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You have to admit, this is one humdinger of a winter! I don’t remember a winter like this since I was a little girl growing up in North Buffalo. This year memories of cold temperatures, lots of snow, sledding trips to Chestnut Ridge Park, bundling up, playing outside and coming in for piping hot chocolate are becoming more and more vivid with each passing cold, snowy day. Yes, we haven’t had a winter like this in decades.

What to do when the fourth season arrives with a vengeance, announces it is here to stay and is not ready to leave for another six weeks, according to Mr. Groundhog?

Since New Year’s Day, with the great suggestion of the New York State Parks Department to go hiking at one of the state parks on Jan. 1, my husband and I have been on the go every weekend. Whirlpool State Park was our New Year’s hike, where we saw amazing vistas of a frozen Niagara Gorge with Niagara Falls in the background. It was very dramatic and stunning. So it began; we were hooked on the practice of winter hiking!

My husband prepared us for more snowy excursions with the purchase of new snowshoes. Combined with our new footwear and lots of warm layers, we are exploring, hiking and snowshoeing at a different park or nature preserve every weekend. We are learning that by embracing winter, we are loving this fourth season as much as we did as kids, but this time with a more in-depth appreciation for nature and the wildlife around us.

How lucky we are to live in Western New York, where there is a plethora of pristine natural landscapes. For example, a moonlight walk at Tifft Nature Preserve showed us evidence of the wildlife that reside there. Our tour guide showed us how to identify coyote, rabbit, deer and beaver tracks.

Snowshoeing at Chestnut Ridge with friends gave us the opportunity to share special conversation together that you would only share in the world of nature. Returning to Tifft, this time during the day with our snowshoes, we came almost face to face with deer that didn’t seem to object to sharing their home in the woods with us.

Reinstein Woods is my favorite park because it is partly an old-growth forest, and if you listen closely enough you can marvel at the silence of the woods. It is very mystical and spiritual in the winter, almost like a reminder that we are but one small being in this entire universe. It was there that we spotted a new bird for our lifelong list, the pileated woodpecker. If we weren’t sure it was he, he announced his presence by a deafening hammering of the nearby tree.

How about those ice caves at Crystal Beach? As lifelong Buffalonians, my husband and I had never seen anything like it at the beach, ever. What fun it was to explore those caves and caverns and watch all the people, children and dogs walking and playing on Lake Erie as if it was a platform of winter entertainment.

Spring and summer will most definitely arrive as sure as the Earth travels around the sun. But when it comes time to store away our snowshoes and winter gear, my husband and I will remember this winter of 2014 with the satisfaction that, yes, it was cold, snowy and long. Yet we embraced the winter, arms open, and as a result we had some genuine fun and beautiful images. We have developed a whole new appreciation of our fourth season.