This is #1 in my series “News from the Woods.” These weekly summaries include direct observations from daily jaunts, photos and discussion of seasonal woods events, and sources for ongoing education. For regular updates from the field and forest, please visit my Snapshots page.
This Week: Weather Challenges and Winter Greens
After enduring extreme cold stretches over the first two months of 2018, we’ve been experiencing a more typical mid-winter weather cycle. In other words, there’s been snow, rain, freezing rain, sunshine, clouds, and both very cold and somewhat warm days.
My only complaint is the crust on the snow produced by thawing and freezing cycles. I really don’t care to battle the sliding, suddenly breaking through, and sinking – it’s a lot of work and hard on the joints! It’s even worse for Bruno, my 10-year-old boxer and hiking buddy. These conditions are tough on the paws and pose a significant risk to his joints.
Although I haven’t recently ventured to the Pennsylvania State Game Lands (#26 for me), it can be good for what ails you this time of the year. Bruno and I have found that the packed snowmobile trails provide decent footing when the snow is otherwise too deep or the crust too challenging for normal hiking. As of today, however, we are looking at mostly bare ground.
Winter Greens not Wintergreen
A nature writer (I long ago forgot the name) described how winter was his favorite season in the woods. The absence of leaves allowed him an unobstructed view not possible during other seasons. Although at the time I thought that the winter woods was the least appealing, I have evolved in my thinking. And that brings me to winter greens. Basically, as the trees shed their autumn leaves, we are well served to appreciate what remains. Here are some of my favorites:
- Hemlocks – The eastern hemlock found throughout much of the northeast; Pennsylvania’s state tree
- Club mosses – three varieties in my local woods
- Partridge Berry
- Ferns – two “evergreen” varieties in my woods
- Pines – I don’t have a lot in my immediate woods, but certainly they are to be appreciated
I also developed the habit, from the final shedding of leaves through the emergence of new leaves the following spring, of observing subtle difference in the leafless woods. Depending upon the species of trees present, particularly when they form extended stands, you can observe swaths of pale greens, yellows, pinks, and even deeper reds to compliment the blacks and shades of gray. This effect is most readily appreciated when you have a distant view of the woods. Many of our local roads offer a view of ridges and a clear look at the woods that provide the best opportunity to appreciate these subtle differences.
Woods News & Information: Maple Syrup Production
I didn’t prepare for maple syrup production last fall, so I’m now looking at another season without the chance to make my own. However, I just left a message with some neighbors inviting them to join me in planning ahead for next year. I’ll check in this fall with a progress report!
I’ve offered some resources for learning more about maple syrup production. In my region, that means Penn State and Cornell. Many other quality options are available.
Workshops & Courses
- Penn State Extension: It’s time to make your own maple syrup!
- Cornell: Introduction to Maple Syrup Production. Note: This course is only offered in the fall, but that’s exactly when you should be planning your winter/spring operation! Lots of good stuff here.
- Penn State Extension: Maple Syrup Production
- Penn State News Release: In Pennsylvania, It’s Time to Make Maple Syrup
- Cornell Maple Program
Coming next week: More on winter greens and information reviewing the impact of a cold winter on invasive insects.