By Katie Finch

We are halfway thought winter. February 3 marked the celestial half way point. But weather wise, it feels like winter has just started. The onset of big snowfalls and below freezing temperatures brings winter center stage. For many, this is a time to slow down and reflect. The pause at the end of the exhale, before inhaling again.  

As a nature center, we teach about natural cycles but find it harder to follow those patterns in our work. There is always something else to do. One way we pause to reflect is our staff planning week. For several years, we’ve taken a week or two in January to pause our normal work and pull back in perspective. We strategically plan, work on big projects and team build.

A winter walk is just one way to connect to nature’s cycles.

This year, staff each took turns leading short team building activities of their choosing. One activity started out with a reflection on how we measure and mark the passing of time. Answers included the growing season, the school year, birthdays, day length and traditions and holidays throughout the year.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of time. Two main models for measuring time are linear and cyclical. The idea of time being linear means that time travels only in one direction – forward. Time accumulates in seconds, minutes, hours, years that we can measure, add up and count.

Cyclical time is a pattern that occurs over and over again. It is grounded in nature and the patterns we observe. The cycle of the sun and the moon rising and setting, the seasons changing as we revolve around the sun and the cycle of things living and dying and living again.

But thinking of time as either just linear or just cyclical is not accurate. A binary way of thinking about time (and so many other things) doesn’t really fit reality. I don’t think it is an either or kind of answer. Really, the truth is a little of both. We, and all things, are an accumulation of our time, with a beginning and an end. We also live through cycles that repeat each day, month and year.

Winter is also a time of rest. The natural world rests. Many animals and plants go dormant. Others at least put a pause on reproduction and focus on surviving. As humans, we often tune into our nature and follow these patterns too. However, I’ve been having trouble with resting recently. I know it is critical to my well-being. But even staying home sick, I feel the pressure of the “To Do” list. What tasks can I check off now that I have permission not to go to work?

This trouble is rooted in how I see time. In a linear way of measuring time, things happen, then they are done. There is a past you can’t return to and a future you don’t know. And the present, which is the only place we can really live, is a finite resource.

One of the greatest fears is the fear of there not being enough. Not enough resources. Not enough time. If time is a finite resource, will there ever be enough? How will I fit all the “To Dos” into my finite life?  

It is here that the cycles of nature can comfort and inspire. There is joy in a sunrise that happens every day. The snowdrops will bloom through the snow in March whether I feel productive or not. And if I fail to properly notice these things? If I’m so bogged down and stuck in my worries and woe? They will come around again and be there to start anew.

There is hope in the fresh growth of spring as it comes around each year. But those same leaves wither and fall in autumn regardless. And things lie still, dormant and dead in the winter lows. When one part of the cycle is not particularly pleasant, or downright devastating, that’s okay. It’s here. We’re in it. But it doesn’t last.

In thinking about the marking of time, I often think of trees. They have lifespans similar to ours, so it is easy to relate. The pine tree outside my office window marks time each year in rings of its trunk. The smallest ring in the center marks its first year. Each year it puts on another ring, getting wider. When will it stop? 

Speckled Alder, Photo by Jeff Tome

Deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in fall and regrow them in spring do a little living and dying each year. Next to the pine tree are Speckled Alders. These deciduous shrubs grow in many of the wet areas at Audubon. As a woody plant, they too get taller and wider each year. This time of year, its branches hold the past, present and future all at once. The cones that held last year’s seeds are still on the branches, along with the closed up, pollen-filled catkins and the start of new cones. The leaves have browned and fallen months ago, but the buds of the coming spring’s leaves lay dormant, ready to unfold in time. But right now, it is paused, its energy stored away for a warmer day. Now it lets the snow and ice pile thick around it and rests.   

In our busy world, we can remove ourselves from nature’s cycles. We don’t have to slow down and often are not encouraged to.  We have artificial light that fills the natural darkness of early nights, and can get fresh summer produce in January. We go on counting and measuring the moments that make up our finite lives and sometimes forget to stop and “smell the roses”.   

By turning to nature, we see the joy, comfort, hope and truth of those “roses”. We can witness the growing, blooming, shrinking, dying and growing again of so much in the natural world. Time is most certainly precious. But can we seek out the cyclical, learn to give space for the doing and the pausing and find the balance between action and rest?

Katie Finch is an educator at Audubon.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at or by calling (716) 569-2345.