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Outdoors: Snowy Sleigh Rides

Horse-drawn sleigh in the snow
Rachel Hershberger

“Jingle Bells” and “Over the River and Through the Woods” were composed as Thanksgiving songs.

Both celebrate the fun of riding over the snow and ice in Massachusetts.

But, in gathering oral histories and reading memoirs of the European settlers of the Great Lakes region, I have become aware that horse-drawn sleighs and the advent of winter inspired joy around here as well.

Once all was safely gathered in, and once ice and snow made rutted, muddy roads passible, families were released from solitude.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, farm families frequently would bundle up and hitch the horse to a sleigh to go out calling, visiting relatives and neighbors who provided camaraderie and had holiday goodies waiting.

Oh, what fun!

Non-hibernating creatures also seem to embrace winter.

Rabbits and hares have large, hair-covered hind feet which enable them to bound over the surface of deep snow to reach food and evade predators.

Deer have specialized toes to expand the surface area of their hooves. This gives them the ability to walk over snow and ice, enabling them to find food and shelter in the forests and wetlands.

Animal behaviorists tiptoe around the word “fun,” but otters really do seem to entertain themselves in winter.

They use their feet to bound over the snow, building up momentum. Then they drop to their bellies and slide, five, ten, sometimes even fifteen feet before kicking forward again. 

Maybe it’s just the most efficient way for otters to travel, but exuberantly tobogganing on snow certainly appears to be recreation. 

Oh, what fun…  to be dashing through the snow!

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.