Make the most of a warm winter day – Knox County VillageSoup

Make the most of a warm winter day – Knox County VillageSoup

Yes, it’s almost January, and winter has set in for the duration. Snow covers the frozen ground, and cold below zero makes it uncomfortable to be outside. Outdoor gardening is completed by next spring. And yet the sun is still shining and it is not every day that there are freezing temperatures.

Some winter days just scream for us to go out and have fun. One thing I regularly do in the winter, like to brave the cold and snow, is to have an outdoor barbecue. In my last house, I had a special stand on the back deck for a gas grill, and I kept the deck and grill clear of snow so I could go out on the warmer days and enjoy cooking.

My new place has a screen porch behind, one step up from the open deck from before. That means no snow or ice, or even rain. So there is no good reason not to go out and cook. I do not always eat outside, but still food cooked on the grill tastes just as good, whether it is eaten inside or outside.

In my younger days, I was happy to build a campfire and roast game – or beef when I did not get a deer – on a stick over the campfire. I even made some Dutch oven cooking over the fire using a wrought iron rack and S-shaped pot hooks. On New Year’s Day, I returned to the Dutch oven and made hot greased rum, a hearty drink, taken outside whatever the weather, to welcome the New Year.

Winter comfort

Here is something to consider about being outside in the winter. As long as the wind is not blowing, the cold is not the big problem. Sunny, windy days in winter, even with sub-zero temperatures, feel comfortable for the home gardener. I cut wood when the temperature was in my teens, only wearing a sweater. Wind conducts the heat from our bodies, but on a windless day, whether it is cold, we can feel very comfortable outside, at least for a short time.

Most of us spend winter nights inside, tightly enclosed by the heater or stove. That’s fine, but again, windless nights can be a joy. I started on amateur astronomy about 25 years ago and found that winter offers the best possible views of the sky. Stars stand out as if they were laid on top of a pitch black background. Deep-sky objects such as star clusters and galaxies entice us to observe them more closely with a telescope or binoculars.

In addition, Maine offers some of the best stargazing in the East, thanks to minimal air pollution and, except in cities, light pollution. To emphasize that point, just check out a night satellite image of northern New England and you will see much of Maine depicted as completely black. Light from neighboring states and provinces is evident, but the darkness that envelops large parts of Maine every night is something people in other states can only envy.

If you really enjoy stargazing in the winter, it may pay to keep an area clear of snow to make it easy to set up a telescope or even a lawn chair for binocular viewing. Even without optical assistance, there are plenty of amazing sights in the sky in winter, including meteor showers. The International Space Station frequently passes over Maine, and you can go to NASA’s website or elsewhere to get location, time, and direction data. If you do, be sure to be out when the site tells you to, because the ISS is never delayed, but always prompt, to the other.

Note that if you maintain a snow-free area for stargazing or other outdoor activities, these will be the last to thaw in the spring, as the lack of snow cover causes the frost to penetrate deeper than it normally would. As long as this is not over a garden area, it is no problem.

Animal tracks

Here is another outdoor activity in the winter that you can do on your own property, no matter how small. It follows and identifies animal tracks. A book or booklet about animal tracks will help tremendously. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (mefishwildlife.com) has posters and maps showing the various tracks.

And do not forget the birds. Each bird has a unique track, and with each new snow, you will be treated to a visual representation of which birds visited your feeder in the early morning hours.

So try to get out this winter. It’s not as uncomfortable out there as you might think.

Tom Seymour from Frankfort is a homeowner, gardener, feeder, naturalist, registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.

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