On Winter Optimism
By Dottie Drockton, Naturalist
Winter’s short days, bare trees, cloud cover, frigid temperatures, limited birdsong and gray tones of the landscape seem to elicit a sense of gloom. Author Isabelle Klein, writing in Letters from Sawdust, told the story of a seventh-grade class in 1970 asked to predict what the year 2000 would be like. Eighty percent had written that there would be nobody here in the year 2000! As we begin the year 2021, Geauga Park District’s 60th anniversary, it may be difficult to maintain a sense of optimism. As observers of Nature, although we may dread the withering of life that accompanies winter’s chill winds, we also know it to be only one part of a cycle of death and rebirth, and so we have hope for the future.
The patterns, fragrances and melodies of Nature are constantly changing. Nature is by nature an optimist and, in my experience, if we listen, it will speak to us of memories as it fills us with future promise. As we immerse ourselves more completely, we begin to notice that bare branches are covered with buds holding embryonic leaves, seeds on the once colorful flower stalks are poised to take flight with the next breeze, snow crystals sparkle in the sunshine and tracks in the snow tell stories of winter-active wildlife. Wrapped in layers against the chill wind, we venture outdoors and cling to thoughts of spring: voices of amphibians and returning songbirds, blossoms of wildflowers, and greening of forest and field. Annually, these natural awakenings fill our hearts with optimism as they connect us with the people who share our appreciation of these joys. As the days begin to get longer, we eagerly anticipate the “first of the year” cardinal song, spring beauty bloom, painted turtle at the pond, spring peeper trill or morning cloak butterfly flight.
Naturalists enjoy many opportunities to reflect on the simple joys of the natural world throughout the seasons by personal observations and vicariously as visitors, young and old, share their observations with us. Sources of joy are the delighted squeals of preschoolers spotting a toad, the sparkle in the eyes of an adolescent kayaking, the flushed cheeks of a family exploring a trail, the wagging tail of a pooch bounding through the snow, or the smile of a senior telling tales of wildlife experiences in “the good old days.”
Sharing our observations of Nature is one of the ways we connect with each other, and sustain our optimism. Everyone, whether strolling solo down a park trail, feeding chickadees from a hand, walking with a friend or exploring the outdoors at a Geauga Park District program, can take the time to observe Nature and become grounded in hope for the future. Too often we miss the tiny tracks, sparkling snowflakes, melody of a songbird, “who cooks for you” of an owl or frosty ice crystals on the stream or pond in our preoccupation with the desolate aspects of the season or of our world. In doing so, it is not Nature that has failed us; it is we who have failed to notice the hope that it offers.
It is wonderful to live in Geauga County, a place where so many residents value and nurture the natural surroundings. “Preserve, conserve and protect” pervades our community, and Geauga Park District history’s. In my childhood, more than 50 years ago, Peter Ruh shared the promise and hope of springtime by giving an azalea blossom to each student on the school bus he drove. Today, much of the Ruh family land has become Geauga Park District’s Sunnybrook Preserve. As with each of the park lands, it shares the promise of wild blossoms, owls, ravines and stately trees for many future generations.
Geauga Park District recognizes that the preservation of natural areas represents our faith in the future, and teases our appetite for discoveries that will refresh our memories and supply us with new discoveries to share. Isabelle Klein said it well: “This is the greatest challenge to the educational endeavors of museums (parks) and schools: to convince people that Nature’s heartbeat is in truth their own – A Herculean task.” We at Geauga Park District believe it to be a task well worth the effort, and look forward to celebrating 60 years with you throughout 2021.