Winter tends to stir either delight or distress in most people. Some have been waiting for December 21 and the “Winter Solstice” to arrive with great anticipation. This, of course, is the official day when we have the longest darkness here in the northern hemisphere and when we also greet the arrival of the winter season.
Many people can’t wait for colder weather, snow, skiing, curling up by the fireplace and holiday times with family and friends. For me, it can mean noticing the quiet peaceful silence when I get to walk through the woods of Presque Isle or snap a few photos of the park’s winter wonderland. The inland trails of the park radiate a muffled kind of quiet that reduces the stresses of the day.
Other people dislike the storms, frigid temperatures and slick driving that the season always brings. I somewhat fall into this camp when it means shoveling or snow blowing and dealing with the dreadful unplowed roads and with the always possible ice problems so common in our area. An old English saying is, “summer comes in with a bound, and winter comes in yawning” . Don’t we all wish that was true here in northwestern Pennsylvania.
I was looking up exactly what the word solstice means and where it comes from. I found that it comes from the Latin words for “sun” and “to stand still.” Here in the northern hemisphere, as the summer and fall advance toward the winter’s season, the points on the horizon where the sun rises and sets progress further southward each day. At the winter solstice, the sun’s path can appear to stand still. This is somewhat true; however, it really just begins to change its direction at that time. At the Topic of Capricorn, which is in the southern hemisphere, on this day, high-noon is directly overhead and after that the sun begins its march northward.
Winter on Presque Isle can be very special for us humans and also for many of the park’s many creatures. I love the beauty of God’s airbrush when the first real snowstorm begins to cover the park’s imperfections with a flawless white veil of soft snow. The splendor of off-the-lake snowstorms can give the starkness of bare trees beautiful form and make Presque Isle look like a fairyland palace. Add to this the beauty of a light and fluffy snow cover on the many pines on the park, and a winter wonderland is born.
In winter when the dark and stormy days periodically arrive, I find they give me valid justification to curl up with a book and hibernate like a bear. Sure these kinds of days can be cold and miserable, but that also just gives us an excuse to keep warm with someone special. If the fireplace is roaring and soft music haunts the background, these kinds of days can turn into heaven.
George R.R. Martin, author, whose books have been the basis of the hit TV series, “Game of Thrones”, recently had the following comments regarding winter: “My old grandmother always used to say, Summer friends will melt away like summer snows, but winter friends are friends forever.”
On Presque Isle it is inevitable that sometime from October to early November the magnificent color of the park’s foliage comes to rest on the floor of the forest. And then one morning those leaves like magic are encrusted with many white ice crystals. I looked this up and found that old timers call this “hoar frost.” When this happens, as it already has in our area, it is a safe bet that within a short time of seeing this, the first snowflakes of the season will be moving onto Presque Isle. It sure did happen this year.
In my opinion, there is little in the world more beautiful than the forests of the park when they are dressed in the fresh light first snow of the season. It seems that these early snows have a special quality that allows them to cling to every blade of grass, every cattail or reed and even to the smallest of twigs on the bushes and trees of the park. All are clad in a coat of dazzling ice and snow. This produces a wonderful and beautiful scene that can make a stunning homemade local Christmas card.
With the coming of snow, the earth begins to turn hard and the waterways of the park and the Presque Isle Bay begin to freeze and take on a white/blue color. Because the temperatures have already dropped and held below 30 degrees, ice dunes have begun to form on the Lake Erie side of the park. This happen almost every year. Of course, these dunes are beautiful to look to at yet their real beauty is that they protect Presque Isle from the ravages of a stormy Lake Erie. Just a quick safety note here: the ice dunes are NEVER SAFE to climb or walk on. They are hollow and you could fall through and get trapped. Please just look and stay off the dunes.
This may also be the time when in early winter that the bird migration stops and the sky becomes quiet and nearly clear of traffic. With this arrival of winter, a change for the park animals and birds begins. The migration is over and the days are now noticeably shorter with December 21 the shortest daylight hours of the year. Food becomes in shorter supply and the park’s creatures need to begin to adapt to these obvious changes.
There are many owls on Presque Isle and this is the time of year you might begin to hear the familiar call of the Great Horned Owl. They are also known as hoot owls because of their deep tone hoo hoo hoo HOO HOO. Now, if you do hear this, the owl may be quite a ways away because on a quiet day or night their call can carry a mile or so. From now to January, the male and sometimes the female, begins calling. This is the beginning of the mating season and they have been separated since late last spring. This begins their mid-winter courtship.
It is usually mid-January when the Great Horned Owl begins nesting. They have the habit of hijacking the old nests of hawks, crows and sometimes herons or even squirrels who have built their nests high in a tall tree or snag of a still standing dead tree. On Presque Isle, over the last few years, the use of these old dead but standing snags is exactly where the owls have nested.
The Great Horned Owls are notoriously bad housekeepers and many times their old nests are too full of old bones and debris to reuse. The basic reason for this is that the two or three owlets must eat their weight in mice and other small creatures each day to survive. By the time the owlets are large enough to leave the nest; it is usually too full of junk like bones and other trash for them to stay anyway. While most birds can be considered as good housekeepers the Great Horned Owl is best described as quite a slouch in this department.
Winter on Presque Isle can be special. Over the two months, I will be featuring a few more blogs about the “Winter World” on the park. Until then:
See you on the Park!!
This post was written by admin