Book of January
I have a number of winter nature books, but one of my go-to favs is A Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald W. Stokes. My copy is old (1976–it was a very good year–I graduated from high school) and a bit weathered, but that’s because it has seen frequent use.
Divided into eight field guides, Stokes covers all aspects of winter: winter weeds; snow; wintering trees; evidence of insects; winter’s birds and abandoned nests; mushrooms in winter; tracks in the snow; and woodland evergreen plants.
For each topic, pen-and-ink drawings by illustrator Deborah Prince and the author are included in the key, as well as natural history descriptions.
The natural history descriptions are just that–Stokes’s descriptions are part of the story that Kevin Harding of the Greater Lovell Land Trust reminds us to share with others. Here’s an example: “St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum)–An old country custom in Europe was to hang a special yellow-blossomed plant in your window on the eve of St. John’s Day (June 24), in order to repel bad spirits and counteract the evil eye. In general, the presence of this plant was considered a good omen, and since it was thought that the plant warded off lightning and revealed the identity of passing witches, St. Johnswort was allowed to prosper around the farmhouse. It became known as St. John’s Plant or St. Johnswort (wort meaning “plant” or “herb”). When the plant immigrated to North America it left its traditions behind, and although still as effective as it probably ever was against evil, St. Johnswort is now seldom used for that purpose.” Of course, then he goes on to describe how the plant grows and the seed heads that will appear in the winter landscape.
One of the things I’ve learned from this book is to keep it simple. In the chapter about winter trees, Stokes encourages the reader to begin with the six most common deciduous trees: oak; maple; ash; beech; birch; and aspen. Learning these along with the evergreens provides you with knowledge about 80% of the trees in your forest. I’ve spent the last couple of years developing my bark eyes. I still have much to learn, but can eliminate the common species when I encounter bark I’m uncertain about.
It’s well worth taking the time to read A Guide to Nature in Winter from cover to cover–it’s an easy and enjoyable read. I say it won’t take long–unless you are like me and you pause to underline (yes, I mark my books up–even write in the margins, oh my!) details and take time to understand what you do see along the trail. I probably should invest in a more up-to-date copy, but I feel right at home engrossed in the one that I have.
And it’s also easy to turn to a particular chapter to figure things out. The simplified, illustrated keys should bring you quickly to an identification. And as I said before, the natural history description will further enhance your learning.
The book is available at Amazon.com, but if you live near an independent book store like Bridgton Books, then I strongly encourage you to shop there.
A Guide to Nature in Winter: Northeast and North Central North America, by Donald W. Stokes, illustrated by Deborah Prince and the author, published 1976, Little, Brown & Company.