Winter's Chill, Winter's Sun:
Exploring the Cool Season Inside and Out
As winter winds blow down the plains, it is easy to consider this the interior season. If we examine winter from a historical perspective, this is the season of rest, reflection, and preparation for the sowing of spring seeds. At Under The Canopy, winter is my most reflective time of year. I spend the winter months preparing for the busy spring and summer seasons. Taking time to reflect, imagine and tend to my home makes the whole year flow better.
I was struck by the term “living seasonally” when I first heard it a few years ago on a podcast. I asked myself, “What would it take to really live in a connected way to the rhythm of the seasons?” This particularly struck me when I decided to slow business down on purpose in the cooler months. It was a logical step, being an outdoors instructor, to take two months in the coldest time of year to pursue the contemplative side of running the business. I am a big proponent of goal setting, and the winter respite gives me the time to start off my goals fresh and set habits that make them more achievable throughout the year.
Winter is a delightful season to be outdoors as well. In Oklahoma it is hard to say what the weather will bring in the winter months. It never seems to be consistently cold enough to just not go outside. On the nicer days when it is not too windy, we love to go on family hikes. The nature trails aren’t very crowded, and we don’t have to worry about bugs. Though the landscape tends to be mostly brown, this is a grand season for bird watching. With all the leaves gone from trees you can more easily spot the woodpeckers and wintering songbirds.
We often see large flocks of Starlings chatting in our yard and the sweet black-headed Juncos munching at our bird feeders. We always put the bird feeders out in winter to make sure our feathered friends are being well cared for when food supply is scarce. As the season moves toward spring you can even be witness to birds coming back from their southern habitats. One morning in February I witnessed the first Mississippi Kite, a large bird of prey that migrates south, coming back to our yard for the season.
In winter, the earth is abundant with mushrooms. A fun mushroom to observe is the puffball mushroom. If you press this mushroom, its spores are released like smoke in the air. It is one of our favorite mushrooms to marvel at. The children and I also play a game called guess the mushroom shape. I lay out some of the different shapes mushrooms grow in, ex: vase, shelf, jelly, rosette, and then we try to find three different varieties on our hike.
The colder months are also a wonderful time to witness the beauty of “frost flowers” that come up out of the leaf litter on trails. This natural phenomenon happens when thin layers of ice extrude from long stemmed plants, creating ice crystals that look light as feathers and resemble flowers. The best time to see them is in the early morning before the sun melts them away. It’s a breathtaking sight to find these natural marvels.
At Under The Canopy, winter is the season for exploring animal tracks. We find them in the sand, mud and, when we're lucky, in the snow and we try to find the patterns the wild creatures make around us. We also get to study plants in their winter state, filled with seeds. We spread the milkweed seeds from their pods in the wind and then used the empty pods to make seasonal crafts. We make elderberry syrup from the black elderberries grown on the backyard campus, kept frozen till we were ready to use them for winter medicine. Elderberry is a super immune booster that helps ward off colds and flu.
Another way my family and I enjoy the winter months outside is by making pine needle tea. We make this drink using wild plants that we know how to identify. The needles from the Loblolly pine make a wonderfully warm and refreshing drink that tastes like the forest and the essence of camping. To make the tea we pick the freshest-looking Loblolly pine needles we can find, break them into small parts with our fingers and add them to hot water we carry in a thermos. We let it steep for at least 5 minutes then strain the needles out and enjoy. We sometimes add some local honey to sweeten it up. Pine has been known to have some immune building health benefits including being full of vitamin C. This then becomes a health tonic as well as a earthy treat.
The winter is a wonderful time to explore the outdoors and also an enchanting, cozy interior time to reflect on the year ahead. I hope your family gets inspired to enjoy this calm time of the year.
None of the information given here should be used to identify wild plants. My blog serves as an inspiration point, but you should always do your own research before ingesting or using foraged materials. Always be 100% sure of your identification before using any wild plants. Consult with multiple sources and try new substances a little at a time in case of a bad reaction.
Please be mindful of where you pick and how much. Only pick in places that you are allowed–this includes private property, not nature preserves. Pick from plants growing in abundance; if the plants are scarce, don’t pick so that the wild things can also get the nutrients they need.
The content of these blog posts has not been evaluated by the FDA and is for educational and informational purposes only. I, the author, am not a medical professional and the information I share on this blog should not be used to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease or ailment. My writings are not intended as medical advice, and I don't presume to know what is best for you. Please do your own research and consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented here. I, the author, will not accept responsibility for the actions or results of any action taken by my readers.
Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek is a naturalist, writer and community educator committed to teaching the skills of sustainability and instructing children and adults on how to connect with the natural world that surrounds them daily. Arthrell-Knezek hails from New Haven, Connecticut where she began her work in the arts and environmental activism in 1997. She graduated from The Evergreen State College In Olympia WA, 2010, with a bachelor’s degree in multi-media art and sustainability studies. She has traveled the world and landed in Tulsa, OK where she is the Executive Director and Lead Educator of Under The Canopy LLC. She is a parent to two awesome children and wife to Mykey Arthrell-Knezek. You can learn more about the programs she teaches at www.underthecanopy.org She is a regular contributor to TulsaKids.com and also keeps a personal blog about parenting in all its real and messy forms firstname.lastname@example.org. She was also published in Hilary Frank's 2019 book, "Weird Parenting Wins."