Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter Hikes

Last week I changed my Facebook profile picture. The new photo features me bundled up in my winter coat, hat, gloves, and scarf. Liz and I were participating in one of the Columbus Metro Parks' winter hikes. A few moments after I posted the new photo, I got a comment: "Are you cold?"

I replied, "Nope." Then someone else commented that she was glad she lives in a balmier climate.

I honestly don't know what it is about winter that makes people cringe. I love the season. Things are quiet. The garden is at rest. Mosquitoes aren't bothering us. And most of all, there's nothing more invigorating than taking a walk in the woods on crisp, cold, clear winter days.

Winter hikes in the Metro Parks are fun. We can go on a guided hike, or we can just go at our own pace. When we are finished, there's hot cocoa and soup waiting for us.

  This chinkapin oak is growing alongside Big Darby Creek at the Prairie Oaks Metro Park west of Columbus. The tree's architecture is plainly visible in winter when the branches are bare. The dried leaves of oaks often cling to the branches all winter, but this tree dropped its leaves in 2009, the year I took this picture. We were back at Prairie Oaks two weekends ago, and the tree was bare again. Maybe this one simply doesn't enjoy having its dead leaves hanging around all winter.

In February 2007, we hiked at Wahkeena State Nature Preserve southeast of Columbus as part of a guided hike. The naturalist took us off the marked trails. We saw things few visitors to the preserve ever see. It was an amazing trip and a learning experience as well. At one point we climbed up a narrow passage between two rocks, hanging onto a rope for support. We saw icicles clinging to the rocks. (Note the evergreen rhododendrons growing on top of the rocks here.)

In some places, the snow had partially melted away to reveal early growth, a clear sign of spring despite the cold.

Note the large leaf in the upper center of this photo. This is a native orchid. I wish I could remember which one. The leaf is not dormant. It will gather solar energy and photosynthesize until later in the spring, when, a flower cluster will arise. It does not flower every year.

Below the orchid leaf is the frond of a common Christmas fern.

And this is Lycopodium, commonly known as ground cedar. Like ferns, it reproduces by spores, not seeds.

Lycopodium is the modern descendant of one of the oldest vascular plant families.

More evidence that not all living things go to sleep in the winter. These woodpecker holes certainly would not be readily visible in summer when the forest would be in full leaf.

Back to Prairie Oaks Metro Park two weekends ago, we noticed this area of open water in an otherwise frozen pond. The geese were keeping the area ice-free.

There is natural beauty in every season. I really don't believe I would ever want to live in a place that didn't have four clear seasons and where snow never, or rarely, fell.


  1. Hi Don,

    I do like this post. I completely agree about the seasons. I've never seen so many woodpecker holes in one tree like that. Now I'm going to look up ground cedar and find out if it grows in Illinois.


  2. Adrian: Other common names for the various Lycopodium species include ground pine, running pine, and club moss. All of them have a similar appearance.