I took a walk along the trail at Hogback Ridge Park in Sunbury on a day last week that was on the cusp of winter weather.
Just a few days prior, the beautiful full moon -- a supermoon, no less -- and the 50-degree temperatures tried to fool me into thinking that December would not be cold and dark. That gorgeous weekend, I walked woodland trails without a jacket and later watched as the moon flooded the night sky with light, trying its best to drown out the constellation Orion.
Chilly weather and darkness did not usher in December this year, but it wasn't long before we were pulling on heavy coats and nearing the shortest (darkest) day of the year.
As if having only nine hours and 18 minutes of sunlight Dec. 21 isn't enough, there won't be much of a moon that night either. The calendar shows a new moon just a few days before, so on the day of the winter solstice, the slender crescent moon will do little to chase away the gloom.
But hope springs eternal, and just as that crescent starts waxing toward full, little by little, the days will increase in length as well.
Through the centuries, hope has kept man going through the long, cold days and nights of winter. It's not a coincidence that some of the biggest holidays and celebrations of the year come in the depths of winter. Ancient people surely noticed that after the steady decline in the number of daylight hours, at last the turnaround had come, and the earth was not, in fact, going to be plunged into darkness forever. Plus, there is something to be said for holidays that celebrate light when darkness is all around.
Preparations going on now for next year show that hope springs eternal in the natural world, too. It might not look like it, but there is a lot going on out there. The leaves have fallen and are lying brown and dry on the forest floor, but they're also decomposing to enrich the earth and help future plants thrive.
Camouflaged against the taupe and gray winter woods, white-tailed deer are not easily visible. But out of view, bucks are pursuing their mates. Next spring and summer, we'll measure their success in the gentle, spotted fawns we see curled up in the sunshine.
Some birds have fled south and others are puffing up against the Ohio cold; both are ensuring survival into the next year, when they will build nests, lay eggs and sing their spring and summer melodies.
Industrious squirrels -- the only wildlife I saw during my walk last week -- are still gobbling down some nuts and storing others. They'll be active all winter, except during the very worst weather, when they'll curl up next to one another to stay warm. They, too, are doing what they must to survive the season.
None of these things would happen in nature if birds, animals -- even plants -- did not instinctively know that winter is merely a prelude to the rush of life that will happen next spring.
Hope does spring eternal, but we'll have a wait a bit. That full moon we enjoyed earlier this month? It's aptly named the "full cold moon" and the "full long nights moon."
It's going to be cold and dark for a while, so it's probably best to just enjoy it. Preservation Parks can help. For starters, two upcoming hikes at Gallant Woods Park in Delaware will get us outdoors and moving. A winter bird walk will be held at 8 a.m. Dec. 30 for ages 7 and older. Then, all ages can join in on the New Year's Day hike at 10 a.m. Jan. 1.
Many more winter programs are on tap, both indoors and out. Visit preservationparks. com for the details, and join us as we savor the season while we hope for spring.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.