Still. Here.

Winter in the upper Midwest is associated with a multitude of qualities. Snow, cold, ice, and wind-chills often describe the weather. Storm-days, slippery walks, and potholes are a few of the challenges created by the season, whereas shoveling, skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, and skating are opportunities to be outside and engaging with nature. All in all, when added together with a variety of winter holidays, this season is a rather busy one.

Stillness Replaced By Clamoring Activity

There was a time when winter was associated with stillness. Although we had to work hard to stay warm, winter was also a time to rest and rejuvenate our energies for the planting, growing and harvest seasons we know as spring, summer and autumn. Even today, it is not unusual for a Midwesterner to address a neighbor in the spring after the long winter months by saying, “So, I haven’t seen you in awhile. Were you hibernating?” To which, we tend to either respond by saying, “Yeah, it was a long winter.” Or by saying, “Actually, I was busy seeing family, busy traveling, and busy, engaged in a whole myriad of other activities.”

We have entered the long awaited turning point. March. March is often unsettled month weather wise, but it is the month, which marks daylight savings time, the Spring Equinox and optimistic conversations about spring. It is, as if, we could not imagine the return of spring in January and February. And, although March can be a snowy month, the longer daylight hours and rising temperatures tend to lift our spirits.

I am no different than any other Midwesterner holding both optimism and a desperation for spring, but my seasonal clock actually “springs ahead” in February. I am sure this is because I work in the part of the “Green” industry, which comes to life with the growing season. This morning, I arose to a sunny, blue-sky day with a balmy, spring-like quality in the air. The forecasters are calling for a snowstorm this evening with the possibility of 10 or more inches of snow over the next two days. Welcome to March. Since the temperatures were agreeable, I decided to spend some time being out in the yard.

Native Resiliency

So, what does one do in the yard when snow is still blanketing most of it? I tend to walk about to see what in nature is greeting me as if to say, “I am still here!” My camera usually accompanies me on these winter jaunts. Over and over again, I am greeted and pleased by the sense of presence of the native plants in my yard. Despite being blanketed by snow and uncovered by periodic thaws, they stand with a resiliency, which comes from having spent time in many winters, and creating a long history of survival. Some of the visual gifts of my winter adventures into nature are shared here.



             Still here,Echinacea in Winter


Still here,                    Snowberry



                  Still here,                                                          

                                                                                                            Still here,   


                    Still here,                          Witchhazel     


                                                                                                                Still. Here.                 


I do have ornamental plantings in my yard too, and some of them also have a strong presence at this late point in winter. Please take a look at their expressions of “still being here”. 


                     Dwarf, blue Japanese White Pine              Prairiefire Crabapples

As you can see, they too have a winter outfit, which is attractive, but the difference between them and my native plants is that I do not hold the same level of confidence around their return to spring. This is particularly true after a droughty summer, minimal snow in November, December and early January, and a deep freeze not protected by a white blanket of snow early on.

It is not as if the native plants are green and growing in winter, but their presence is similar to being given a promissory note for their return this spring. I enjoy their shadows and textures against the white backdrop, and these plants often serve as food for wildlife. Like the birds, rabbits, deer and other critters of the winter wild, I am grateful for the presence of these natives. My gratitude extends beyond the aesthetics provided by these ever-present partners in nature. I won’t enumerate all of the benefits of native plants in this writing, but I will say I appreciate all of the work they do within our communities to support each and all in residence.

Gritty Matters

There are so many ways in which we can connect with nature. Since the day was warm and dry, I decided it would be a good time to sweep up my sidewalks. You may ask how or what this simple and seemingly mundane task has to do with nature. I was outdoors, taking in the fresh air, enjoying the subtle changes expressed by the plants, finding focus with my simple project and was able to say hello to two neighbors I had not seen in weeks. How is all of this not a part of nature?

Since we have had a number of snow and ice events this season, which have made for slippery walking surfaces, I use a “gritty” product to provide stability to those using the walkways, and its benefits extend far beyond the sure footed surfaces it creates. This gritty product provides traction in all temperatures; does not harm animal paws; does not add a chemical or salt to surrounding soils and plants; is often eaten by chickens (an FYI for the urban chicken farmer); and it is reusable, which saves money and other resources. I have yet to see anyone sweep up salts and de-icing chemicals to reuse them again and again. This simple activity of winter allowed me to connect with nature in so many different ways, including a living example of how we can move our imaginations from “what can I do to help Nature?” toward everyday realities benefitting us, and the planet holistically.

An Invitation

I invite you to share the ways you engage with nature on a daily basis. If you are not inclined to share those with me, then please keep your own Nature Journal.  It may be a destination walk to your car or a recreational walk around the lake. It may be time spent filling your bird feeder or simply noticing the birds in your backyard. It may be time spent being active in the outdoors or it might be a little quiet time on a snow-covered bench.  No matter what you do to engage with nature, I want you to make a note of it, and if you are willing, share it with me. 

Why is this important to me? I believe that if we are a bit more conscious of our activities and connections with nature then that consciousness will extend to other aspects of our lives. I truly believe that our sensory experiences with nature feed our human nature, and also provide a foundation for caring for all that is a part of our world, including us, and successive generations. Enjoy your time outdoors! Embrace Nature and your time with Her!

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