The unobstructed season

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"Miami - 80 degrees F. New Jersey - 32 degrees F. Brrrrrr." That was the inscription on a vibrant post card from a friend down South.

Seasonal escapees to Florida and similar toasty climates often tell me there is nothing they miss about New Jersey winters. "There's nothing to see," they claim. "Everything is bare and bleak, all the leaves are gone, there's no color anywhere."

But that's not completely true.

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Without their wardrobe of summer leaves, trees appear as pen-and-ink sketches of stark beauty. Boughs and branches gracefully emerge from solid trunks, narrowing to their twig tips like a black lace design. Tree silhouettes are accentuated by the changing background of winter sky tints and patterns.

"Bareness" reveals what was hidden before. With the absence of leaves, nests of all sizes and shapes are clearly visible: the orioles' hanging baskets; the dainty teacups of robins; the big, sloppy squirrels' nests; even the huge gray globes of paper wasps, with their multiple entry and exit holes. (So that's where all that buzzing was coming from!)

Entertainment is available with winter's excellent viewing opportunities of squirrels' acrobatic feats. They zip between and through trees and skim along boughs and branches, their sleek bodies moving in flowing, rhythmic grace.

The local bird population provides plenty of color, color that can now be seen in unobstructed detail: scarlet cardinals, bright bluejays, purple finches (which are really a rosy pink), and snazzy black-and-white woodpeckers with red splashes on their heads.

Spring-preview specials appear, too. Although nesting season is still a few months off, great horned owls are early birds. Their eggs, laid in February, hatch about six weeks later. Last year I watched the tiny, fuzzy owlets grow. But soon, spring-green leaves emerged and grew as well, so that by the time the owls were fledging I had to twist myself into pretzel shapes for glimpses of what earlier "bareness" had generously revealed.

Nocturnal skies are also winter treats, viewed through the huge old tree branches around my house. Although oak and maple leaves bring welcome shade in summer, their thick green curtains block the moon and stars as well. Only silver slivers and pinpricks sneak through the dense foliage then.

But now I can watch the moon wax and wane, rise and set across the sky. I can see the constellations, greet Orion and the Dippers as familiar friends each night.

So in response to those fleeing winterphobes, I can attest that there is always much to see. Nature gives us all a chance, whatever our climatic preferences may be. Winter, like the other seasons, is transitory in these parts. The snow will melt, leaves and flowers will return to summer lushness, and the canvas will change again: to something different hidden, something else revealed.

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