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December Moments

A guided winter hike at the H.R. Frink Centre, north of Belleville. Winter is a time to get out and enjoy Nature and the outdoors. Terry Sprague photo

I have the dubious distinction of annually celebrating my birthday on one of the shortest days of the year. This might account for why I have taken on the habits of redpolls and tree sparrows of the sub arctic tundra who routinely begin feeding long before the light of day. Similarly, my breakfast is over by 5:30 a.m. and my dog and I are well on our way across the fields for our walk. Early mornings are special to me, and always have been. We enjoy walking under the veil of darkness. Often, like the other morning, it is so quiet, we can clearly hear other early risers along the Northport Road, across the cattail marsh from us, as they open and close doors and start their day too. At least three great horned owls call every morning, invisible resonant hoots that float lazily back and forth, as though sharing gossip across the miles. Despite winter temperatures, these great horned owls however are not spreading idle gossip. They are into more serious stuff, for in a few short weeks, the distance between these calls will lessen as birds pair up and nesting begins. It seems early, and certainly not in  temperatures conducive to an intimate relationship, but horned owls must start their household duties early in the year as the process from eggs to fledged young, is a long one. Once again, we are starting to hear people drone on endlessly about the cold, the forthcoming snow, the wind, the ice, ad infinitum. We have chosen to live here, for whatever reason. If there is one undesirable feature of winter that I could single out, it would have to be the sea of salt that we now demand be in place so we can exercise our right to drive the roads as fast as we do in the summer.

Fortunately, kids have not yet adopted this hatred to the three lean months of the year. It is always refreshing to see,  after the first marked snowfall each winter, numerous kids enjoying a natural backyard hill at the north end of Belleville’s Pinnacle Street. Of course, the small slope at Zwick’s Park has become almost legendary with kids in past years, as they unknowingly toboggan down the slopes of a former landfill site. Elsewhere, we may be seeing a marked  decline in kids taking advantage of winter opportunities. Certainly, the former downhill ski slope at Picton’s Macaulay Mountain is no longer the congested spot it was in the 1980s. To use a favourite expression of a former colleague of mine, this steep hill was “brutal.” Few have ever tobogganed its entire length. I did on one occasion some 25 years ago when our son and his friend offered me a challenge I couldn’t refuse. It was definitely a scene straight from the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when we finally brought the waxed aluminum toboggan to a stop, just short of the back doors to the old conservation authority office, and just missing a stone retaining wall!

Early morning walks bring back memories of times when everyone accepted winter and learned to enjoy its many offerings. We are fortunate to live in an area that provides us with four seasons, each of reasonable length, unlike some areas that are forced to endure over a half year of snow and cold. Winter is but three months in length, and before we know it, we will once again be awash in lilac blossoms and migrating warblers, not to mention biting mosquitoes, stinging bees, summer droughts, thunderstorms and sunburn. Hmmm.

Let’s enjoy our winter walks this season and remember that the other three seasons have their drawbacks too.

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About the Author: Terry Sprague became interested in nature at an early age. "Growing up on the family farm at Big Island, 12 miles north of Picton, on the shore of the beautiful Bay of Quinte, I was always interested in the natural world around me. During my elementary school days at the small one-room school I attended on Big Island, I received considerable encouragement from the late Marie Foster, my teacher in Grades 6 through 8. Her home was a short distance from where I lived and through the years she was responsible for developing my interest in birds. The late Phil Dodds, a former editor with the Picton Gazette, also a great nature enthusiast, suggested I undertake a nature column - a column I have submitted weekly since 1965. The column has since expanded to the Napanee Beaver and the Tweed News. Life has been good, and through the years I have enjoyed working with such nature related agencies as Glenora Fisheries Research as a resource technician, Sandbanks Provincial Park as a park interpreter and Quinte Conservation as a naturalist and outdoor events coordinator. As a nature interpreter, currently working from my home office, I now create and lead numerous interpretive events in the area and offer indoor audio/visual presentations to interested groups. Could one who is interested in nature have enjoyed a more exhilarating period in the work force?" Terry's website is

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  1. LakeshoreLodge says:

    You paint a wonderful, calm, seasonable picture of your morning walks with your dog. Thanks for reminding us of the wonders of winter – I intend to get plenty of use of my snowshoes this winter, if we can only have enough snowfall. I may even allow myself to make a snowman and create a snow angel or two. Snow is magical, and so is winter! Imagine how boring spring would be if there was no winter to make it shine!

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