Reprinted from Dec. 5, 2007
I hope all of you were able to enjoy the three beautiful nights of Nov. 23, 24 and 25. They were the night before the full moon, the night of the full moon and the night after.
It is seldom that we have three crystal-clear nights in a row at the time of the full moon.
With a carpet of new snow on the ground, it was nearly as bright as day. The full moon creates a silver light that I have always found magical, no matter what the season. The deep velvet shadows have always been full of mystery. It is a great time to see nocturnal animals as well as listen for the calls of owls and other creatures.
In the past I have frequently prowled the woods at night, but now that we have a mountain lion in the area, it cramps my style. It is really no longer an option for me anyway, for one should not go out alone, as there is always he danger of falling, which I cannot risk. So I must now be content to see and hear what I can from our windows or the patio.
However, if you are young, able and have a companion to walk with you, I highly recommend moonlight walks. They can be full of adventure and knowledge.
A far easier activity for winter is the identification of the weed stalks, seed heads, capsules, beans, pods and berries that protrude above the snow. The seed-bearing vessels of plants, no matter what their shape or color, are the distinctive, fascinating final form of any plant.
Many are beautiful, others are insignificant, but all of them are the last form of a plant’s growth that we can observe and identify in winter. Many of them are so lovely that they are often referred to as the last flowers of the season, and people gather them in late summer and early fall to use in dried flower arrangements.
So, as I drive into the village to shop or go to the library or down Bear Creek Canyon for some reason, I sometimes watch to see which of theses “last roses of summer” I can see along the roadside.
There are often sprigs of whiskbroom parsley. Now, turned a pale straw color, they look much like small whiskbrooms poking up out of the snow; thus their name.
In open area I frequently see candle anemones, stiff stems lifting their cylindrical seed heads well above most snowfalls. Their seeds are matted together with a soft, fuzzy down that holds the seed heads together throughout the winter. In the spring, chickadees and other birds gather their soft cottony down to line their nests.
Along the creek, tall clumps of curly dock form huge splashes of brown. Their tall stalks can be used for large displays, or side branches can be pruned off for smaller displays. Down on the plains, many plants can be found such as teasel, several pieces of milkweed and the wild cucumber vines with their prickly, hollow, dry fruit skeletons and curling tendrils.
Grasses of many varieties remain above the snow during the first few snows, but their weak stems soon break and bend with the winds. Many plants that have tender stems are soon lost beneath the snowdrifts.
However, this does not mean their usefulness is lost, for their seeds provide food for mice and voles that tunnel beneath the snow and for migrating birds when the spring thaw comes.
A word of caution when collecting seed stalks and pods; Almost all of them are beautiful and make attractive arrangements; however, many of them are on the noxious weed list. So, make sure you put them head-down in a plastic bag so that you do not bring their seeds into a new area. Our noxious-weed pullers have enough work without our creating more areas that need weeding. Also, a few bursts of hairspray will glue many of the fluffy seedheads together without changing their color, making it possible to preserve such things as goldenrod, salsify and dandelions.