Winter Walk

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Published on: Jan. 16, 2014

It was a case of whodunit. Who made the footprints on the canvas of new-fallen snow?

We knew that it was not a dog or a cat, for each track had only two toes that plunged deep into the snow. A little farther along were many more of the same tracks. Then, as my family followed them like a crew of detectives, we saw the animals that had left them behind as they bound away with their white tails held high. We had found deer tracks. For preschool-age children, it was a fun and exciting adventure.

Family outings need not be reserved for spring, summer, and fall. Winter is more than bare trees and red, fluffed-up cardinals sitting on branches. It is a great time to see nature’s splendor in a different light.

Mysterious Trees

Most of our native trees drop their leaves just before the cold, grey days of winter to reveal many features not seen under a cover of leaves. Just the mere outline, or silhouette, of each tree is a fascinating sight — trees without their clothes on as my 4-year-old pointed out.

Some trees can be identified at a distance by their overall shape. Elm trees, for example, often have a vase-shaped “skeleton.” Other trees may be recognized by their unique bark patterns. Sycamores usually have bone white or spotted grey and white bark. Persimmon trees look like they have blocky alligator-like skin. Hackberries have warty trunks, and honey locusts are armed with long, sharp spines.

Strange features such as galls and burls are also much easier to spot in the absence of leaves. Galls often look like brown golf balls attached to twigs. They may be caused by fungus or bacteria, but they are often caused by insects such as wasps, which sting or pierce the twig and lay eggs. The tree’s tissue becomes irritated and then responds by encasing the egg or tiny feeding larvae in layer after layer of plant cells. When warmer days arrive the new insect emerges from the gall. It is like a personal little room to stay in all snug and warm until spring returns.

Burls are bark-covered lumps and bumps on trees that come in all shapes and sizes. They may appear as familiar objects, from mushrooms to hearts. Some even look like faces looking back. Burls can grow very large. They are most often produced as a response

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