Sure, it’s almost January and winter has set in for the duration. Snow covers the frozen ground and subzero wind chills make being outside unpleasant. Outdoor gardening has concluded until next spring. And yet, the sun still shines and not every day sees freezing temperatures.

Some winter days just scream for us to get out and enjoy ourselves. One thing I regularly do in winter, as if to defy the cold and snow, is to have outdoor barbeques. At my last house, I had a special stand on the back deck for a gas grill, and I kept the deck and the grill cleaned of snow so I could go out on the warmer days and enjoy a cookout.

My new place has a screen porch in back, a step up from the open deck of before. This means no snow or ice, or even rain. There is no good reason, then, not to get out and have a cookout. I don’t always eat outside, but even so, food cooked on the grill tastes as good whether eaten inside or outside.

In my younger days, I was fond of building a campfire and roasting venison — or beef, when I didn’t get a deer — on a stick over the fire. I even did some Dutch oven cooking over the fire, using a blacksmith-made tripod and S-shaped pothooks. On New Year’s Day, I would again turn to the Dutch oven and make hot buttered rum, a hearty drink, taken outside no matter the weather, to welcome the New Year.

Wintry Comfort

Here’s something to consider about being outside in winter. As long as the wind doesn’t blow, the cold isn’t much of a problem. Sunny, windless days in winter, even with subzero temperatures, feel comfortable to the housebound gardener. I have cut wood when the temperature was in the teens, wearing only a sweater. Wind wicks the heat from our bodies, but on a windless day, no matter if it is cold, we can feel very comfortable outside, at least for a short time.

Most of us spend winter nights inside, snugly ensconced by the heater or woodstove. That’s fine, but again, windless nights can be a thing of joy. I took up amateur astronomy about 25 years ago and find that winter offers the best possible views of the heavens. Stars stand out as if superimposed upon a jet-black background. Deep-sky objects such as star clusters and galaxies beckon us to observe them more closely with telescope or binoculars.

What’s more, Maine offers some of the best stargazing in the east, thanks to minimal air pollution, and, except in towns and cities, light pollution. To underscore that point, just check out a nighttime satellite image of northern New England and you’ll see much of Maine depicted as totally black. Lights from neighboring states and provinces are obvious, but the darkness that envelopes much of Maine each night is something people in other states can only envy.

If you really enjoy wintertime stargazing, it pays to keep an area cleared of snow so as to make it easy to set up a telescope, or even a lawn chair, for binocular viewing. Even without optical aid, there are lots of great sights in the heavens in winter, including meteor showers. The International Space Station makes frequent passes over Maine, and you can go to the NASA website or other sites for data on place, time and direction. If you do, make sure to be out when the site tells you to, because the ISS is never late, but always prompt, to the second.

Do note that if you maintain a snow-free area for stargazing or other outside activities, these will be the last to thaw in spring, since the lack of snow cover allows the frost to penetrate deeper than it normally would. As long as this isn’t over a garden area, it’s no big deal.

Animal Tracks

Here’s another wintertime outdoor activity that you can do on your own property, no matter how small. It’s following and identifying animal tracks. A book or booklet on animal tracks will help immensely. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife ( has posters and cards depicting the various tracks.

And, don’t forget about birds. Every bird has a unique track, and with each new snow, you’ll be treated to a visual representation of what birds visited your feeder in the early morning hours.

So do try to get out this winter. It’s not as uncomfortable out there as you might think.

Tom Seymour of Frankfort is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist, and book author.