As daylight continues to shorten, and the landscape prepares for the approaching white season, here are some seasonal book recommendations to spark the winter naturalist within.
For an illustrated introduction to various winter topics, check out Donald and Lillian Stokes's Guide to Nature in Winter (1979). This book covers small evergreen plants, mushrooms, winter strategies of mammals, different kinds of snow crystals, and more.
For stunning images and countless engaging essays, Naturally Curious by Mary Holland (2010) can't be beat. Mary's book is divided into the twelve months and is informed by countless hours of direct field experience. Mary also writes an excellent blog that I follow daily.
Wildflowers and Winter Weeds by Lauren Brown (1997, alt title Weeds in Winter) and Pods: Wildflowers & Weeds in Their Final Beauty by Jane Embertson (1984) are fun to browse and helpful when trying to identify plants long after they've finished flowering and gone to seed. It's amazing just how distinctive plant skeletons can be.
With leaves now off of most trees, it's a great time to study tree bark, and Michael Wojtech's new book Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast (2011) will not only prepare you to identify trees, but will also help you understand why bark looks the way it does.
Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign by Paul Rezendes (1999) teaches you how to identify and interpret various signs of mammals on the landscape. While snow is not required for tracking (or reading this rich book), it can be helpful for revealing the movements of mammals and other creatures. Paul has also written a memoir titled The Wild Within: Adventures in Nature and Animal Teachings (2009) that is filled with first-hand accounts of tracking wildlife as well as tracking one's inner self.
Mark Elbroch, a former student of Paul Rezendes, wrote two comprehensive books – Mammal Tracks & Sign (2003) and Bird Tracks & Sign (2001) – that are loaded with photographs, personal essays, and detailed descriptions. If those books are too heavy for you, try Louise Forrest's more concise Field Guide to Tracking Animals in Snow (1988).
If you are looking to go beyond nature observation and interpretation this winter and want to do some traveling in the north country on foot, ski, or snowshoe, get a copy of Snow Walker's Companion: Winter Camping Skills for the North by Garrett and Alexandra Conover (2005) and Bushcraft: Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival by Mors Kochanski (2008). These books cover primitive, traditional, and modern survival techniques and strategies for living in cold climates. Learn how to build appropriate shelters, make your own snowshoes, dress for ample warmth, and pack adequate food for a memorable winter trek.
I hope at least one of these books sparks a fire within you and gets you out to wander the landscape in search of mysteries. While some of these titles are out of print, must should be obtainable through your local public library system.