When the clock strikes midnight on December 1st, Christmas music is officially allowed, and encouraged, in my house. I love to sing along to some of my favorite carols.
You can find me sashaying down the hall belting “Let it Snow” as if my volume will increase the chances of a holiday flurry. There is one song that I always find delightful: Walking in a Winter Wonderland.
Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the lane, snow is glistening. A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight…walking in a winter wonderland.
While these lyrics sing only of glistening snow, the wonders of nature in the winter can be found wherever you are. Realistically, Indiana winters aren’t always hospitable. Blustery wind can make even the bravest people want to head indoors to avoid watering eyes, stinging cheeks, and red noses. But whether it is sunny or overcast, there are wonders to find in nature during the colder months. For me, a walk in a winter wonderland is enjoying the sights and sounds of the woods.
A winter walk in the forests of Indiana is a different experience than that of spring or summer, but no less enchanting. It is quieter. You will not hear bees buzzing or see butterflies fluttering. Instead of lively energy, the stillness inspires a sense of peace. That is not to say you get a completely silent night; there are wildlife that stay home for the holidays.
Birds you may hear include the thrumming of a Pileated Woodpecker. They are the largest woodpecker with a nearly 30-inch wingspan. You will likely hear their deep drumming before seeing their bright red crest and black and white body. Another sign of Pileated Woodpeckers is square-shaped holes excavated into tree bark. Those marks are from the woodpecker drilling into the tree in search of its favorite foods.
As you leap over or splash through creeks, their muddy banks will show signs of wildlife in tracks. Shallow, long, narrow tracks may indicate an Eastern Cottontail rabbit hopped by. Deep, triangular tracks may belong to a herd of White-tailed Deer stopping at the glistening rivulet of unfrozen water for a drink.
The essence of Walking in a Winter Wonderland is not necessarily the sights and sounds, but the happiness they cause.
The holidays can be stressful. Between creating feasts, preparing our homes for guests, and finding the perfect present, it is challenging to make time for recharging. There is ample scientific research showing the benefits of nature on our mental, social, and physical health. You may have heard of the increasingly popular practice of forest bathing. It is the act of going into the woods for solace, inspiration, and oneness with all that is around you.
Considering nature promotes calmness and lifts moods, it is an ideal activity for the extended family. If you are dreading the small talk that comes with rarely-visited relatives, a holiday hike may be the solution. No talking is necessary on a walk in the woods! Extraordinarily, each person has their own experience while also enjoying each other’s company.
A winter wonderland is close by. Red-tail Land Conservancy offers 11 public nature preserves in east central Indiana that are open from dawn to dusk. There is no entry fee or reservation required. As you explore these hiking trails, I hope you sing a new version of the holiday classic:
Songbirds sing, are you listening? On the trail, snow is glistening. A beautiful sight, the family’s happy tonight…walking in a woodland wonderland.
Photo: Snow on the trail of Red-tail Nature Preserve
Kelley V. Phillips is the Communications & Outreach Manager for Red-tail Land Conservancy. She strives to cultivate wonder in nature and action to protect it.