Winter is my favorite time to get out into the local forests and prairies. You might think that not having much else to do when the ground is frozen has something to do with it, and you would be right. But even if Muddy Boots could dig holes in January, here’s why I would still get out into the Cook, McHenry, and DuPage County forest preserves in winter.

No ticks! Ticks may be small, but their populations have grown to Godzilla-sized levels. Without turning this into a google research project, my guess that it’s probably due to the burgeoning deer population. (Update: I recently read an article that said the explosion of ticks may be due to the decline in the fox population. Foxes, which are very effective hunters of mice, are being displaced by coyotes, which aren’t so great at catching mice. More coyotes >> fewer foxes >> more mice >> more ticks, which live off the mice.) I spent most of my childhood outdoors and never saw a tick. Now I find them in backyards, or more accurately, I find them on myself after poking around in backyards. Unlike my dog, I’ve never, ever actually been “bitten” by a tick.

No mosquitoes! Quite unbearable, but they’re really only a problem in July and August.

No DEET! See “mosquitoes” and “ticks” above. Not that my skin is plastic, but this nasty stuff dissolves plastic. Unfortunately, it’s the only thing that works for me. I’ll blame my old-age eccentricities on deet exposure.

No spiders! The less said the better.

No poison ivy! Actually it’s still there in winter, but you are unlikely to come into skin-plant contact if you are bundled up in leafless woods . Your gloves and boots can still pick up urushiol (the chemical culprit) from naked shoots and vines. Then you can indirectly get the chemical on your hands when you touch your gloves and boots. I’m highly allergic, but this has never happened to me. I still avoid touching any vines or doing face-plants into the forest floor.

No multiflora roses! They really rip up the skin on my legs in summer since I’m usually in shorts. Obviously the plants don’t go anywhere in the winter, but they do less damage to covered-up legs.

These nasty alien plant pests have hook-shaped scalpels up and down the stems. They do a pretty good job of shredding a pair of trousers, and just enough of the thorn incisions get through to the skin to make you curse. I’m pretty good at identifying plants, but I’m often distracted and find myself walking right into a patch. Staying on trails would eliminate this problem.

At least they aren’t weasels.

Raspberry is another thorny problem plant. It’s a native, doesn’t slice you up quite as bad, but I more often find myself standing in its midst, with no apparent way out, even by retracing my steps. I think it grows up around me when I stand still.

The one downside to wintertime hikes: picking seeds and burrs out of the dog’s fur. Again, staying on the trail would help.

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