Skip to main content
winter tree wishnick 2012

Acclimate to Winter

Published on
16 January 2014

winter tree wishnick 2012Most years, I dread January – cold, sleet, ice, and heavy grey skies. But not this year.

Because winter started in earnest last November, I am already acclimated to the cold. I’ve slipped on the ice (once) and shoveled snow – multiple times. Instead of being tired of winter, I was actually quite comfortable with the winter routine when we hit January.

In fact, I still haven’t worn my winter coat – that’s right. I’m wearing my fall canvas field coat with a fleece vest on top. Unprecedented! (For the record, I did not leave my house on the two coldest days of the year. But that’s part of acclimating to winter, as you will learn below).

Acclimatization is a natural process where plants and animals adjust to seasonal (or other temporary) changes in their environment. For instance, as average temperatures slowly decrease from fall to winter, one’s system will adjust to the changing temperature. (Note: acclimatization is different than adaptation. Adaptation is what happens when species evolve over generations to have different characteristics than their parents.)

Plants that are meant to grow in a northern climate have genes that cause them to go dormant for a period of time when there is less light and the temperatures are cold. The reason that plants from more southern climates often die during northern winters is because they do not have the ability to adjust to the seasonal change in temperature.

Humans are warm-blooded (endotherms) like all other mammals and need to take steps to reduce heat-loss during the cold weather.
Like many birds and mammals, people add layers of insulation to stay warm during the cold. In our case, the insulation is in the form of clothing – for our feathered and furry friends, it may be more feathers, a thicker coat, or additional layers of fat.

Some animals (and people) stay warm in winter by moving south. Others choose to hibernate for long-periods, conserving energy by dropping their metabolism to just 1-5% of what it is during active periods. Some birds and small mammals, like chickadees and shrews, enter a lower-energy state called torpor at night, dropping their body temperature as a way to reduce heat-loss while sleeping.

Another way to stay warm on a cold winter day is to be active. Cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing or taking a hike will all cause the body to generate heat. For birds and mammals, the most common daily activity is finding food. Maybe we humans would put on less weight during the winter if we had to work a little harder at feeding ourselves!

TLC’s winter oak rescues are a great way to warm-up. Cutting and stacking brush gets one’s blood flowing, and a brush fire keeps everyone toasty. Harvard area events will be held on the following dates:

  • January 20th, Maguire Woods, 5507 Irish Lane, 10am – 1pm. From the intersection of Route 14 and McGuire Road in Harvard, take McGuire 3.6 miles to Irish Lane and head north 0.3 miles to the work site.
  • January 25th, Gateway Park, Heritage Lane and Route 23, Harvard, 9am-noon.
  • February 17th, Van Maren’s Woods, 20202 Lembcke Road, 10am – 1pm. Take Route 14 south from Harvard to Lembcke, turn right, and proceed 1.2 miles to the work site.

TLC is offering a free Winter Tree Identification class, January 18th, 10am-2pm at Hennen Conservation Area, 4622 Dean Street, Woodstock. Join TLC’s Ecologist, Melissa Hormann, to learn how to identify trees using the twigs and bark. The first hour will be inside looking at twig samples, and the next three hours will be spent walking the hiking trails and using your new skills. Wear clothes appropriate for an outdoor winter hike.

TLC’s Annual Celebration Brunch will take place January 26 from 11-2pm at D’Andrea’s Banquets in Crystal Lake. Join old friends and new as the organization marks another successful year of land preservation. This year, TLC is excited to welcome special guest Mark Hirsch, a photojournalist who gained international acclaim for his daily photos of “That Tree,” a lonely bur oak on the edge of a farm field near his home in Platteville, Wisconsin. Tickets are $50 for non-members ($40 for members) and are available at or by calling 815-337-9502 by 5pm Wednesday, January 22nd.

photo by Harris Wishnick, taken at TLC’s Woodland Hills Conservation Easement in Lakewood