Bird house under crabapple tree with snow on top

November 11, 2022

Paying Attention

Walking in a winter wonderland

Snowfall is always expected in the northland. When winter white will arrive is the unknown. Last night, two nights past the full moon, I went to bed as the ground outside began to take on her cloak of white. White is the collection of all color. White brings forth the bold patterns in the woods, marking branches, needles, tree trunks and frozen rosehips still on the stem. I forget each year how much I enjoy the gift of snow, the gift of seeing the woods around me in a different way.

Stepping outside with Bandit, our seven year old hunting dog, we begin a walk around the yard. Looking up at snow frosted needles, I see what was hidden in plain sight most of the summer. Every red pine tree shows it’s age by the staggered stems, pruned close to the trunk by age and lack of sunlight, now capped by a skiff of white. Starting near the ground I can count the age of the tree by simply counting snow spots all the way up the trunk. I easily reach 35, 37, 41 before I stop counting tree ages. I’m getting dizzy. The red pines in our yard were all planted the same year, however just like humans, they are not identical in form or height. They do however all grow in the same way, by putting a new whorl of branches on each year. Counting these whorls can give you an idea of how old a tree may be!

Before the snow came, to celebrate my October birthday, my husband and I drove up to the Big Bog Bogs are interesting places, mostly known for their peatlands, but also known for their unique plant life. Plants that have become adapted to living with few nutrients. Pitcher plants, which resemble a small pitcher, especially in the way they hold water, are found in bogs. Creatively the plants have evolved a method of capturing insects to expand their access to nutrients. Look closely and you will see tiny hairs on the inside of the plant, all pointing downward. Insects that fly into the plant, attracted by smells, often find themselves trapped. Eventually falling into the water held by the plant their bodies decompose and supply the pitcher plant with a much needed meal!

So what does the Big Bog have to do with trees in my yard? Size matters. When we traveled to the Big Bog, in addition to small herbaceous plants there are trees. And the trees are relatively short in size, often quite skinny and sometimes nearly appearing dead. In the case of tamarack trees or northern larch, if viewed in winter, after snowfall, they do appear dead. Tamarack trees are one of the few coniferous trees that dump their needles every year, saving energy over a long winter. You might recognize tamaracks by their golden glow every October. Tamarack trees are also found in bogs, along with black spruce. Neither one grows very large in the acidic and low nutrient soils of the bogs. Counting branch whorls won’t help you see their age. Using a technique called coring (check out this awesome story by dendrochronologist Shelly A. Rayback, University of Vermont), trees can be aged by taking a sample of their trunk and counting the rings. In places like bogs, a 200 year old tree may only be eight feet tall and the width of your leg! Trees are interesting creatures, are they not?

Bandit and I continued our morning snow walk down the road and into the park. Everywhere I turned, on white pines and oaks, on grasses and hazel, skiffs of snow outlined the mostly denuded limbs of shrubs while bending down the larger branches of trees. Bandit, in his eagerness to explore the sides of the trail, was also covered in a coat of snow. I smiled, walked on and just took it all in.

I hope you find a moment today to stop, look around, and pay attention.

Be curious, grow courage, and spread compassion.

For more about bogs check out the newly arrived book by Annie Proulx, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Fen, Bog & Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis.



 Welcome, Aaniin, Sat Nam

I celebrate life and share my passion for learning, rooted in the natural world….


"My nose feels the gentle burst of air as the smaller nuthatch flies by my face to escape the chaser. Being brushed by the wings of a nuthatch is almost as good as having one light on your finger." 
from Observing

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