“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” -Thoreau’s journal, dated August 23, 1853
Charlotte Mason says “There is no reason why the child’s winter walk should not be as fertile in observations as the poet’s; indeed, in one way, it is possible to see the more in winter, because the things to be seen do not crowd each other out.” (Home Education, pg 86)
But still we resist. After all, it’s cold out there! So I had an idea.
In Home Education Mason says “The real use of naturalists’ books at this stage is to give the child delightful glimpses into the world of wonders he lives in, to reveal the sorts of things to be seen by curious eyes, and fill him with desire to make discoveries for himself.” (Home Education, pg 64)
Maybe what we need, in order to improve our motivation toward winter nature study, is to read some of what was written by the great naturalists who have gone [into the snow and cold elements] before us.
“He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter. It is true the pomp and the pageantry are swept away, but the essential elements remain, – the day and the night, the mountain and the valley, the elemental play and succession and the perpetual presence of the infinite sky. In winter the stars seem to have rekindled their fires, the moon achieves a fuller triumph, and the heavens wear a look of a more exalted simplicity. Summer is more wooing and seductive, more versatile and human, appeals to the affections and the sentiments, and fosters inquiry and the art impulse. Winter is of a more heroic cast, and addresses the intellect.”
“The Snow Walkers” Winter Sunshine by John Burroughs
“The country is more of a wilderness, more of a wild solitude, in the winter than in the summer. The wild comes out. The urban, the cultivated, is hidden or negatived. You shall hardly know a good field from a poor, a meadow from a pasture, a park from a forest. Lines and boundaries are disregarded; gates and bar-ways are unclosed; man lets go his hold upon the earth; title-deeds are deep buried beneath the snow; the best-kept grounds relapse to a state of nature; under the pressure of the cold all the wild creatures become outlaws, and roam abroad beyond their usual haunts. The partridge comes to the orchard for buds; the rabbit comes to the garden and lawn; the crows and jays come to the ash-heap and corn-crib, the snow-buntings to the stack and to the barn-yard; the sparrows pilfer from the domestic fowls; the pine grosbeak comes down from the north and shears your maples of their buds; the fox prowls about your premises at night, and the red squirrels find your grain in the barn or steal the butternuts from your attic. In fact, winter, like some great calamity, changes the status of most creatures and sets them adrift. Winter, like poverty, makes us acquainted with strange bedfellows.”
“Winter Neighbors” Signs and Seasons by John Burroughs
“Each year after the midwinter blizzards, there comes a night of thaw when the tinkle of dripping water is heard in the land. It brings strange stirrings, not only to creatures abed for the night, but to some who have been asleep for the winter. The hibernating skunk, curled up in his deep den, uncurls himself and ventures forth to prowl the wet world, dragging his belly in the snow. His track marks one of the earliest datable events in that cycle of beginnings and ceasing which we call a year. The track is likely to display and indifference to mundane affairs uncommon at other seasons; it leads straight across-country, as if its maker had hitched his wagon to a star and dropped the reins. I follow, curious to deduce his state of mind and appetite, and destination if any.”
“January” A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
“If one could take the cover off the ground in the fields and woods in winter, or have some magic ointment put upon his eyes that would enable him to see through opaque substances, how many curious and interesting forms of life he would behold in the ground beneath his feet as he took his winter walk — life with the fires banked, so to speak, and just keeping till spring.”
Wild Life in Winter by John Burroughs
“The wonderful purity of nature at this season is a most pleasing fact. Every decayed stump and moss-grown stone and rail, and the dead leaves of autumn, are concealed by a clean napkin of snow. In the bare fields and tinkling woods, see what virtue survives.”
“A Winter Walk” The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau
“Why do you flee so soon, sir, to the theaters, lecture-rooms, and museums of the city? If you will stay here awhile I will promise you strange sights. You shall walk on water; all these brooks and rivers and ponds shall be your highway. You shall see the whole earth covered a foot or more deep with purest white crystals . . . and all the trees and stubble glittering in icy armor.” -Thoreau’s journal, dated October 18, 1859
The Cold by Wendell Berry
How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,
my body containing its own
warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go
separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you
perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping
–to be clear, poised
in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.
And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.
Ah yes, “having known fully the goodness of that, it will be good also to melt.” Isn’t it true that our Lord gave us each season, and therefore we shouldn’t close our eyes to hide from any of them. As Thoreau says, lets resign ourselves to the influences of each.
Below are a few essays that you might enjoy reading with your kids:
- “The Snow Walkers” Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs
- “Winter Pictures” Pepacton, by John Burroughs
- “A Snow-Storm” Signs and Seasons, by John Burroughs
- “Winter Neighbors” Signs and Seasons, by John Burroughs
- “A River View” Signs and Seasons, by John Burroughs
- “Bird Life in Winter” Far and Near, by John Burroughs
- “Winter Sunshine” Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs
- Wild Life in Winter by John Burroughs
And a couple of books you might enjoy also:
- Wandering Through Winter: A Naturalist’s Record of a 20,000-Mile Journey Through the North American Winter by Edwin Way Teale
- Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich
- Who Lives in the Snow? by Jennifer Berry Jones
- Where They Go in Winter by Margaret Waring Buck
- Where Do They Go: Insects in Winter by Millicent Ellis Selsam
- Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman
- Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (PB, gr. K-3, 32 p.) AND
- Snowflakes in Photographs by W. A. Bentley (reference, Bentley’s photographs)
- My Brother Loved Snowflakes: The Story of Wilson A. Bentley, the Snowflake Man by Mary Bahr
- Snow by Thelma Harrington Bell
- Snow Is Falling by Franklyn M. Branley
- The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley by Duncan C. Blanchard
- Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner
Lastly, and in closing, while I’ve been in here writing to all of you, my ten year old daughter was writing a poem in the other room. She had no idea what I had on my mind, and yet here is what she had on her mind:
The wind blows and it snows
On a dark winter night.
The birds are sleeping in their nests
Waiting for summer at last.
Finally summer comes
And the birds are playing in the grass.
May you all enjoy a bit of winter before it’s gone!