Running programs in the ravines all year, I get to appreciate each season’s special gifts – the beauty of new green growth in spring, the warm sunshine and flower-filled days of summer, the spectacle of changing colours, migrating birds and salmon in fall.
Then there’s winter. Winter brings blue skies and snow forts and more. But on many days, there can also be cold toes or freezing rain. I see the slowing down of the seasons reflected in our participants. Is winter fun? Haven’t the animals all migrated or hibernated? Do we need to be outside in the cold?
To me, sometimes it feels like winter is a wonderful hidden world that everyone has forgotten. But there is a secret to unlocking its mysteries and exposing the magic of winter…asking questions! I want to share a story about how asking simple questions and being curious can change entire experiences:
One chilly winter day, I was heading out to the forest with some 7-9 year olds. The light dusting of snow was too fluffy for packing snow, and the mid-winter blues had been catching with some. “I want to stop for a snack!” one kid announces.
“Okay,” I say, “while we stop and snack – is there anything happening on the land we can check out?”
Two young voices call out to have me look at an animal trail! Something has been moving between saplings – what could it be?
We measure the trail’s width – maybe 1.5 inches – who could that be? It’s winding around, leaving curved lines, not just a straight back and forth.
“Snake!” one girl exclaims. “Wait, in this cold snow?” I ask back to her. I look up to her smile and twinkling eyes – “yes, definitely – a winter snake!”
Now a couple others join in. “Look in this trail, see if you can see scales of a snake or any other marks that can give us a clue.” As we follow the tiny winding path from sapling to sapling a voice in the distance shouts “Footprints!”
What? We rush over. In the snow, within the trail, just inches from a buckthorn branch are two clear tiny footprints – little round impressions, with toes so small they were almost imperceptible. “Aha!”, as I turn to one kid, “How could this be – a snake with feet?”
She laughs and giggles through her next statement, “Yes, all winter snakes have feet!” The game is on. “Yes, and fur!” I shout.
“Let’s follow this trail to see what else we can find.” Uncovering small underground tunnels and more footprints, we also come across a tiny scent marking – only a small patch of yellow in this crisp white canvas.
Laughing and being silly and caught up in our stories, we didn’t notice the cold and we didn’t hold tightly to any specific facts – that this was a vole trail was known by many but the thoughts and humour of a furry, winter snake with feet was what brightened up our day. The world is full of tracks and fun, if we can only take a moment to look closer!
As I start my programs again this year, I heard from a participant already, “I’m going to miss the salamanders and birds. Winter will be hard.”
“But tracking,” I replied, “when we can follow footsteps in the snow and learn more about deer, rabbits, coyotes and voles – that’s going to be an amazing season!”
The twinkle in his eye as he whispered “yeah” was all the response I needed.
All winter snakes have feet! And all children have a natural curiosity for the world around them. By asking questions, we help children to tap into that curiosity, learn and connect in a fun and inspiring way. By being open to all answers, we foster acceptance and respect. Imagine if all kids grew up being supported to guess, be wrong without feeling judgement, investigate, and guess again; if each child valued others’ guesses and was open to different perspectives. Often we work as a group to reach an answer. But by focusing on the journey and embracing laughter, we can find excitement in any situation – and season!
If I could, I would welcome every single child in the entire city to come on these winter adventures with us. Every child needs these opportunities to laugh and be silly and experience the cold in a positive way. If you agree, I hope you’ll consider donating today. Your donations will make it possible for more children, from every walk of life, to have a twinkle in their eyes.