Nature Observation Through the Seasons February: The Beauty of DormancyJan 29, 2021 09:53AM ● By Tim Seifarth and Natasha Herr
Photo by Tim Seifarth
The rustle of the beech leaves. The crunch of frost beneath our feet. The hollow of the woodpecker hole. The emptiness of the bird’s nest, round like a circle, round like the earth. The plants, roots in wait for the opportunity of spring, just under the soil.
To the untrained eye, the winter season can look boring, dead and stripped of life. But to a nature lover, the winter landscape is rich with possibility, home to a still and quiet kind of dormancy with a beauty all its own.
Those of us that live in temperate regions are used to experiencing the Earth as a system that changes throughout the year. Our perception of the natural world is in no way static. Even in the height of the growing season, when the land is green and rich with life, there is an understanding that the circle of the year will soon turn to embrace fall, winter and eventually spring and summer again.
As our society has grown increasingly modernized and out of step with natural rhythms, our lives have become less governed by the seasons. For most of us, we no longer need to worry about growing or gathering all of our food, storing it for the cold months, shoring up our shelters in the fall, collecting firewood to see us through the winter or even moving to a new place seasonally as our nomadic ancestors once did.
Even so, we can still feel the rotation of the seasons as a guiding force in our world. The earth’s phases continue to have a strong influence on our moods, habits and daily life, no matter how separated we may seem from them.
Wintertime gives us a chance to see the land from a different perspective. As the sun’s warmth and light diminishes, the fertile richness of the growing season falls away. The “wall of green”— so easy to get lost in, so perfect for animals to hide their young within, so bright and full of life— disappears revealing a muted color palette, and a different collection of textures and patterns that are mostly hidden from sight during the warm months.
The cold season gives us a different opportunity to get lost. The winter gives us a chance to study the finer details of the world around us, to feel the texture of the tree’s bark, and to see the patterns of the dried plant stalks and seed heads that provide so much habitat and food to birds and insects. Easily overlooked in the thickness of summer, the dormant season gives us an opportunity to notice and appreciate the tiny worlds within the larger ecosystem. Mosses, lichen and fungi take on a starring role in their winter habitat as they creep over rocks, trees and logs.
We can notice the berries and the shrubs that provide food and habitat to the wild creatures—the elderberries, the winterberries, the hollies—and we can notice which species are native to this area and which are not. We can see the differences in the habitats and foods they provide and can observe that the native species are preferred by our overwintering birds, insects and animals for food and shelter.
Winter is also traditionally the time when we daydream and plan for warm season pursuits. For those of us that work with the land as growers or gardeners, the cold months are perfect for planning the layout of our gardens for spring, researching plant species and varieties and obtaining seeds.
Dormancy is potential. It is the understanding that something awaits, asleep. Soon, spring will arrive in all her color and beauty. Until then, we can embrace the pause. We can listen and learn and wait. And when the days lengthen and the heat of the sun returns, we will be ready to grow again.
Nature Awareness Prompts for February
Each month in these articles, we’ll include a few nature awareness and observation prompts to help us tune into the season and the environment around us. These could include thoughts and ideas to look up and research, things to notice in the natural world according to the seasons, tips and methods for encouraging biodiversity and healthy local ecosystems and environmental factors, species and locales to observe.
Pay attention to the cycle of the moon. Spend one month keeping track of where the moon is in the sky and what phase it is in. Notice when and where it rises and sets in the sky.
Find and identify one species of lichen, moss or fungi. (“Fungi” is another name for mushroom.)
Start to notice which plants and trees are considered “native” species and which are considered “invasive.” Find and identify one native and one invasive plant species, and one native and one invasive tree species.
Send us a message about what you see, hear, experience and find out. You can follow us on Facebook at Earthbound Artisan, find us on Instagram @earthboundartisanllc or email us at [email protected] or [email protected]. We can’t wait to hear from everyone.
Tim Seifarth, who has 24 years of experience as a landscape professional, opened Earthbound Artisan nearly a decade ago. Based out of Ephrata, and located along the Ephrata Linear Park Rail Trail, Earthbound is an ecological land care company and native plant nursery specializing in organic land management, permaculture, native plant ecosystem design and installation, dry stack stone work and riparian buffer and rainwater management. Natasha Herr has more than 15 years of experience as a naturalist, earth care professional, writer and community educator. She currently serves as Earthbound’s director of land management and operations manager. For more information, visit EarthboundArtisan.com and EarthboundNatives.com.