It’s very cold and growing colder as the sun goes down. Dan and I are bundled up and walking the dog on our usual 3-mile walk that includes a loop through the campus of Penn State Behrend. At five p.m. in mid-January any other year, it would’ve been bustling with cars and people — students, staff and faculty members — coming and going.

But, in January of 2021, it’s still nearly deserted with just a handful of essential staff and faculty members working on campus.

So the loud music and laughter from the Erie Hall parking lot draws our attention. A group of kids — we assume students as they look to be full grown “kids” — are gathered at the edge of the parking lot, car radio blaring and they appear to be sledding (?) on the large snow mountains created by the plows clearing the lot. How odd, we think. Why not sled on the big hill behind the science building like everyone else does?

Wait. Are those shovels?

“I think they’re building a fort,” I said.

We both agree it’s awesome to see college-age kids outside playing like a bunch of 10-year-old boys, and continue on.

I forget all about it until Kelly and I are taking a walk on campus a week later.

“Oh, let’s go over that way,” I say. “I want to see what they were doing.”

It was, indeed, a fort complete with a circular bench seat and a table built out of snow. There was also a staircase in the snow and a snow throne.

It was an unexpected surprise and a moment of delight

winter throne

These things are there, particularly in nature, if only we see them.  Like these tree, glittering and gorgeous, outside of a Walmart on upper Peach Street and largely unnoticed by all the people and cars going by.

They stopped me in my tracks….and then I stopped traffic while I took photos of them. I don’t care…maybe it made some of those people look too.

Winter is beautiful in it’s own ways, offering surprises for those who brave the elements. Presque Isle State Park is gorgeous in summer, but it’s breathtaking on an ice cold winter day:

JW - ice

Sunday, a friend and I were cross-country skiing around Eaton Reservoir in North East. We’d debated about going as the wind seemed brutal, but it seemed to wrong to waste a sunny Sunday afternoon and good, packed ski snow, so we went.

We started out facing the wind and it was bitterly cold, but once we made the turn and were on the other side of the water, we were unzipping jackets, taking off gloves, and sweating up a storm.  A woman approached us in the opposite direction. She had a dog leash gathered up in her hand and I expected her to ask us to keep an eye out for a lost dog.

Instead, she told us to keep an eye out for a team of sled dogs coming our way. We stepped off the trail and were ready, cameras in hand, when they came trotting by.

JW - dogs

Another welcome winter surprise.

This is not the easiest season to live through. It’s even more challenging in the snowbelt, but I’ve learned that if I just layer up and get out there, nature never disappoints.

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About Just Write: Just Write is my adaptation of free writing, a technique in which a person writes continuously and quickly without little regard for spelling, grammar, or topic. It helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and explore everything from meaningful topics to mundane observations with the same effort and without the pressure of crafting perfect prose. I just start writing.