New Year’s Day in the Forest? Holidays are unknown in timeless rhythm of ancient forests

On New Year’s weekend, the winter woods offer even more than their customary dose of peace, solitude, reflection and silence. The dawn of a New Year - this new decade - arrives with a sunrise not unlike any other. The forest maintains its own calendar of events where time is measured in sunrises and sunsets. The relative length of day to night now gradually increases until June. Now the annual tide of light is finally turning from its lowest ebb.

It’s time to turn the figurative calendar page, even if the pages are rifled by a stiff northwest wind and January wind chill values that freeze your nose and make your eyes water. A brisk walk in the woods is a nice alternative to watching endless football games on television. And it makes a nice New Year’s resolution. 

Wind-blown tracks in the snow reveal where the local deer herd and coyote pack alternately travel the same path, the former fleeing predators and the latter stalking prey. They are the “hyenas and gazelles” of our local forested realm that illustrate an ancient relationship, a timeless waltz of predator and prey.

In the coming weeks, Barred Owls will begin “hooting” in the very first avian mating rituals of the new year. Owls set-up housekeeping in hollow trees or renovated woodland hawk nests or wetland great blue heron nests long before other birds feel the slightest pulse of nesting behavior. The drumming of woodpeckers in February is another of the earliest breeding behaviors in a new year.

In wetlands, beavers breed in the privacy of frozen lodges. Soon, tiny bear cubs will be born with eyes closed inside snug winter dens tucked deep under the snow pack in remote inaccessible areas.

In response to news reported in newspapers, the forest remains silent. Forest time is ancient; an ongoing continuum of seasons. Shouts of “Happy New Year!” echo among impassive, frozen forested hills. Nature doesn’t care.

There is something reassuring in that.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Director of Education and Volunteer Services for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. His column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. E-mail him at danderson@forestsociety.org or through the Forest Society's Web site: forestsociety.org.