BLANE KLEMEK OUTDOORS: Let's collectively embrace winter
Though there’s more snow and cold to come, rest assured that the sun is rising earlier and setting later with each passing day, and soon spring will be here once again.
I enjoy winter. I appreciate the slower pace and the stillness of a winter landscape. There are no bugs to contend with, no unbearable heat and humidity to endure, and, as the days begin to grow longer, the promise of springtime’s renewal isn’t far off.
Winter is a time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Whiling the way in the confines of a small shanty on the ice is one fine way. Watching the watery world through a window in the ice in hopes of seeing or catching a fish is a pastime that only we here in the Northland have come to know.
Strapping snowshoes onto our boots and walking effortlessly across deep and drifted snow is a sure bet to increased fulfillment through exercise and contentment. There’s nothing that beats a walk in a wintry wooded wonderland on snowshoes.
Cross-country skis can do the trick, too. Perhaps somewhat less maneuverable in the tangles of timber, skis offer speed amid the methodical “whooshing” sound as you glide across snowpack or groomed trails while puffs of frozen breath trails behind like some old locomotive heading down the tracks.
It’s also a time of survival for all that is wild and alive. We bundle up when we brave the elements while some critters sleep the winter away like ground squirrels and bears do.
Other species, such as winter resident birds and tree squirrels, adapt by storing foods in secret hiding spots, while others, such as white-tailed deer, partly rely on stored body fat to make it through the long and cold winter season. Still, others, like neotropical migrants, shorebirds, waterfowl, and more, fly the coop to warmer climes further south.
Trees go dormant, storing nutrients deep within their roots, but are sometimes fooled when Mother Nature throws a winter curveball that mimics a prolonged spring event and sap starts a premature run.
Yet, on the coldest of those winter nights, trees protest in loud, rifle-like reports as frozen sap and moisture expands inside the wood, producing the telltale popping volleys throughout the forest. Lake ice, too, groaning from expansion, produces canon-like booms that resound in hollow-sounding echoes across and through the frozen sheet.
I like the look and smell of rooftop chimneys belching out wood smoke. There’s a great deal of satisfaction when one burns wood to heat a home. It’s renewable energy, it’s efficient, and it’s inexpensive. And, as some will say, it heats more than once; you get warm by putting wood up, and you get warm by burning it.
Children playing in the snow are a joy as well. Small bodies bundled from head to toe, scarcely able to move, much less manipulate objects with mitted hands, sprawled flat on their backs in the soft snow performing horizontal jumping jacks as they create angel impressions.
It seems such an ordeal of getting them ready for the outdoors and, invariably, they’re back inside only moments later complaining that it’s just too cold to play outside.
And better still, at no other time of the year can one readily read and interpret stories printed so clearly for all to see as one can on that giant white canvas. There’s much to discover on the blanketed surface of prairies, woodlands, and wetlands if one only stops for a moment to study such curiosities.
The ruffed grouse emerging from its snow roost is as clear to the eye as a bell ringing is to the ear. Or viewing the sub-surface meanderings of meadow voles tunneling before the snow is too deep to reveal their whereabouts.
Or, depending on where we live and recreate, observing snowshoe hare, cottontail rabbit, or jackrabbit tracks. And sometimes, seeing where an owl had captured its prey — often a rabbit or hare, and sometimes a grouse — as you read the signs on the snow of fur or feathers and struggle.
Yes, it’s winter (I know I don’t need to tell you that). And though there’s more snow and cold to come, rest assured that the sun is rising earlier and setting later with each passing day, and soon spring will be here once again.
In the meantime, embrace winter as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at email@example.com.