The other morning, after a snowfall with a grey sky that whispered of more squalls to come, I noticed a purple finch sitting on top of my jeep’s passenger-side door. There was a break in the clouds and he seemed to be sunning himself. A gust of wind blew in and he did something I’ve never observed before: he leapt off the car and “surfed” the wind alongside the car window, and then lifted and landed atop the car again when the breeze subsided. Did I really just witness a bird playing with the wind? A moment later another gust come in, and again, the bird dipped down off the car and appeared to surf, wings out but not moving, until the gust stopped and he rose to the roof top again, looking keenly in the direction of the wind as if anticipating another wave. I laughed in surprise at the playfulness of this wild bird.
Winter is full of crystalline beauty, peace - and the opportunity for fun. Taking time to get out into nature in all seasons is beneficial to our bodies, our minds, and our spirits too. Fresh air and sunshine reduces our susceptibility to colds and flu, as well as depression and anxiety. Studies show that time outdoors, and unplugged, decreases stress and eases the mind while increasing our creativity and sense of well being, and adding the component of outdoor play is the most natural way to elevate mood.
The ways in which we move through the winter world have another deep effect on us. Hiking over frozen ground and through snow is a worthwhile workout, but winter urges us to glide silently - to skate, ski, and sled. There is a special joy that comes from playing with the true nature of snow that we knew intuitively as children. We can reclaim that naturally elevated feeling when we find the glide again as adults.
Dr. John Kitchen, a retired neurologist who now goes by the name Slomo, has dedicated his remaining years to gliding up and down the boardwalks of San Diego on roller blades. He refers to the effect of lateral motion on the brain as “the zone” - something like pure bliss. Anyone who enjoys time on skis, or sledding down a hill, can probably relate to these good vibrations.
This winter has been a little tough for finding enough fluffy stuff, but around here we are blessed with high elevation drumlins (elongated hills of glacial sediments) that often have snow up top when the folks in the valley have none. Harriett Hollister Spencer State Recreation Area, with an elevation over 2,000 feet, catches some of the lake effect snows off Lake Erie over Western New York. I’ve often driven down Canadice Road in Springwater to just a half mile from the entrance before seeing any snow, getting there to find a magical winter wonderland awaiting. Harriett’s micro-climate makes it a great place for cross country, skate skiing, winter mountain biking, snowmobiling, and hiking.
Ontario County Park, with an elevation of 2,256 feet, is another snowy high point in the region. There are trails near the exit of the park that are especially conducive to skiing. Some of the trails run into miles of the Finger Lakes Trail Bristol Branch as well, so download a map before heading out. Open areas on the hilltop offer potential for sledding.
Bristol Mountain Nordic Ski Center at the Summit of Bristol has an inner Nordic skiing loop (1.2K) with snowmaking, and an outer loop (1.2K) with natural snow. Bristol also rents cross country, skate skis, and snowshoes. You don’t take the chair lift to get there! Drive up South Hill Road in Bristol to reach the top at about 2,200 feet.
If you’ve never tried cross country or skate skiing (the latter of which I think feels a lot like flying, or maybe a bird surfing in the wind), Bristol Summit Nordic Center offers lessons. I’m one of the instructors there, but any of us would love to help you learn some skills and techniques, at your own speed, so you, too, can glide through the winter - and follow your bliss!