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Arboretum offers triple treat for those willing to brave the cold

Quiet as a church, winter woods offer a new view

  • By Lara Lutz on January 27, 2015
 (Lara Lutz)  (Lara Lutz)  (Lara Lutz)  (Lara Lutz)

Yes, it’s cold outside, and the signs are clear — wildlife moves south and people move indoors. But Julianna Pax keeps heading for the woods.

Pax has been leading hikes at Adkins Arboretum near Ridgely, Md., since 2005. Cold air and snowflakes won’t slow her down. To Pax, a year at the arboretum is a pageant of bloom, growth, and replenishment, and winter is not an act to be missed.

On a day when the air was thick with snow, Pax strolled into the woods to show me why. The scene was bare and still, but the lack of leaves exposed the depth and height of the forest. A pair of ducks rose suddenly from a small streambed, the sound of their flight crisp and isolated among the trees.

“‘It’s so pretty, it’s so peaceful, it’s like a church,’” Pax smiled. “I get those comments a lot. In our wild daily world, this kind of quiet is wonderful.”

Winter woods are deeply textured, unbuffered by foliage. Today the snow was an instant accent as it settled onto long brown blades of grass, crinkled bark, and crusty brown seed pods that clung stubbornly to slender branches. The path we walked was strewn with the pointy spheres of sweetgum balls, softened by little tufts of snow on each.

Pax pointed to lines of dried beech leaves that still hung from the trees like ornaments. “One of the wonderful things this time of year is those leaves. When you get a breeze, you can hear them rustle through the woods,” she said.

Pax also knows where to find greenery among a relatively brown and gray landscape. She takes joy from the persistence of these plants, which have evolved to take advantage of the season.

Beside the footbridge that crosses Blockston Branch, skunk cabbage was beginning to unfurl through layers of leaf litter and snow.

“Skunk cabbage has developed a chemical reaction to raise its own temperature,” Pax explained. “If it’s under a foot of snow, the plant can warm up enough to melt the snow around it.”

The warmth allows the plant to push through frozen ground and become one of spring’s first blooms. It also attracts insects that pollinate the plant.

Pax also dusted back snow to reveal the low-lying green leaves of the Christmas fern, and the rattlesnake plantain orchid that won’t bloom until July.

“They’ve evolved so they stay close to the ground and avoid the bitter cold, but they can get the sun while everything is more open and there’s less competition for the light,” Pax said.

Pax shares her insights on the winter woods with people who attend her “Soup ‘n Walks,” which take place once a month during most of the year. Pax is a retired chemistry teacher as well as a nutritionist who plans menus that complement the theme of the hike through soups, salads, and desserts.

“People say it’s a triple whammy. They get a walk in the woods, a yummy lunch with friends, and learn about nutrition,” Pax said.

Most people join her winter hikes with a bad case of cabin fever, sometimes at the urging of friends who are regular visitors to the arboretum. Pax said winter weather isn’t as bad as people expect, because trees break the wind and extra layers help beat the cold. In return, you experience the character of the woods and a pre-amble to spring, with warm soup to end the walk.

“And there’s one thing you don’t have in winter — the mosquitoes,” Pax said.

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Winter Walks at Adkins Arboretum


Grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk. The visitor's center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. (except Thanksgiving and Christmas). Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for students 6-18. Free for members and children 5 and under.

The Arboretum is centrally located on Maryland's Eastern Shore, 25 miles east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at 12610 Eveland Road, near Ridgely, MD, adjacent to Tuckahoe State Park.

For information, call 410-634-2837 or visit www.adkinsarboretum.org.

• First-Saturday guided walks take place year-round at 10 a.m. Free with admission.
• Soup 'n Walks: Nature, Nurture, and Nutrition take place from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 21 (Seeking Sun and Winter Warmth); March 21 (Early Blooms, Songbirds, and Spring Frogs); April 18 (Fleeting Ephemerals); May 16 (Tuckahoe Creek & Beyond); September 19 (Sunny Meadows); Oct. 17 (Dazzling Fall Color); and Nov. 21(Nutritious Berries, Nuts, and Seeds). $20 members, $25 non-members. Includes admission, a guided walk, and a nutritious lunch.

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About Lara Lutz

Lara Lutz is a writer and editor who lives on the South River in Mayo, MD. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Read more articles by Lara Lutz

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