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Wellness in a winter wonderland

Wellness in a winter wonderland

While complaining about winter weather is a sacred Michigan pastime, the beauty and wonder of this season are undeniable. It is a study of weather extremes, when Mother Nature flexes her creative muscles to whip up some truly awe-inspiring marvels. Dense forests covered in powdery white tufts straight out of a Bob Ross painting, intricate ice sculptures crafted from the biting and erratic wind spark creativity, and massive winter waves crashing into shoreline ice floes are all at once foreboding and breathtaking.

Winter is also the resting season. Plants have long gone dormant, focusing on storing energy for spring’s explosion of growth; wildlife has migrated to warmer climes or settled down in dens (or under leaf litter) to sleep the cold away. With the passing of the winter solstice, the sun begins its slow return to the northern hemisphere.

There are a lot of lessons we can learn from winter: how to rest and regenerate, how to slow down, how to find the beauty in what may at first seem bleak or eerie, how to find (and create!) color in a world turned blank canvas. Winter doesn’t need to be something we trudge through — it should be celebrated for its own unique beauty.

Here are just a few ways to make the most of this winter season.

Rest

For many species, it’s hibernation season. While humans don’t (currently) hibernate, there’s nothing stopping us from channeling our inner black bear and taking time to rest and rejuvenate.

Rest looks different for everyone – it could be as simple as making a warm cup of tea or coffee and curling up on the couch for a few moments of uninterrupted peace before you start the day, or it could mean taking an excursion with friends to lift your spirits (and your heart rate).

Whatever restores you, make a point to practice it often.

Take a nature bath

A salmon-pink sunset provides a backdrop for a snow-covered conifer forest, with vast, untouched snow on the ground.

When the hustle and bustle of modern life (and the holiday season) start to wear you down, one way to reset and restore is to make time for ecotherapy.

A growing area of research into the benefits of spending time in nature has shown that immersing ourselves in the outdoors – as long as we feel safe – can lower blood pressure and stress levels, benefit immune systems, improve short-term memory, self-esteem and mood, reduce anxiety and much more. Spending time in nature – in any capacity – is essential for human health.

We often talk about “green spaces,” but nature exists in a rainbow of color. Watching the landscape change from lush greens to vibrant reds, golds and oranges to rich browns and stark whites is a recognition of nature’s artistic palette. While you’re out, pay attention to the changes you see around you and try to appreciate them as a natural part of our magnificent planet.

Dedicating time to existing in the outdoors can help us stay mindful and remind us that we all come from nature.

Make a winter craft

While you’re out taking your nature bath, think about ways to bring the outdoors inside with a craft made from foraged materials.

Pine cones, conifer boughs and grapevines are just some of the materials in abundance right now, and can be combined for a lovely, rustic wreath. (Pro tip: Use leftover bread ties to help secure it all).

Leaves, seed pods, berries and more can be tied together for a festive garland, and even an interesting stick can become lovely décor or a useful tool for your next outdoor adventure – stretch those creative muscles, head outside and see what you come up with!

Plan for spring

It may seem early, but now is a great time to start preparing for spring. If you’re a backyard or balcony gardener, start thinking of what you may want to nurture when the warmer months come back around.

If you want to attract native critters to your area, planting native flowers, trees, shrubs or other plants suited to their needs can make your home, neighborhood, community garden or balcony into vital habitat. Not sure what to plant? Check out the National Wildlife Federation’s keystone plant by ecoregion map for top keystone plants, or native pollinator garden recipe cards from the Pollinator Partnership.

Once you’ve decided what to plant, you can start making a garden plan. Plants have different light, water, soil and nutrient requirements, and planning your garden accordingly can help your plants thrive – and potentially maximize your harvest.

Now is also a good time to start stratifying seeds – essentially, mimicking the exact conditions they need to emerge from their winter dormancy. Be sure to research your plants so you know how to properly treat your seeds.

Even in the dormant season, you can still have a green thumb!

Dive into history

A large building with a tall evergreen tree growing in the center entranceway.

Winter downtime is an excellent opportunity to stretch your mental muscles and dig into topics you’ve put off during the busy season.

If you’re looking for a fun, self-paced learning experience, plan a visit to the Michigan History Museum in Lansing or Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Negaunee.

Or, take a tour of your local historical markers or plan a trip to a heritage trail. Just make sure you’re properly prepared for any winter weather (check out the Wilderness wisdom 101 story for in-depth info on safe winter recreation).

If a special topic has hooked your interest, check out the Archives of Michigan, which is free of charge. The Archives also has an online collection available through the Michiganology website, which includes research guides, a blog, educator resources, records, maps and more, all curated by Michigan History Center staff. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, reach out and an archivist will assist you.

As a note, the Archives’ reading room will be closed between Christmas and New Year’s, but will reopen with normal hours after that.

Check your local library, too; it’s a great resource for any topic you may be interested in. Libraries often have programs and events that you and your family may find interesting – plus it’s a great way to get to know others in your community.

If online research is more your speed, check out the Michigan history page for digital resources to jump-start your history journey.

Explore unique stories – written by MHC staff as they conduct their research – that give a glimpse into the past and the people who lived it. They have great resources for kids to learn about influential figures from Michigan’s history, and a look into the history of our state, including some truly fascinating information on the known shipwrecks in Michigan’s waters.

Whether we’re conscious of it, we are living history. The past holds incredible insight into our present, and understanding how we got to this point can help us be better stewards of our environment and our shared cultural resources.

No matter where you find and build connections this winter – steeped in nature, hunkered down at home or making your way through Michigan history – it all helps ensure a season of renewal.

By Emma Kukuk