistering cold with wind or ice or snowstorms. Everything living dies, migrates, or hibernates. Without snow, nature is brown and ugly.

The reason I love winter, aside from the holiday season, is my love of cross-country skiing. Joining my cross-country ski team in high school was the best decision I ever made because it gave me an activity to look forward to during one of the hardest and longest seasons of the year. Winter is more bearable when you have something to look forward too.

I love how the world becomes darker earlier. The world becomes quiet and we move inside. It also forces me to go inward and reflect on the busy activity of summer and another year coming to an end. Not only do we slow down, stay inside, and hibernate in our own way; we can see how nature changes as well.

The trees shed their leaves and plants die. Most animals flee and migrate to warmer climates or hibernate. The ground is hard and brown. But winter opens up a whole new world to us if we pay attention. Without the leaves on the trees, we can see various animal nests in the treetops. We can also see where Downy, Hairy, and Pileated woodpeckers have fed on insects.

I invite you to look at winter in a new way as well.  Pay special attention to dead trees. This is where you’ll most likely see woodpecker activity. When there is a fresh snowfall, go for a walk to see who made tracks in the snow. Bring some field books or check some out from a library to identify any tracks you may find. Watch for flocks of Dark-eyed juncos and hearing Black-capped chickadees call “chicka-dee-dee-dee” or “cheese bur-ger.”

Winter is so much more than a long cold period of time. Take time to rest and reflect. And even if you cannot travel far, look out the window or go in your backyard to see what discoveries can be made today.