New life in the dead of winter
Nature's Notebook - Tim Abbott
January, 28, 2010
It is now the dead of winter, but even so, new life is stirring. Great horned owls know it, seeking mates on frosty nights in the tallest of pines. Black bears in the dark of their dens are giving birth to tiny, hairless young that suckle as they sleep.
The planet spinning in its course adds another minute of daylight to either end of every day. That light is sharp and its shadows long. Late afternoon sun turns the surface of the snow to beaten gold. Dry weeds and the variegated bark of trees are the brushstrokes on winter’s canvas. If the colors of the landscape are dun and gray, milk white and wintergreen, there are also the accents of winter berries and cardinal wings. Any chink in the overcast sky becomes a gilded shaft of light, and on cloudless nights the skies pulse with stars of many hues.
We miss so much of this, with our upturned collars and frozen fingers, scraping our windshields in the boot-stamping cold of our driveways. We turn a slightly desperate eye to the woodchuck for his weather auguries, but without the new-fallen snow are blind to the passage of countless creatures beneath our very noses.
Winter turns us inward, and we burrow deep in our clothes and our cars and homes. Some of us work outdoors and endure the wintry mix, some sport on groomed slopes of manufactured snow, but it takes an extra effort to see the quiet beauty of a freezing day bleached of color, and the rustle and bustle of warmer days.
Sometimes I yearn for a fresh snowfall to cover up this raw and naked earth, especially when the sky is such an unrelenting gray. Sometimes I marvel that the low-angled sun manages to slip beneath the clouds at all during these long days of short light. But it does, even now, in the dead of winter. If we take the time to look, we can feel it, too, that new life returning, two minutes closer every day.
Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.