Learning About Winter By Observation Of Wildlife

I’ve been rereading Bernd Heinrich’s “winter world” over the last few weeks. In the book he goes into how different species adapt to the coldest temperatures of the year. There’s a lot of really fascinating information about various animal’s strategic approaches. Some go into a state of lower body temperature and metabolism, a state called torpor. Others, like certain frogs, allow themselves to freeze. Still more have antifreeze in their blood. It’s an amazing skill set, but the animals I find the most impressive are the ones that simply enjoy winter.

By my winter home in southern Vermont is a little brook that my dog Sable and I visit fairly often. We’ve recently been seeing otters there, and of all the animals to learn about winter from, I find them the most enjoyable to observe. Humans have historically had to work hard to get through the winters, but for some of us there’s a certain pleasure to that work. To having systems in place that allow for the work to be rewarding, both while it’s happening and at the end of the day when the tent is up, and the stove is roaring.

The modern world tends to think about the winter months as a time to suffer through, but I often see students excited about taking what they’ve learned on our courses and making winter into a new way to have fun in the natural world. Sitting and watching these otters over the last few days has brought that to my mind more clearly. Winter has the potential to be a genuinely enjoyable time of year, if you’re in the right frame of mind. I’m certainly going to try and see the work of winter in the bush as play more often from here on out.

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