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Finding happiness in winter

Barred owl at the Sax-Zim Bog. (Photo by Jason Mandich)

He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter. — John Burroughs

Like other of my fellow Minnesotans, I've had a conflicting and often strained relationship with winter. As a child, I was thrilled at the idea of a snowy day. I would lie awake at night, desperately hoping for mountains of fallen snow, enough to close school and provide a day of frolicking in a magical landscape. Winter adventure and activities such as sledding, skating, building forts and wading waist high through clean, white snow were equal to the warm fun of summer.

Somewhere along the line, my youthful exuberance for this frigid, snow-blanketed season turned to irritation and impatience. Of course, winter as an adult brings with it the chores of scraping car windshields, backbreaking shoveling and white-knuckle driving on treacherous roads. Grownups still have to make it into work, after all. For so many of my adult years, I would grudgingly endure the season with a dark, cold, and bleak perspective.

So what has reawakened my childish delight in winter and why was it an important transformation? This year in particular seems like one in which enjoyment, and the appreciation of nature, is significantly essential. So many of us have been obsessively focused on news, politics, natural and manmade disasters, injustices in the world and environmental issues. These subjects should and must be a concern in our lives, but the stressful, emotional and often worrisome information, combined with our own personal challenges, can make winter seem even more dispiriting and isolating. I found there is a simple remedy to the overwhelming cacophony of the world today. One enchanting walk at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park was all it took to shake me awake to the positive effects of nature.

Go outside. Not with shovel in hand or the list of errands to be completed, but to adventure and play. Not only will the sunlight help stave off the effects of our shorter, darker days, exercise will release energizing endorphins into your bloodstream and the surrounding beauty can have a calming effect. Act silly and childlike. Laugh with abandon as you slide over the snow.

The winter woods are quiet and peaceful. Although I spot more tracks in the snow than the actual creatures that make them, the prints tell a story that you wouldn't see in other seasons. I have followed deer trails in deep snow through the trees and over hills, sighted bald eagles soaring overhead and spent time searching for a pileated woodpecker I heard rapping on a tree. I have stood on the shores of Lake Superior when the roaring waves coat the rocky cliffs and branches with freezing spray, and also when the frigid water is as calm as a sheet of ice. The trails along the North Shore, such as Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse and Tettegouche State Parks, to name just a few, are spectacular in winter. The rocky beaches are magical and the ice formations and clear crisp waves are breathtaking.

Taking a trip to the Sax-Zim Bog is a winter excursion that also shouldn't be missed. It is located only 50 minutes northwest of Duluth. The bog is a wintering habitat for many species of owl and a variety of boreal birds. Most of the bird-spotting can be done from the car as you travel between the many feeding stations, but there are also some snowshoeing trails. Observing the many varieties of birds, spotting an awe-inspiring owl, or perhaps an ermine or two will hopefully make you forget about your smartphone and social media feed for a spell.

We sometimes forget that we are a part of a much larger ecosystem than the boundaries of our human lives and experience. Reconnecting with nature allows for a different perspective, one that can provide peace, tranquility and wonder. You may find that an outdoor experience gives you the resolve to make a positive impact in the world. It may grant you new strength and clarity to face your challenges and the renewed energy to conquer them. Winter can show us undeniable beauty and happiness. Bundle up and delight in this Northland season.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit wildwoodsrehab.org, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.

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