Out-Doors: Fun at Ten Below

Let’s call this the armchair edition of Out-Doors. Despite frigid temperatures and biting winds, I have managed to cross-country ski nearly every day. But an hour or two of exercise in temperatures either side of zero does not fill these brief winter days. So I’ve been reading about the outdoors and have some ideas for your fireside hours.

A beautiful volume with gold-edged pages and lovely illustrations, the Naturalist’s Notebook is a journal for recording observations of the natural world over five years. Bernd Heinrich, emeritus professor of biology at UVM, illustrated and co-authored the book with Nathaniel Wheelwright, professor of biology at Bowdoin College. Heinrich now lives in the wilds of Maine but was a local for many years, sometimes sharing his home with ravens or a baby owl. Heinrich began keeping nature journals as a youth, filling them with observations, dates and sketches. Heinrich’s pen-and-ink drawings and watercolors of pine cones—open and closed—bird beaks and eggs, insects, fruits and seedpods enrich the pages of the Naturalist’s Notebook. They are beautiful in addition to being accurate.

In this era of climate change, data collected by citizen scientists is valuable for tracking patterns over time: dates of first and last frost or snowfall, leaf-out and flowering of trees, return of migrating birds, nest building and laying of eggs, and the first songs of peepers and wood frogs.

Heinrich and Wheelwright takes turns writing chapters. Each describes how years of journal keeping have revealed patterns of change. Enjoy these pages by the woodstove now, then head out on warmer days with fresh eyes and a better process for observing and recording the natural wonders around us.

During the recent deep freeze I ventured to the Charlotte Library to borrow Heinrich’s book, One Man’s Owl. Decades ago Heinrich surreptitiously watched a family of great horned owls in its nest. (It can be dangerous if a parent owl knows you are watching.) When a wet snowfall plunged the nest to earth, Heinrich rescued the smallest owlet, the only one not capable of escaping with its parents. Having legally adopted orphaned animals in the past, Heinrich knew the required steps necessary to adopt three-week-old Bubo, named for the species of great horned owls: Bubo virginianus. Over the next three years, with tenderness, wisdom, humor and endless patience, Heinrich raised and nurtured Bubo, doing his human best to prepare him/her (he is not sure) to survive in the wild. Sketches of the baby owl will melt your heart.

Thinking of warmer days ahead, the Lake Champlain Land Trust (LCLT) recently conserved a stunning property directly across Lake Champlain from Burlington: Trembleau Mountain. The once-in-a-generation acquisition includes three peaks, 618 acres and over 4,000 feet of shoreline. One of Lake Champlain’s largest remaining undeveloped parcels, Trembleau includes nearly one mile of cobble beach and stunning panoramic views. In addition there is a rare example of the threatened pitch-pine habitat. Sunny Hollow in Colchester hosts one of the few examples of the habitat in northern Vermont.

Fire is the sine qua non of the pitch-pine forest. Pitch pines are uniquely adapted to withstand fire. Mature trees will survive a burn and pitch-pine seeds open only with the heat of a conflagration. When fire is suppressed, faster growing white pines out-compete the slow-growing pitch pines, thus threatening the entire habitat. LCLT is working with the Open Space Institute to restore the habitat to its natural balance.

Views from Trembleau encompass Vermont’s Champlain Valley and, on a clear day, the entire 90-mile Northern Green Mountain range, from Killington to Jay Peak. With the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, LCLT and the Open Space Institute will create a trail network that is sensitive to the ecology of the property. A local food and craft beer scene is emerging in Essex County, New York. Start dreaming of a summer adventure that includes ferry rides, hikes with great views and a dining adventure to round out the day!

Meanwhile, bundle up and get outdoors!