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Trail Treks: The Beauty of Nature Abounds Even in Winter

The Pawpaw Trail travels through a mature forest, offering a glimpse of what this land was like before European settlers arrived.

On a walk in winter, there is so little to look at that the little things are allowed to impress. With no oppressing heat or overwhelming greenness to distract from the details, the colors and textures of a trail in winter—so alone in their ability to spark interest—stand out.

The Pawpaw Trail, located at the western end of our grounds, travels through both a field and a mature forest, offering glimpses in mid-winter of sights as different as delicate milkweed seeds and large fallen trees. While the season’s cold weather and seemingly absent wildlife can impart a somber mood, this stillness can be a welcome respite from the holiday rush.

Pushing aside fallen leaves and stepping over soft moss, the Pawpaw Trail on a winter afternoon leads past snow white fungi and the bright red berries of oriental bittersweet, an invasive vine that threatens the trees in Piscataway Park with its immense strength and vigorous drive to climb. Green lichen grows on a number of trees that can be seen from the trail, each of which seems to have the most unique bark. There is the shaggy bark of the birch and the smooth bark of the beech. There is the bark replete with a woodpecker’s holes and the bark that has peeled away to reveal the winding path that an insect once walked just below the tree’s surface. All of a sudden, a songbird is spotted—a brown wren, a red cardinal, a slate-colored junco—easy to see now that the leaves are gone, and easy to identify now that so many other birds have migrated elsewhere.

Birch bark has peeled away to reveal an insect’s once-winding tracks. Green moss stands out on a December afternoon. The bright red berries of oriental bittersweet, an invasive that threatens the park.

It is the stark simplicity of the season that allows you to see what little is left more clearly, to expand your appreciation of the wildlife that is still here—the birds, the fungi, the trees whose shape you are just now noticing—and to dig out a hat and gloves and take a winter walk.

Trail Treks is a monthly column that explores the walking trails in Piscataway Park. This year, we will highlight the Pawpaw Trail, which is located at the western end of our grounds and leads through a mature forest. Look for more reflections from the Pawpaw Trail as 2012 progresses.

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