Winter Wellness

We are winter souls. My daughter and I spend a lot of time together and share a lot of thoughts and feelings. I absolutely love silvery winter sunsets. She loves sitting by a roaring fire in our fireplace. One of our favorite shared feelings is our “love of winter.” We don’t like crowds or crowded spaces, so we rejoice when winter arrives and fewer people are out and about. One of our favorite places to be in winter is walking in our park.

Apparently, there are others who share our feelings because they are also in the park on some of the coldest winter days. We call them our winter peeps. We are always glad to see them as the park can be almost empty of human presence in winter.   We share our secret: That the park is “all ours” on those days.

But we do have company in the park besides the occasional human faces. There are certain birds that arrive in the pond that we see only in winter. For the past several years we’ve had four ring-necked ducks arrive in the pond around December/January. This year there’s another, making a total of five. And they all seem to be males! We can’t figure that out, but we do enjoy their presence

An occasional loon has shown up over the years, sometimes a group of buffleheads and mergansers, and this year a single gadwall. This could all change in a week or two with the arrival of some new ducks, but so far, birdwise, it’s been an uneventful winter.

Last week we walked along the shoreline of our nearby beach in search of my daughter’s favorite winter ducks: Oldsquaw, otherwise known as the long-tailed duck. The name Oldsquaw delights us because it is so descriptive of their noisy squabbling as they bob up and down, barely visible. the waves. They usually show up on a windy, cold day and you can usually hear them before you see them.  We were lucky enough to find a bunch, too far off shore to see very well even though our binoculars.  It’s always worth braving the elements to catch sight of them and hear their noisy chatter.

Today I read a wonderful article online about the psychological benefits of immersion in nature: Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health

(https://e360.yale.edu/features/ecopsychology-how-immersion-in-nature-benefits-your-health)

A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing. Now, policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering the human need for nature in how they plan and operate.   

In this study the author indicates that two hours of nature immersion weekly are essential for a person to have a sense of “well being.” I strongly urge you to read the article, put on your warmest jacket, hat, scarf and gloves, and long-underwear if necessary, and take a winter walk. Become a “winter soul.” You won’t regret it.

Between Seasons

Today (Sunday) was a perfect fall day.  Yet it still feels like we have one foot in summer because the humidity remained unseasonably high.  We have yet to close our in-ground pool, put away the lawn furniture, cover the grill, empty the flower pots of annual flowers, and, of course, the most dreaded task…. rake the leaves.

But there are definite signs of a seasonal shift. The squirrels almost become like crack addicts in their frenzy of gathering and hiding acorns. They scamper from dawn to dusk, walking on the edge of fences, across the backyard on electric and telephone wires, and up and down the surrounding trees.

Leaves are already accumulating in my neighbor’s front yard, dropped by the grand oak tree that grows on the border between her property and ours. For now most of the leaves are on her property, thank goodness.

Daylight is disappearing.  By 7 o’clock, the sky becomes dark.  We haven’t really adjusted to this change and are still in full swing as the sun goes down, wondering “where did the time go?” Kids are no longer in the park past 5 o’clock.  Instead they are at home on their smart phones or computers.

The crickets have been deafening of late. They serenade us at night if we happen to be outdoors finishing a task, or just popping out to bring out the garbage or steal a glance at the “harvest” moon.

(Fall moon 2018, known as harvest moon)

I am making a promise to myself to try to notice when they stop singing. Most of our outdoor plants are on their way out.  Many have been savaged either by slugs or moths who chomp through them at night when we’re not looking.

The occasional goldfinch still shows up for a dip in our backyard bird bath. The sunflowers have come and gone, so they won’t be around much longer.

We haven’t seen the cardinals for weeks, nor the titmice or woodpeckers.  We stopped feeding them mid-summer when we realized a rat was showing up for the food, so the cacophony of birds that delighted us with the arrival of spring has dwindled to nearly nothing.  We miss their songs which have been replaced by the chattering of busy squirrels burying their acorns throughout the day.

Along the harbor road the seasons are noticeably changing.  The exotic birds (herons, egrets) have moved on to warmer places, but the cormorants are perched in groups on the boats still anchored there.  Goldenrod is abundant everywhere we look, and the bees are grateful for that.

Almost without noticing, at home we have switched from summer fare to more substantial grub. We have eaten yams a few times lately, as well as roasted chicken and potatoes.

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At the supermarket I find myself eyeing the pork loins and meatloaf mix.  The occasional mojito at a nearby happy hour has vanished and isreplaced by red wines and frothy beers. Suddenly, we crave pumpkin soup, baked apples, cauliflower, baked squash and apple cider.

As a family we are mostly winter people.  My husband craves the silence of winter and the relief from tedious outdoor chores including mowing the grass and doing the necessary pool and yard maintenance.

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My daughter loves winter walks in the park nearby and along the shores of our coast.  Together we’ve learned to identify several species of ducks, but there’s so much more we need to learn. My son is congenitally biased toward winter holidays, his favorites being Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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I love brisk autumn and winter walks, when the bones of the landscape become visible.  When there are no leaves to obstruct the view of the horizon. When you come across an abandoned osprey nest and wonder where its former inhabitants have gone and whether they will come back.

Ancient humans were much more in tune with the change of seasons. Their survival depended on it. Many of their remaining ruins remind us of how important the movement of the sun was for them, as they were aligned to capture the summer and winter solstices.

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(Summer solstice dagger at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico)

I am fascinated by how, for centuries, we moved almost unconsciously into the next season as we adapted to the changes.  How much longer will we have actual distinct seasons…or will we suffer extreme weather in our winters and summers? Will we be driven back into a deeper awareness of the seasons because our lives will again depend on that awareness?