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Mickey Rathbun: Enjoying winter’s wonders

  • snow covered herbal plant Simonyi Zsolt—Getty Images/iStockphoto

  • All Things Bees, Berkshire Botanical Garden, Jan. 27. iStockphoto


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Winter has many moods. I took a walk early one recent morning through a hayfield to the Lawrence Swamp in South Amherst with my trusty dog, Allie. Although it was a scant 16 degrees, the sun was shining and the air was perfectly still. It was a good time of day to be outdoors.

As Allie burrowed her nose in the snow searching for small rodents, I suddenly noticed the millions of minute ice crystals that decorate the grasses that poke through the snow. Dried clover flowers, reddish brown, sport crowns of jagged crystals that look like tiny Goth helmets. Wands of bleached wheat stems bear coats of ice that sparkle in the sunlight. The mop-like dried heads of Queen Anne’s lace remind me of frosted doll’s hair. I dimly recalled learning in some long-ago science class about how the properties of H2O change when the temperature falls below freezing. But I no longer remember the specifics and prefer to think it’s simply magic that was put on Earth to make us marvel.

With my eyes attuned to these small details, I began to see all sorts of wonderful things. Abandoned birds’ nests are visible in the bare branches overhead. Colors that don’t even register as colors the rest of the year suddenly come into their own. Patches of pale green lichen, some smooth, others ragged, are no longer drowned out by gaudy flowers and foliage of summer. Thread-like needles of white pine are vivid green. The shriveled tan and coppery-colored leaves that still cling to oaks and beech trees appear bright against the snow. The white bark of birch trees pops in surrounding gray woods. Off in the distance, across the frozen swamp, tiny winterberries shout “red” through the freezing air.

I heard birds calling and squirrels chattering. There were animal tracks in the dusting of snow that fell last night. I saw evidence of recent beaver activity — tidy rows of teeth marks ring the trunk of a narrow maple tree — and I wondered what the beavers were doing right at that moment. I imagined them snuggled up warm and cozy in their beaver coats dreaming about building dams in the rushing water of a spring thaw.

A squirrel skittered across the path into the trees. I like to think that Allie is too concerned about my precarious balance on the ice to give chase. But no. As I often need to remind my husband, SHE’S A DOG.

I managed to stay upright until she was convinced that the squirrel was up a tree and out of reach, and then we resumed our parallel contemplations: she of prey, me of winter scenery.

By the time we got home my fingers were frozen and I remembered how much I hate being cold. Allie took up her post at the kitchen window monitoring her world of flora and fauna. I poured another cup of coffee.

If you can find the time, take a walk in the woods or the fields and enjoy the sights and sounds this tempestuous season has to offer.

Nature walks rescheduled

Kestrel Land Trust’s annual New Year’s Day celebratory nature walks were cancelled due to the extreme cold. But they have been rescheduled for Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. Start the New Year off right by getting outdoors with nature and new friends!

In Amherst, take a walk with wildlife biologist Dave King at the Wentworth Farm Conservation Area, and in Northampton, join naturalist and educator John Body at the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area. The terrain is easy to moderate in both locations.

The walks are free but registration is required. In the event of heavy rain or ice, they will be cancelled (again!). Fingers crossed for good weather.

For more information and to register, go to: kestreltrust.org.

Hadley Garden Center Winter Clinic

As we burrow in for a few months of cold weather, it’s a good time to think ahead to spring and enhancing our woodland habitats. The next in Hadley Garden Center’s series of winter clinics, Jan. 20, is about woodland plants and how to grow them. It begins at 1 p.m. and it is free, so come early because it fills up. 285 Russell St. (Route 9) Hadley. 584-1423

All Things Bees Berkshire Botanical Garden

On Jan. 27, Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge is hosting a day devoted to beekeeping and beeswax.

From 10 a.m. to noon, beekeeper extraordinaire Ross Conrad will talk about “Colony Collapse Disorder” and how to promote honey bee health in the face of significant stresses they face. From 1 to 3 p.m., Conrad will discuss the origins of beeswax within the hive, its properties, how the bees use it, and how we can benefit from this incredibly useful substance.

Various methods of collection and processing will be discussed that are especially suited for the small-scale, hobby, or part-time beekeeper. He also will touch on household and everyday use, share beeswax recipes for salves and balms and explore the many creative uses of beeswax in art and self-expression.

Conrad is a former president of the Vermont Beekeepers Association, a regular contributor to Bee Culture — The Magazine of American Beekeeping, and author of ”Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture.”

Ross has been keeping bees for over 25 years and has given bee-related presentations and led organic beekeeping workshops and classes throughout North America for many years. His beekeeping business, Dancing Bee Gardens, supplies friends and neighbors with honey, beeswax and candles among other bee related products, offers five-frame nucleus bee colonies for sale each June, and provides bees for spring pollination services in Vermont.

For more information and to register, go to: berkshirebotanical.org.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at foxglover8@gmail.com.