Written By Jess Alba.
Posted on February 24th, 2021.
I spy with my little eye… something colorful in the woods.
I was walking the wooded trails at the Pound Ridge Land Conservancy in late March, and despite how quiet and beautiful it was, I couldn’t help but find myself longing for spring. Like so many others, I can get antsy this time of year while I wait for all the color and life to come back to the forest after months of dormancy. Maybe it’s because winter is flanked on one side by the changing leaves of autumn and on the other by the happy flowers of spring, but something about nature in the colder months can look a little… dull. This isn’t always the case, and a snowy winter landscape is actually one of my favorite hiking scenes (for more on that check out my Winter Wonderlands blog), but when the snow has all melted away it can feel a little bit like there’s nothing left to do except wait for the warmth to finally arrive.
It was only when the trail I was hiking crossed over a stone wall that I noticed something that caught my eye- lichen of several different hues clinging to the rocks. I grew curious then, and wondered where else I could find the color I was craving, even in a late winter woodlot. I began searching, and here’s what I found:
Trees offer tons of pigment and texture in their bark, and the closer you look, the more you’ll see. Wavy gray and brown flaky bark make up the trunk of this shagbark hickory tree.
Eastern red cedars are known for their warm-toned wood.
Sometimes trees will offer even more spectacular colors after they’ve died. The trunks become a host to all sorts of incredible bacteria as the decomposition process takes hold. Blue-stain fungi like this looks almost unnatural, as if someone painted it and left it behind.
Dark denim blue and hunter green really seem to pop on the gray bark of this rotting log.
The white bark on this birch log really stood out against the dark orange and brown leaves.
A dark mold creates contrasting streaks with the light gray wood of this fallen tree.
The Cross River Reservoir shares a boundary with the Pound Ridge Land Conservancy, adding a cooling blue shade to the landscape.
The reservoir and the clear sky sandwiched green and brown trees between layers of blue.
Where there’s water there’s life and new growth, and in the winter/spring transition, this means skunk cabbage. Early on in the growing season this strange plant contains beautiful swirls of purple, red, and green.
And finally, some beautiful sunlit rocks. Pretty gneiss, am I right?
On my short trek I saw bright colors hiding in new and exciting places. Going on a “color hike” in the offseason means you might have to try harder to find vibrancy. This turns the hike into a bit of a scavenger hunt, and you can even make it into an actual game, if you want to. For example, you can hike with others and compete to see who can find the most colors, the most objects of one kind of color, or all 7 colors of the rainbow. You can also let the colors you find inspire you to create your own art. If you’re not sure where to start, use our guide on painting and drawing outside to help get you going.
Something else I noticed about this hike was that color in the winter often comes from the ground. Without leaves on trees, flowers blooming, or fruits emerging, I had to focus my gaze downwards to see variety. Low-growing plants sprouting early in the season, rotting logs full of fungi, and rocks of all different shapes and sizes were the easiest way for me to find color. This is perfect if you decide to take walks like these with young kids, as it can get them exploring on a level that’s much easier for them to reach. Regardless of how you approach it, color hikes are a simple way to get outdoors and explore.