On and Off Earth: Winter walks

While there are drawbacks to wintertime walks on the big planet, there are also some big advantages. There are no issues with humidity and sweating, there are no flies, ticks or mosquitoes looking to snack on you, no spider webs to wrap around your face and no danger of surprise or attack from snakes.

Just follow the basic winter outdoor rules: dress in layers, adding a hat and gloves, wind and rain protection, as needed. I like a vest and hood in the mix. The more you get out in the winter, the better you’ll get at layering up. February helps you get out, tilting us back sunward; every day, the sun is rising a minute earlier, setting a minute later.

I will leave it for you to decide if coming back into a toasty warm house after a chilly walk is better than returning to a cool house after time spent out in the summer heat.

It has been years, perhaps over a decade, since I have heard the “Bob White” call of my area’s namesake bird, the Quail. Perhaps replacing the quail, certainly in the surprise factor, I’ve just added a new bird to my life list, the woodcock.

Like the quail, the woodcock waits until I’m close before exploding into flight, twittering as it flees, just like the bird book says. Woodcocks look like flying, feathered softballs with ridiculously long beaks. Recently, after one such startling encounter, a hawk, I’m sure with sinister intentions, launched, following the woodcock couple deeper into the woods; the daily dance of life and survival on stark display. 

It has also been awhile, almost two years, since we had a day where temperatures remained below freezing for the entire day. This past Sunday temperatures even dipped into the teens at my house. During that same time span, any real snow has been absent, too. A walk in falling snow is far superior to a walk in a cold, winter rain.

That is far different than when I first moved back to Virginia, to Louisa, in the early 1990s and ice skated for days on the pond, well frozen, in the back yard of the house I had the pleasure of renting. No ice skating around here in these warmer days; even the Great Lakes remain mostly ice-free again this winter.

The Full “Snow” Moon occurs on Feb. 27. A week before, the near first quarter moon does its monthly slide past Mars. Dimmer than last fall, but still rust red, high up in the southern, early evening sky, Mars remains the only planet easily visible in February. The sun is well into Capricorn to begin February, sliding into Aquarius on the 17th.

One year ago, I was just returning home after an amazing week of skiing in the French Alps. There were many more faces covered with masks on our return trip than we’d seen on the way to Europe. There was a bit of banter in our group about the reports of a deadly virus in China but we took no precautions. However, the day after our return, all three airports we passed through began restrictions; the pandemic was underway. So sad that our response, so poor in so many ways, has our country still breaking infection and death records.

I am on the vaccine list, waiting to raise a sleeve, but mask always at the ready and hopeful that I will be able to travel this year, safely, far beyond the woods I wander daily. Let’s get it done, America. 

Randy Holladay is a retired Louisa County High School earth science teacher. He can be reached at oldrockguy@gmail.com.

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