Now that the bright reds, yellows, and oranges of autumn are gone or fading, it’s nice to see a little green on the landscape. I wonder if that’s why Christmas trees were able to make the leap from German tradition to what would now be termed going viral.

Conifers are a reliable source of verdant life during the winter months, but there are other plants that stay green, or even bloom, when temperatures drop and stay in the teens or lower, or when snow and ice come calling.

Cedar trees keep their greenery and they also smell great (to my nose, at least).

Snowdrops aren’t afraid of Jack Frost, or Frosty the Snowman either!

English ivy isn’t a native son (or daughter) of North America, but it’s become so ubiquitous you could be forgiven for not realizing it’s an invasive, as well as a reliable source of greenery in December (that may have contributed to it’s popularity with homeowners, and it’s spread across a new continent).

Pines and firs aren’t the only traditional winter holiday plants, of course. There’s holly…and we can’t forget mistletoe!
I know, I know… mistletoe is a parasite so I probably shouldn’t make any promotional efforts, but hung above a doorway it provides a great excuse to smooch with your sweetie so I’ll let it slide.

These are just a few examples of plants that brave winter’s chill… share your favorites in the comments section below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: It’s Raining, It’s PouringShawn Harquail, Bob Travis, Susanne Nilsson, Merv Stapleton, Hornbeam Arts, and Kay Wrathall© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

The Lovely Bones

Even as mercury huddles near the bottom of a thermometer, nature continues to offer a wealth of visual beauty. One of my favorite things about November is that I get to see the forest architecture — the timber scaffolding, if you will.

Minimalistic branches…

a tight-knit congregation of trunks and limbs…

delicate twigs…they all reminded me that stark simplicity can be stunning and calming at the same time.

The day may be dry or dripping, the light bright or diffuse, the location remote or bustling… it doesn’t matter.  If I keep my eyes open the beauty of bare trees is mine to enjoy. I just have to remember to notice.Soon I’ll be heading west to New Mexico to visit friends over the holidays. Dash and I will be taking daily walks there, too, and some hikes through the Santa Fe National Forest. I’m looking forward to seeing groves of bone-white aspens with their dark, observant eyes— I’ve missed these tree-friends, too.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Mirai Takahashibarnimages.comPeter Nyren, Carlo Scherer, Horizon2035, and doug ellis© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]


Whether you like to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve or Día de Muertos, or maybe both, next week there will be plenty of small, colorful creatures collecting edible goodies. Some will ring doorbells while clad in homemade or purchased finery, others will wear their everyday wardrobe while bouncing on tree limbs, or shuffling through fallen leaves, or excavating frosty soil. But everyone will be in hunter-gatherer mode, in search of binge-worthy treats.

There’s a reason we think of October and November as harvest time, even though many agricultural fields have already been gleaned and tucked in for a long winter’s nap. Autumn is when nut-lovers hit the jackpot.

As Dash and I scanned our local stretch of the Huckleberry Trail looking for nuts—our goal and mantra for today’s journey—I had to remind myself that not all of the trees we were seeing are native to southwestern Virginia. Some were introduced by homeowners who live nearby, or maybe by squirrels who ventured into backyards, then back into the remnant patch of forest near the railroad easement to stash treasure below the forest floor.

The local stalwarts include black walnut (Juglans nigra L.)… it’s flavor some people cherish and others revile. Love or hate ’em, everyone needs to keep their ears open for the sound of these hard green golf balls crashing down from above or risk getting knocked on the noggin’.Shagbark hickory nuts (Carya ovata) are endemic to this region and other parts of North America. They’re a favorite from my own childhood because our next-door neighbor had a towering and prolific tree. Hickory nuts require a lot of coaxing, both to break open the shell and then to pry the meat out of tiny nooks and crannies but, imo, it’s well worth the effort.Honestly, I never really thought about pines as nut-bearing trees until I lived in New Mexico, where the the two-needle piñon pine (Pinus edulis) is a cherished part of the state’s cuisine.  Pine nuts (from a different Pinus spp.) are a familiar ingredient in Italian food, too, and I knew that but somehow failed to make the connection to a pinecone. I’ve not encountered local pine nuts on any menus here in southwest Virginia… maybe the local species aren’t as tasty (to humans), or maybe they’re just too hard to remove from the cone.Acorns, including those from the chestnut oak (Quercus prinus L.) and white oak (Quercus alba L.), are a staple for many wild animals… tree squirrels, of course, but also chipmunks and flying squirrels, as wells as bears, deer, opossums, raccoons, and rabbits. Birds also depend on this nutritious, high-calorie food to make it through the winter, including blue jays, quail, and wood ducks.The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was once the dominant forest species in Virginia, but most of these trees were killed over the course of a couple of decades when the chestnut blight fungus was introduced, accidentally, in the early 1900s. Researchers continue to experiment with resistant varieties, hoping to return these majestic giants to their rightful home. I keep hoping to spot one… even a stump sprout would make me wildly happy.

Do you have a favorite wild nut? Share your memories and photos in the comments section!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Alan Wolf, pepperberryfarm, Laurie HulseyChris Luczkow, Bob Travis, Greg Wagoner, NatureServe, and Rachid H© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]