Outside story

Print More

(HOST) It’s often said that winter days are “a good time to be inside with a good book”, but commentator Tom Slayton says they’re also a good time to be “outside” with a good book – and he’s got one particular book in mind.

(SLAYTON) December might be the quietest month in the woods. And though it’s not the coldest, it sure seems like the darkest. You have to plan your walks now.

Nevertheless, there’s something that pushes me outdoors, even in December. Maybe it’s just to prove that I can still survive the dark time; maybe it’s just that I’ve heard too much canned Christmas music.

Whatever the reason, the silence of the winter woods is a refuge this time of year.

And there’s always something to see. There’s a big pileated woodpecker living in the woods near my house – that’s a woodpecker as big as a crow with a flaming red crest. Maybe I’ll see him. Or I might flush out one of the partridges across the way.

Even in December, there’s a lot going on in the woods, though some old-timers say on a still winter night, “It’s quiet enough to hear a mouse snore.”

I got that last little bit of folklore from one of my favorite magazines, Northern Woodlands. Its philosophy is about as close to a Vermont-bred forest ethic as you’re ever going to get. It’s a belief that forests can be beautiful, healthy, and productive, all at the same time. Wilderness is a good thing in that view – but so is a well-managed woodlot. In short, Northern Woodlands believes in careful forestry, based on science – and an appreciation of the beauty and complexity of a living forest.

Now Northern Woodlands has just published a new nature book entitled The Outside Story, a collection of pieces exploring the natural world of Vermont and New Hampshire. It’s got essays that focus on the usual subjects – deer, bobcats, sugar maples and spring warblers – and also essays that look at the interwoven complexities of the natural world – the connection between songbirds and shade-grown coffee, for example; or the effects of acid rain on the Northern Forest.

But perhaps the outstanding feature of this book is the calendars of nature’s current events included for each week of the year. These calendars, painstakingly done by Northern Woodlands‘ co-editor Virginia Barlow, are a boiled-down compendium of fascinating seasonal information, presented week-by-week. Did you know, for example, that deer mice line their winter nests with milkweed fluff?

I like to think of the little brown-and-white mice, snuggled into their downy nests, snoring away as I walk through the winter woods. I like knowing that the ruffed grouse I see have already formed coveys and will stay together through the coming winter. And that the frozen apple I found stuffed into the crotch of a maple was put there by a squirrel who will be back for it.

To really enter the woods – to comprehend a forest intimately – you need to use both your heart and your head. The articles in The Outside Story, gathered from Northern Woodlands Magazine and local newspapers, are a good way to get started using both.

Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine.

Comments are closed.