Along New Hope Creek, Durham
Along New Hope Creek, Durham

It’s odd, this notion that winter is time-out in the outdoors: It’s too cold, the days are too short, there’s nothing to see what with the woods bleak and barren.

First, let’s tackle the “too cold” myth. Sure, over our last snowy weekend it got into the low teens throughout much of the area. By Thursday morning, though, the snow was gone and we were wearing t-shirts and shorts. Yeah, it can get cold. But in this neck of the temperate woods it doesn’t stay cold for long: we are graced with outdoor-friendly days that we would die for in summer.

The days are too short. Can’t argue with that; on these 60-degree-plus days who doesn’t feel robbed when night takes over at 5:30? That still leaves 10 hours of daylight to deal with. And if you’ve got a headlamp … . Plus, as of Dec. 21, our allotment of daily daylight has been on the rise. Short, maybe. But getting longer.

Most baffling, though, is the idea that there’s nothing to see in the bleak, leafless gray of winter. Let’s start with those leafs. In the heavily wooded Southeast, especially in the Piedmont and in the mountains, think about what you see on a summer hike. Lots of green, right? Lots of green that creates a cozy, intimate theater: lovely, but what can you really see? In winter, views abound from the ridge lines that are otherwise obscured. That sound you hear in summer 30 yards into the woods that you think might be a bear, but aren’t sure? In winter you can visually confirm that rustling: squirrel! And the sky, the brilliant blue skies of winter are the most memorable of the outdoor world.

Another vote for winter exploring: you have the time. If you have kids, this is the one time of year when they typically have fewer commitments. If you’re a sports junkie, your weekends aren’t as consumed by sports: your commitment to your favorite ACC basketball team is contained to three hours on the weekend, a far cry from your day-long Saturday college football binge, followed by a Sunday of NFL.

You also have the motivation. In your work world, there’s a certain … relaxed attitude that sets in shortly before Thanksgiving and lasts through Jan. 2. Come the 2nd, though, it’s back to work big-time, with the realization that it will be summer before you can even think about serious time off. You need these winter weekends to ward off the emotional gloom that can descend.

And there’s the fact that if you take the winter off, you’ll be playing catch-up when the regular season begins: a 12-mile spring hike in the mountains is a whole lot easier if you’ve been dong a series of 6-mile winter hikes in the Piedmont.

Most importantly, being outdoors is who you are, it’s vital to your well-being and health, mental and physical. Would you go the winter without eating?

Savoring rather than skirting winter is easier than you think. Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to show you how easy, and rewarding, it is to be a winter explorer. We’ll focus on hiking, backpacking and paddling.

Tune in. We think you’ll warm to the notion.