Winter Wonder: Five Ways to Connect with the Natural World

Winter is a great time to get curious, no resolutions required.

Let’s face it: January is tough. Winter tightens its grip; the holidays are over. Snow and ice make the landscape a hard, glazed surface; trees live in skeleton form. This starkness can be hard on the soul, and though the idea of resolutions is nice, I’ve learned from personal experience that the start of the new year is the worst time of year to try to be a new me.

But I’ve also learned that the stripped-bare, pared-down quality of winter reveals what’s obscured in kinder months. Lifting my chin to wrap my scarf against the cold, I happen to see a steady stream of crows, thirty or forty or more coming from all corners of the sky and flying so soundlessly to their mysterious nighttime gathering place that I might easily have missed them. At home, I find delicate tracks criss-crossing my yard, bird feet alongside fox, rabbit, and squirrel, a record of the day’s traffic perfectly preserved in snow. These are winter encounters that don’t happen or can’t be seen in splendid summer. They feel like secrets, evidence of a rhythm that’s greater than my own comings and goings, and a daily treat that I find myself looking for, and looking forward to. The benefits that come with them are just the cherry on the sundae.

In the spirit of open eyes and unexpected discovery, here are five indoor and outdoor prompts from Clare Walker Leslie’s The Curious Nature Guide that lend themselves beautifully to the quiet of winter.

Try this

Note the colors of the sky at sunrise or sunset over the course of a few days or weeks. Use colored pencils, crayons, or descriptive words to record the colors, dates, and times in a notebook.

Try this

Go on a winter tree-bud walk. Packed in those small, protective casings are next spring’s flowers, leaves, and new twig growth. The magic of trees is they know just when to open those buds (except when Mother Nature brings a late surprise storm!). See if you can notice the day when your favorite tree unlocks its little bud package.

Try this

Take a walk with eyes and ears open. Can you find any of these signs?

  • Tracks in the snow or mud
  • Nibbled shoots of small plants
  • Nesting sites, lodges, or dens
  • Scat (droppings)
  • Fur
  • Discarded antlers
  • Bones

Try this

Make a date with yourself to visit an art museum. Note the paintings, the pottery, fabrics and weavings, and sculptures that express some connection with nature. Do any of them make you want to see the places or things they depict? Are you inspired to create your own art from nature?

Try this

E-mails and photos are great, but how long has it been since you wrote a real letter? Pick up a pen or pencil and write to a distant relative or friend. Describe where you live and the little things you have seen and noticed in the natural world around you. Put a stamp on it and send it off. You can also do this on a trip or vacation.

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