It’s December, and I find myself singing along to all the holiday songs on the radio and playing in the stores. That song about walking in a winter wonderland sure is a fun one to sing…
Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight
We're happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland
But let’s be honest – walking in the Northwest Indiana winter with the freezing winds snatching away your body heat, biting at your cheeks, stinging your nostrils, and making your eyes water - what is it about being outside in the winter that might make us want to sing a jingle?
Nine out of ten dogs know the answer – there is so much to see, smell, hear, and lose yourself in when outside in nature, even during the winter. Our own dog, Misty, can hardly contain herself when the word “walk” is uttered. She becomes a four-legged bouncy ball at the mere mention of that word. Misty the dog does have it right, though; being outside is awesome!
A winter walk on the Kankakee Sands prairie can be an enchanting experience. It’s a much quieter world without the summertime chorus of chirping birds and buzzing insects. Looking closely, you are sure to see movement in the grasses, tracks in the snow, and birds soaring in the sky. Listening intently, you will hear the flutter of feathers, the crunching of leaves under hooves and paws, snorts and whistles. With your eyes and ears, you can discover just who is “Home for the Holidays” – and they are some real treasures: the state-endangered short-eared owl and northern harrier, the sandhill cranes, northern bob-white quail, turkey, red fox, rabbits, and deer.
Just like the birds and mammals, the human being--that’s us!—is also meant to be in nature. The benefits to the human body of surrounding oneself in nature have been scientifically proven over and over again to be all-encompassing in ways that are mentally, physically, and spiritually beneficial.
Maybe you’ve heard of the Japanese art of forest bathing – walking alone in nature to reconnect, recharge, and relax. There’s also ecotherapy, which is becoming popular in the United States and refers to both the healing and the growth that a person experiences by having a healthy interaction with nature. Take these two concepts and add in a friend, family member, or pet, and you have something to really sing about!
This wintertime, consider spending time in nature with family members, friends, and/or a pet to relieve stress and recharge. Walking together with relatives can take the awkwardness out of family time, giving you new experiences to have together and avoiding those dreaded political discussions!
Most people find that it's relatively easy to come together around a shared love of nature and let the differences fall away. Do you have to talk while you walk? – nope! You can silently stroll together, enjoying the sights and sounds, appreciating one another, being grateful for the safety that you feel when walking together, and delighting in the cool, crisp air. Or if silently strolling isn’t for you, perhaps you’d like to sing a few songs as you walk … Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go…
Before you head out this winter, be sure to dress for the adventure. You don’t need fancy name-brand gear – just clothing appropriate for the temperatures. Wear several layers of clothing to trap in your body’s heat. Have gloves, a hat, and scarf with you that you can wear to protect your hands, head, and face because keeping those three parts of your body warm often makes for a much more enjoyable walk. Warm socks and waterproof footwear can keep your tootsies toasty. And finally, have a dry set of clothes at the ready that you can change into after the winter walk is complete. Be sure to remove any wet or sweaty clothing so that you can feel cozy and warm after the hike has concluded.
Ready to get out there into that winter wonderland? Here are a few upcoming opportunities to join in on:
Join Friends of the Sands for their annual December 24 Hike along the 2-mile Grace Teninga Trail at Kankakee Sands.
Attend the Friends of the Sands’ Last-Day-of-the-Year Hike on December 31 along the 1.6-mile Conrad Station Savanna Trail.
Sign up for any one of the 13 First-Day-of-the-Year Hikes at State Parks around the state of Indiana!
Take the Indiana Wetland Challenge: The Indiana Land Protection Alliance has put together a brochure of 35 wetlands in Indiana to visit, learn about and promote by taking and sharing photos on social media by using the hashtag #IndianaWetlands. Thirteen of the 35 wetland locations are right here in Northwest Indiana!
As we eagerly wait for Mother Nature to let it snow, let it snow, let it snow… we can bundle up and enjoy the gift of walking in the winter wonderland this holiday season.
The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands is an 8,300-acre prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. For more information about Kankakee Sands, visit www.nature.org/KankakeeSands or call the office at 219-285-2184.