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Winter Woodlands walk listens for the whispers of Mother Nature's next spring

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The Winter Woodlands walk at Monticello will take participants into the silence of the Virginia forests of Thomas Jefferson’s home, unhurriedly to listen and look for the clues Mother Nature lays out for each coming spring.

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Two Monticello staffers Peggy Cornett and/or Jerry Therrien usually lead the Winter Woodlands walk along the “Roundabout Roadways,” “Upper Grove” and forest trails at Monticello. Peggy Cornett’s enthusiasm for plant life is readily apparent, and qualified. Cornett is the director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Monticello.

A ranger at the Monticello-Saunders Trail, Jerry Therrien is a knowledgeable horticulturalist and birder. Therrien's eyes and ears pick up on many things on the trail, and can tell by the shape of the leaf, the color of the vine, and the form of the bud, the history, past and future, of a particular tree or shrub.

Winter's cold silence invites a chilling and quiet celebration of life in the moment, as it is now. Watch the trees; they point in the direction of the daily celebration. The trees know. Watch them and discover their ritual of daily celebration.

With Theirren and Cornett shepherding the winter walk experience, the body moves with a healthy heart-pumping to stave off the chill; the mind engages in the new knowledge of plant and tree life cycles; and the spirit is soothed by the beauty and grace of the natural environment. Jefferson might be proud of this well-rounded educational excursion provided through Monticello, his legacy and home.

In effect, the Winter Woodlands walks welcome one to a world of stillness and winter wonder, brimming with life: past, present and future. Fall berries and spring buds tell the history, the personal story of individual plants and trees. Seed pods represent a summer of life that has fallen into a fall harvest, which then lingers well into winter. Baby pinecones, a harbinger of life yet to come in the spring, sit amidst pine needles in clusters of two.

In the winter silence of the forest, Mother Nature lays out clues for the approaching spring. The hues of Mother Nature pulse with energy and diversity, despite the natural dead, frozen, and cold nature of winter itself. The palette of colors--bright sky blue, clean white clouds, popping evergreen pine, glistening crystal snowflakes, thorny brown vines, and muted grey tree trunks--please the eye.

The harshness of winter seems to soften in the grace of a leafless tree, whose outstretched, majestic, bare, branches etch the pale blue sky, yet endure the cold uniformity of a white blanket of snow.

Thomas Jefferson built his home Monticello with "Roundabout Roadways" that circle the mountain top estate. Pathways for the free-form style Winter Woodlands walk might include snow-scattered walkways, the “Roundabout Roadways,” and light hill trekking, as well as off-trail scampers. Off-trail walking encourages the best chances for close-up views for the various forms of buds, seed pods and tree bark.

The hues of Mother Nature pulse with energy and diversity, despite the natural dead, frozen, and cold nature of winter itself. The palette of colors--bright sky blue, clean white clouds, popping evergreen pine, glistening crystal snowflakes, thorny brown vines, and muted grey tree trunks--please the eye.

Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, is landscaped perfection. The trees and buildings of Monticello co-exist in harmony, almost "as one," with Mother Nature. In the distance, the top of Monticello's rotunda peeks out behind the round hilltop of the "Upper Grove." From the “Upper Grove,” the view towards Mulberry Row at Monticello exquisitely frames a tree’s leafless winter beauty. Looking towards Brown's Mountain from the “Upper Grove,” the eye may take in sweeping mountain vistas and blustery grey skies.

Like tree royalty, a mighty local aspen graces the grounds at Monticello. Unlike the smoother lighter bark of an aspen, the distinctive dogwood bark is easily identified by the rounded shapes of the individual bark tiles on the trunk of the tree. Height is another sure sign of the dogwood, as well as the shape and color of the buds and the scales or bracts of early leave forms that appear in winter on the ends of the branches.

The shapes and shades of a tree trunk help identify its family or genus. Deeply grooved bark readily distinguishes a chestnut oak tree trunk. Another identifying factor of a tree is the shape of its leaves, the lobes and sinuses. Some leaves have deep “c” shapes, or sinuses, between their leaf lobes, the outermost shapes or “arms”, of a leaf. Even the way a leaf grows on the branch tells the family lineage. Leaves can grow side by side on branch or a stem, or in opposition, or in compound. The world of leaves and its variety requires much time and study to fully comprehend.

The harshness of winter seems to soften in the grace of a leafless tree, whose outstretched, majestic, bare, branches etch the pale blue sky, yet endure the cold uniformity of a white blanket of snow.

Looking at a tree closely can tell much about its life history and health. Small round, beak-sized, holes in a tree trunk, indicate a woodpecker, possibly a yellow bellied sap sucker, dined on a particular tree. This dining habit might indicate an unhealthy tree as woodpeckers tend to dine on insects living in the tree.

The magnolia tree is a delight for the senses in every season, including the winter bud of a Virginia magnolia family tree. Trees have buds for spring flowers, and scales or bracts for spring leaves. The shape, color, number and placement of these early leaf forms and buds also aid in tree identification.

To learn more about the trees living with you on the planet, join in on another naturalist hike, read up in a field manual, or better yet, just take a hike in the winter, spring, summer, or fall wonderland waiting for discovery in the Virginia woodlands.

Winter's cold silence invites a chilling and quiet celebration of life in the moment, as it is now. Watch the trees; they point in the direction of the daily celebration. The trees know. Watch them and discover their ritual of daily celebration.

Visit Monticello at 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway in Charlottesville, VA 22902 or phone 434.984.9880 for more information. To plan the timing of your next visit, check out Annual Events at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

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