On the winter solstice, a full moon broke through for a short amount of time after hours of heavy rain. I was walking home from an impromptu holiday gathering with a friend through our neighborhood and we decided to extend our walk over to the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail. It was a brief but beautiful walk before the clouds rolled back in and our beds beckoned.
Years ago, I heard about the Nordic practice of letting children nap for an hour every day outside – even in freezing cold temperatures – in hopes that it would prevent illness. So I applied it to myself for several years, walking every day throughout the winter. It worked. The first year I did it, I had no colds. And, in general, I was much happier.
My goal of opting outside once the colder weather settled in didn’t go well at first, probably because the days after Thanksgiving were frigid. I wasn’t ready for cold weather that soon. And given the option of a fire and a good book, I stayed inside. But determined to venture out, I pushed myself. I realized that with all the business of the holidays and a demanding work schedule, only short hikes would be doable. I’d have to squeeze them in between other obligations. The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy Nature Preserves around town were perfect for this.
On Christmas afternoon, I took the dog over to Normanskill East, along the tributary to the Hudson River. I’ve always walked on the Albany side, so this was a treat. It’s a brief hike, but perfect for a quick outing with the dog. The views of the Normanskill farm and the Normanskill are breathtaking. After the normal craziness of Christmas morning, this was a welcome reprieve before we prepared Christmas dinner.
Then just before my daughter went back to Brooklyn after spending the holiday with us, we stopped at the Schiffendecker Preserve on our way to Walmart. I had never hiked this one, but have driven by it hundreds of times. While it was a little slick and muddy due to the warmer temperatures, we were surprised at how interesting this trail was with its meandering stream and old trees. It felt like we were in the middle of the Catskills at some points, despite the fact that a Walmart was so close.
In the winter woods, the sun filters through differently with the trees bare. And as my daughter points out, the landscape is very brown. But if you look closely, you can see berries and vivid moss. The ice forms interesting patterns and colors and there’s a pleasant silence. Make sure you sign in at trailheads and let someone know where you’re going. Better yet, bring a friend.
I’ve gotten out my MHLC Nature Passport and am already planning for some future winter hikes. There’s no reason to save these until spring or summer.
Donna Liquori is a freelance writer and editor. You may have met Donna at an MHLC event: she is a long-time, dedicated volunteer with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.
Looking for a place to #optoutside this winter? Find a nature preserve near you!