White spruce, eastern hemlock, eastern white pine. They are shelter to the winter birds in my yard, an escape from daylight for the night-loving owls. They are a veritable buffet for the chipmunks and red squirrels. Condos for catbirds and robins, these evergreens are home, haven, and heaven for some.
Stick a finger in the sap, and it smells like Christmas a tinny, sharp smell evoking memories of tramping through rows of trees in search of the perfect one, Dad following behind. A vague memory of climbing a spruce with a friend, I couldn't have been more than 8 years old, surfaces and I smile. There was so much sap in my hair that my mother gave up trying to get it out.
I like the varying textures - the round pine bundles of white pine, sort of feathery and relaxed. The firs have flat needles that look sharp, but it is all just show, they are a rich dark green, smooth and glossy. Square spruces don't mess around - they look sharp, and if I doubt them, the bright red of my blood makes for a Christmas palette and leaves me a believer of their defense.
A wreath combines all these feelings and memories into a beautiful and natural decoration for your door or house. Choose one texture or many, embrace simplicity or a riotous combination, the wreath is your expression of holiday cheer. If you harvest the greens yourself you get a good dose of fresh air and exercise and probably a smile or two.
Audubon encourages you to make your own evergreen wreath this year. We're even making it really easy to do so; all you have to do is reserve a spot in our wreath-making class on Dec. 1. There are four workshops throughout the day; we teach you everything you want to know and give you everything you need. Choose your time, 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. or 2 p.m., and bring a friend.
Greens of all sorts are harvested from the grounds at Audubon and from local folks willing to donate a bough or two from their trees. White pine, Norway spruce, boxwoods, eastern hemlock, and a few sprigs of holly here and there provide the makings for your wreath. Decorate it with pine cones, berries, dried flowers or grasses, and it is a way to capture the winter textures and your own personal style in a cheery circle.
Audubon thinks making a wreath is good for the planet. And good for you. The experience you have while cutting greens is unique. It is usually quiet, and often white. Your footsteps are muffled by new snow and crisscrossing your path are signs of winter residents. Foxes, mice, rabbits and deer have all been here earlier. The blue jays and crows watch from the tree tops, wondering what this two-legged stranger is up to in these winter woods. The methodical search for the best branches and the equally methodically snip-snip of the pruners accompany the winter wind as it ripples through the bare treetops. The smell of pine wafts through the air, triggering flashbacks and a giggle.
Later, the act of making the wreath bonds you to the forest. You have taken a little bit of life from those woods to add an element of joy to your own life. At the end of the season, the needles will fall, the small creatures in the soil will consume them, and the nutrients of those evergreens will feed the flowers and trees of tomorrow.
Making a wreath also saves you a little bit of green. Buying a wreath surely benefits someone financially, but making it benefits you in more ways than that. And it brings the lessons and moment full circle. Share the experience with a friend, a child, a parent, and it weaves a tale. We take, but we can give back. A bough for me, two boughs for the owls. A pine cone or three, leave the rest for the squirrels eat in their trees. A piece of nature to grace the holiday, to remind me that life is an endless cycle, and a good life benefits other lives.
To sign up for the workshop, call 569-2345. The cost is just $30, and only $25 if you are a Friend of the Nature Center. You can't buy a nicer wreath for that. There will also be a Repurposing Old Magazines workshop at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. for an additional fee of $7 and $5 for Friends. Reservations are needed by Monday so we can harvest greens. You might want to bring your own pruners, and if you bring last year's wreath frame, or another 10-inch frame, we'll give you a $2 discount.
Audubon is located at Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The center is open Monday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Liberty, our bald eagle, and the trails are open for hiking or skiing from dawn until dusk. Visit jamestownaudubon.org for more information.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon.