Winter in the Woods

Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast… a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.

So writes Edward Abbey, in a passage that Ken sent to me nearly two years ago. The quote is now stuck to my fridge, and I abide by it as best I can.

It’s pretty easy to find areas of untouched forest within my city. Living in a floodplain, it’s only practical to leave natural vegetation growing around the rivers – it acts as a natural sponge when the water rises. In the warmer months, hiking in the woods is convenient, particularly because I can bike to the edge of the river. But in the winter, it’s not so easy. The past few months have consistently been about 10 C above normal, though, and today I found a shortcut that made the trip to the woods walkable.

The aspen parkland in winter is strange. Most wildlife travel south or begin hibernating by early October, and no evergreen species grow here naturally. As you walk through the naked branches, it’s easy to think of the woods as desolate. But if you slow down, pay attention, and look around more carefully, you see signs of life in the distance:

Black-capped Chickadee

White-tailed Deer

If you stand still and do your best to look non-threatening, some of the more curious animals might come for a closer inspection:

If you imitate a bird's call well enough, it will come right up to you

A mother deer and her fawn, probably about eight months old

The species that live here year-round are some of the most resilient on the continent. They have survived 40 above and 40 below, near-annual droughts and floods, and 150 years of colonization. The Prairies is a climate of extremes, and life has evolved to thrive in those extremes.

So maybe this isn’t the land I am fighting for – it will probably be able to handle whatever climate change throws at it – but it is the land I love regardless.

Happy Christmas to everyone, and please go out and enjoy the land you’re fighting for, as a gift to yourself.