We’ve turned the clocks back, the first snow has fallen, and the days are getting shorter. But we’re in Maine! We’ve been taking to the outdoors in record numbers all summer, to compensate for the pandemic, election stress, and other 2020 woes, and we’re certainly not going to let winter change that. We’ve all got strategies, tactics, and motivations for staying outdoors even when the temperature drops. What better way to let the stress of November 3 drain than to get outside (once you have voted, of course).
Like many of you, I am part of the reason Maine’s state parks and trails have been so busy this year. Spending time in the company of Maine’s impeccable natural resources is good medicine!
Growing up in Limestone, I learned to embrace winter; therefore, I’m aspiring to spend as much time outdoors this winter as I did this summer. Two of my favorite activities are winter hiking and snowshoeing. There are no bugs, no tree roots, and no rocks and the trails are uncrowded. I check the weather and choose a trail based on the forecast. Also, think of places that are hard to access during the summer: boggy areas that are difficult to explore in the summer are unlocked for your viewing pleasure once the ice sets in. Without leaves on the trees, the summit vistas are breathtaking. Cold air is so clear, that distant peaks appear to be close enough to touch. I also love how differently sound waves behave in cold air; sound is so much more crisp and vibrant than during the summer.
Fresh snow provides the perfect storyboard of wildlife activity. Not only are the resident species revealed in nature’s perfect census count, but the tracks of predator/prey encounters are vividly captured in a way that highlights the struggle for survival in the wild. The tracks of a Red Fox chasing a Snowshoe Hare on the edge of a field can quickly cover several hundred square feet—until the hare manages to dart into the thick cover of young evergreens or a briar patch. I once had a Ruffed Grouse explode from deep powder while I was only three feet away from it. It had used the deep snow as insulation from a frigid night.
If you are making the first tracks, snowshoes are perfect. I have a pair of lightweight aluminum snowshoes that have aggressive cleats on them. They are perfect for climbing as well as level terrain. I also have a pair of wooden snowshoes that are heavier and slower, but I just love the vintage feel of them. They are literally a step back in time.
Increasingly, I find myself using the snowshoes less. Rather, I’m spending much more time with lightweight microspikes on my hiking boots. Microspikes cost far less than snowshoes and are super easy to use. They are particularly well suited for popular trails where the snow has been compressed by the hikers that have preceded you. Within a day of fresh snow, the snow becomes packed enough that a cold night will make it solid enough to walk on without “postholing.” I have several pairs of microspikes but my favorites, made by Kahtoola, have a rubber harness that stays snug on my hiking boots and cleats that are triangles of sharp metal that are about three-eighths of an inch on each side. These grip incredibly well so that descending a long sheet of ice happens with zero drama. With the confident grip of the microspikes, the lack of rocks and tree roots, and cool, refreshing air, winter hiking is often faster than summer hiking; but don’t go too fast, because there is so much to see!
As you might imagine, most of us at Maine Audubon embrace winter as well. Sally Stockwell, Director of Conservation, loves getting outside in winter. “I’m all for getting out on cross-country skis or snowshoes, roaming through the woods, no matter what the weather is,” she says. “In fact, some of my best forays have been while the snow is cascading down, the trees all bent over, and you have to weave your way through the tunnels, brushing the snow off yourself after it brushes down from the bent branches. I’ve also found wonderful discoveries while out, like a trail of otter footprints and slides moving across a lightly crusted snow surface, which I ended up tracking for at least an hour to a small stream where they suddenly disappeared underwater. Or maybe you find a melted batch of hardened snow where the deer bedded down the night before. Or tracks of a fisher following tracks of a snowshoe hare. Or a small hole in the snow with mist coming out of it, signaling the hiding place of a squirrel from the -25 degree temperatures. There is just so much wonder to enjoy.”
Sally is a skater, too, and says, “Another favorite of mine is to don ice skates early in the season, when the pond ice has frozen but the snow has not yet fallen, and skate in circles around the pond, looking through the clear ice at the bubbles and cracks, and feeling the brisk cool air rush across my face.”
Peter Baecher, Director of Properties, is another winter-lover. His winter survival tip? “WOOL! then the outdoors is great in almost any weather. I proselytize for wool, unabashedly.”
Peter says “with preparation (i.e., proper clothing and footwear) it’s just time outside in a spare environment—an ascetic experience in a way because there are fewer distractions and things seem more elemental.” He saves his tree pruning projects for the dormant winter months. “And shoveling pathways to various locations in the yard is rewarding too,” he says. “For going outside in the winter, I almost always have a fire in the woodstove; then I find or manufacture reasons to go outside—just to have the experience later of walking back in to the wood-heated room. Nothing like it.”
We hope you’ll find ways to embrace winter, too, and invite you to share them with us. Comment on this blog post, share with us on our social media channels, or email [email protected].