The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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Do you know this song? It’s most often tied to holiday season parties and festivities. More recently parents joyfully sing it in the first week of September as kids return to school… or even after March Break when exhausted parents have run out of diversions. You’re humming it right now, aren’t you?

Go ahead and sing it – because this IS the most wonderful time of the year in Altona Forest. Well, according to me it is. For everyone utterly sick of winter, those who raised an eyebrow, or those who think I’m a little off my rocker, I’ll give you 10 reasons to go for a walk and love Altona Forest in late winter.

  1. No bugs. This alone has me singing that ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year’! For those who seem to be a magnet for the buzzing, biting, winged horde, this time of year allows you to pause, photograph, take your time, and enjoy the forest without any donations to Altona’s ‘flying red cross’. No one wants the raised bite marks, the itch and the general annoyance value of bugs – and for those with sensitivities to bites this season is bliss. There have been many times in the warm months I’ve almost broken into a run to outpace the bugs, given up on photos I would have loved to have taken, and even avoided the woods. Winter is a vacation from noxious bug repellent products.
  2. No mud, no puddles, and no humidity. Oh the joys of spring and summer to come! While we love the warm weather that brings new life to the forest, those of you who love hiking will remember that spring brings large, slippery, muddy puddles. Yuk. Sorry: I just can’t get enthused about the seasons of mud. Last year’s late spring and wet summer meant that there was some wet mud on Altona Forest trails all summer long.
  3. Allergies. No pills, no irritation, no problem! The woods are calling you and there is no pollen to drive you crazy. ‘Nuff said.
  4. Skiing and snowshoeing. Beyond the enjoyment of the scenery on it’s own, having the option of cross country skiing and snowshoeing through the woods is fun and offers a new activity and a fun challenge. Enjoy this while you can!
  5. Exercise never felt so calming. Whether you hike, ski, or snowshoe, you are exercising and getting fresh air. Snow makes you use more muscles than walking in the summer. Keeping a good pace will also keep you warm… just dress in layers so you can adjust and stay warm but not hot. Got a dog? Put Fido on a leash and get out there because you’ll both reap the benefits. (Just do us all a favour and carry out your dog waste!)
  6. Here comes the sun! It’s getting warmer and the days are longer. The stronger sun will keep you warmer as you explore the forest and the longer days (and earlier change to daylight savings time) give you more evening hours to explore the woods in the light. The longer days of late winter combined with white snow make these the brightest days in the forest for the whole year! Grab that sunscreen and go!
  7. Wide open vistas and ‘new views’. Even the deep shade of the cedar forest is brought to life with the light. Don’t be surprised if you see new angles to old corners or gain new perspectives as you follow familiar trails.
  8. The wildlife can’t hide. Well, they do hide, but you are much more likely to see their movement – from birds flying, to woodpeckers tapping, to the waking frogs. The bright days highlight the bare deciduous trees – and you can see deep into the woods with long sight-lines that will be obstructed in spring. You may see some of the woods’ most elusive species like owls, hawks or the signs of deer, fox and coyotes. Don’t forget that the snow keeps a record of the movements of all the animals – watch for animal tracks. (Learn all about tracks here: http://www.altonaforest.org/documents/WinterAltonaForest.pdf)
  9. Surprising snow scenes. Each year you will find more interesting snow scenes in the forest – last year’s snow load gave us a ‘mini glacier’ that lasted into May. Some freezing rain or sticky snow will change the forest into winter wonderland for just a few hours or a day. Untouched snow drifts look magical with long reaching shadows of trees or the setting sun turns the snow to gold.
  10. Solitude. While Altona Forest conservation area is unhurried, uncrowded, and peaceful all year long, late winter brings a special quiet and solitude in the woods. Once the birds begin to know spring is coming, they sing and are more vocal and gregarious. Enjoy the songs and the opportunity for reflection.

I have never been much of a winter person and I really don’t like being cold so it was a journey of discovery for me to get out and walk in winter. It didn’t take me long to realize that late winter is wonderful in the forest… you will realize it too.

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From an Altona Forest guided hike

Handout by Altona Forest Stewardship Committee

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year ~ © 2015 Natasha G

Photography© Natasha G 2014

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