Winter's knocking, heralding one of nature's subtler lessons: less is more.

Take a walk in the woods before the snows fall, preferably on a frigid, windy, cloudless day.

The first thing you'll notice is you can walk in places that would be impassable in other seasons. Underbrush - clinging, cloying, choking the rest of the year - is bare, stripped, easily passable.

Second, you'll see the ground. It is exposed. No wall of vegetation blocks the view.

And third, marshes, bogs, wetlands, shallow creeks, ponds, and lakes are frozen. Water is now a bridge; or at least an icy demarcation allowing for the clear plotting of routes that bypass such hiking hazards.

Low-lying nests and burrows appear where before they were covered. Peering in one nest, I notice seeds, dozens of them, from a nearby berry bush. (The bush caused the nest to be built here in the first place.) The seeds, part of the lining of the nest, also make a food cache. So this is how smaller birds hunker down in a blizzard.

Winter woods amplify the noisy labors of woodpeckers' rat-a-tat-tat; their drilling's plainly visible. Sans foliage, the forest is one big Swiss cheese.

Some holes are gnawed larger, by squirrels most likely; some are big enough for the biggest of owls. No rent control here, or deeded property. In New England, if a great horned owl desires occupancy, no other creature in the treetops can stop it.

Observing trees standing along a pond's edge, it is easy to imagine nesting wood ducks four months hence, their eggs hidden from predators, the chicks protected until their first plummet to the ground.

Winter woods in New England - so much more than meets the eye.


(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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