Winter is here. So far this one has been cold and snowy, and it’s unlikely that that trend will change. Have you been inclined to sit indoors, eat chocolate, and dream of warmer climes? I have — but if I keep that up, I will be fat and listless come spring. It’s time to light a fire under our hardy New England bones, get outside, and enjoy the season.

But what to do? It’s difficult to walk on ice-covered roads and hiking trails. It’s no fun anyway, when the wind blows so strong and cold that no amount of layers can counteract it. But the fresh air can be invigorating, the sunshine can make you feel more lively — and a little bit of exercise will bring color to your cheeks and get the blood flowing through your tired old veins. Step outside – and feel better.

Here are a few outdoor activities to consider this winter.

Spy on the Harbor Seals – At low tide on a relatively warm sunny day, you can find harbor seals on the rocks (and sometimes on wooden floats) up and down our coastline. Duxbury Beach and the road to Saquish are prime viewing spots, as are the road to Blackman’s Point in Brant Rock and the end of Damon’s Point Road in Marshfield. It’s fun to watch harbor seals frolic in the water and bask in the sun.

Skate on a Frozen Pond – Yes, it’s cold outside. Consider it an opportunity! It’s not often that our lakes and ponds freeze up enough to support ice skaters. Dust off those skates, bundle up, and find some ice. Once you get your “sea legs,” you may surprise yourself, pirouetting around the pond a la Dorothy Hamill. Not feeling graceful? Grab a hockey stick and see if you can get some friends together for a quick game.

Sled Down a Big (Or Small) Hill – Oh, the joys of freshly-fallen snow when it’s powdery and not covered with ice. Is there a plastic sled in the corner of your basement? A toboggan? An inflatable snow tube? An aluminum saucer? You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy the thrill of sledding. Every town has its favorite spot. Country clubs usually offer a variety of hill shapes and sizes. The ride down is fun, and the hike back up the hill will strengthen your legs and get your heart pumping a little faster.

See a Favorite Place With New Eyes – Let’s face it: cold and windy are not ideal conditions for a walk in the woods if you have to move slowly to avoid a fall. Slide a pair of Yak Trax or good old-fashioned crampons over your boots, and you’ll gain some much-needed traction on the ice. Then you can walk faster – and feel warmer as you go. There are plenty of forests to choose from on the South Shore – consider Willow Brook Farm in Pembroke or the North River Wildlife Sanctuary on the Marshfield/Scituate line. Notice how different – and beautiful — the woods appear when covered with snow. You might also try snowshoes or cross-country skis.

Build a Snowman – You don’t have to be a child to enjoy constructing a snowman or any other kind of snow sculpture. If the conditions are right, it won’t take long to roll three big balls of snow and stack them for the traditional humanoid figure. Corncob pipes and button noses are optional – get creative with what you have at hand. I’ve seen snowmen wearing Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses, or dressed up as firefighters.

Cold Weather Safety Tips:
• Don’t go alone. Whatever you’re doing outdoors, bring a companion – or at least a cell phone – so you’ll have access to help in the case of an emergency.
• Dress in layers. Waterproof (or water-resistant) on top, and something warm underneath. Choose wool or synthetics like fleece or polypropylene for the bottom layer.
• Change your clothes immediately if they get wet.
• Keep your hands, feet and head covered – your face too if it’s very cold, wet or windy. Concerned that you’ll look dorky in a hat? Better that than freezing! You will lose 40% of your body heat through an uncovered head.
• Keep moving when you’re out in the cold. Staying still will permit the cold to set in, and once you get a chill, it’s hard to shake it.
• Don’t stay out in the cold too long. Take breaks when you can and go someplace warm.
• Drink warm beverages. Filling your tummy with something warm will help combat the cold as well. You can bring a thermos for outside, or drink cocoa, soup or tea when you go in. Avoid alcoholic drinks, which can dangerously alter the way your body senses cold.
• Keep Your Chin Up. Spring will be here before we know it.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, correspondent
January 2009

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org.