A lot of people have really ‘had it’ with the winter this year. I don’t blame them. If, gentle reader, you are from a part of the country that under ordinary climate circumstances, doesn’t get below 35 degrees F and never gets but a scattering of snow, this year has been nasty to say the least. It is extremely ironic to offer you means of ‘enjoying winter more’ when you have not been ‘enjoying’ winter at all. For all of you in these circumstances this year, Aunt Toby offers condolences and perhaps the suggestion that this year, it might be a good idea to finally invest in house insulation (believe it or not, it will save you money when you have to turn on the AC later on this spring) and watch for sales on wool sweaters and socks at such online purveyors as L.L. Bean(tm) and Landsend(tm). Trust me – whether or not you believe in climate change, word from the King of All Long Range Weather Predictions, Joe Bastardi of Accuweather ™, is that 3 out of the next 5 winters will be just as bad as this year. No whining, people – you have been warned.
But back to enjoying the winter. Recently, I read a listing put out of books to get through the winter, which all seemed to be children’s books, but no matter. At the time, Aunt Toby thought, “Well, this might keep a 7 year old occupied for a couple of days holed up at home but definitely would not keep anyone older going. One of the books on the list that I would recommend, for adult or child, is practically anything from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series. Because her books generally are time-period based, in that she covers one or perhaps two years in a book, the seasons with their customary activities are central to the story. Now the list out this past week named “The Long Winter” as their choice and it is a really good one, but there are others where winter plays a big role. “Farmer Boy”, about Almanzo Wilder (Laura’s husband) and a period of his childhood when his family farmed near the Canadian border in Northern New York is a good one, too, though “Little House in the Big Woods” has a lot to say about the winter as well. Reading these books as an adult is an entirely different experience from that of young readers – you will pick up far more of how hard it really was for the Ingalls family during the winter, and in “The Long Winter,” it is obvious just how close to starvation the families in the little town were and how brave and desperate Almanzo and his friend Cap Garland were to go off into the snow to try to find wheat for people to eat.
But for something a little bit more uplifting — one of the ways to make winter more bearable (if not enjoyable) is to actually get outside and see what is going on in the winter. Anyone who stays inside all the time in the winter is missing out on some very enjoyable activities and I am not just talking about feeding birds, skiing or snow shoeing. But most of us don’t have a clue how to translate the signs that are out there, and for that I’m going to recommend a book. “>Winter Nature Guide There are others that are more specialized and it’s worthwhile searching on ‘trees in winter’ or ‘plants in winter’ to find those as well. Using a guide such as this, you can bundle up, leave your house and get outdoors to see what is going on when the world is blanketed with snow. It’s fascinating to see just what animals are out there, and with a field guide such as this one, you can analyze animal and bird footprints. You can also find these guides in used book stores and on used book sites. Definitely worth having.
So, let’s look at the photograph at the top, which I took recently on my deck, so I can give you an idea of how a guide like this works. Looking at the print, I see five definite ‘toes’ (actually, what we’re seeing at the ends are the marks made by the claws), so I look for the page that has ‘animals with five toes’. All the prints are grouped by number of toes and then by animal family and then by size. The print itself was pretty small – greater than an inch but certainly not two inches (and you have to make allowances for the fact that the snow was extremely wet and it was relatively warm, so there might have been some warping from temperature change). So, possums, muskrats, and raccoons are out (also, possums have a print that looks more like the way a human hand does in terms of having a separate ‘thumb’ so that’s definitely out).
Squirrel or mouse? Well, mice prints are much too small (and don’t group like this) and squirrels actually show 4 digits on the front paws and five on the back feet(bet you didn’t know that; I certainly did not). This leaves (cue scary organ music) The Weasel Family (da-dum!).
Weasel tracks are too small to match this. And skunks, mink and martin are all in the same length area, though martin tracks are much wider (and martin’s are more of a forest animal so that chances of one deciding to hop onto my deck are pretty small). Skunk tracks are longer than they are wide, mink are basically the same width and length. From the print, this is longer than it is wide, so we are looking (oh dear…) at a skunk track. Some skunk woke up early and was wandering around. My only worry is that the poor bugger has taken up his winter rest under my deck (worse things have happened but I’m not sure if I’d discuss them here).
So, that’s how a guide like this works – actually a lot of fun and very educational. Just the thing to get the kids out of the house. Bundle them up and take them out, preferably when the sun is not blazing off the snow and giving everyone a headache. Take along a thermos(tm) of cocoa and some snacks and have at it.
And if this encourages you to go out and get started in snow shoeing, well, so much the better.