The Undead of Winter

As we enter the dark, quiet, cold season of the year, we often hear reference to the dead of winter; to be honest, I occasionally use that phrase myself.  After all, the gray skies, frigid air, barren woods, frozen ground and dry, pale grasslands suggest that northern latitudes have entered a state of dormancy; were it not for the birds and mammals that move across the bleak landscape, that illusion might prevail.

Contrary to outward appearances, however, nature's cycle is very much alive during the short, cold days and long, starry nights of winter.  Deciduous plants, many now devoid of leaves, redirect their stored energy to expand their root systems, drawing in more nutrients from the deeper layers of soil.  Beneath the leaf litter, earthworms, beetles, pillbugs and a wide variety of insect larvae recycle the decaying vegetation, often making an appearance on mild winter days.  A host of shrews, mice, moles and birds feed on this army of recyclers while serving as prey for raptors, fox, opossums and other mammals.  Though amphibians and reptiles have retreated to dens or mud-walled chambers, aquatic insect larvae are active beneath the pond ice, feasting on dead vegetation or on one another and providing sustenance for the sluggish, cold-numbed fish.

Indeed, were it not for the life of winter, the explosive growth of spring could not unfold.  Those who take the time to search for the varied life forms of winter will better appreciate the fact that, despite the ice, snow and frigid air, nature's cycle has not shut down.