Nature Notes from Common Ground

Week of February 1, 2021

Subnivean Layer

The snow today has us thinking about the subnivean layer. When the ground is covered in a big, thick layer of snow, the forest often seems extra quiet. It can seem as if all the animals have taken shelter until spring. Keen eyes can spot animal tracks, evidence of animals walking on the snow, but did you know that there are also animals living underneath the snow?

When there is at least a foot of snow on the ground, the snow acts like an insulating blanket over the earth. This blanket traps the earth’s heat and keeps the temperature at ground level at just about freezing. No matter how cold it gets above the snow, the temperature stays warm enough to melt the snow right where it touches the earth, creating a space called the subnivean layer. Many small mammals, like mice, voles and shrews, spend the winter in this space. In addition to a fairly constant temperature, the subnivean layer keeps these tiny mammals safe from predators. When the snow also lasts for a long time, you can even see the remains of tunnels that these creatures have made in the subnivean layer when the snow finally melts in the spring.

For more about the subnivean layer from one of our favorite naturalists, Mary Holland:


Nature activity of the week

Snow Ice Cream

Last week we talked about snow art, this week it’s snow ice cream! Snow ice cream is easy to make, delicious to eat, and special because there are only so many days a year you can make it!


  • Large bowl

  • Spoon

  • Clean, fresh snow: I either collect it from freshly fallen snow, away from roads, footprints, and dogs, or, set a bowl outside while the snow is falling.

  • Milk

  • Sugar

  • Vanilla

Mix milk, sugar, and vanilla. Stir into your snow, and enjoy!

I don’t measure, I just mix things together, but if you’d prefer amounts and more specific instructions, click here for a recipe.


Hike of the Week

Housatonic Overlook

Each week we share a kid-friendly hike or other outdoor adventure.

Click here for some great views at Housatonic Overlook!


Weekly Video

September Little Wonders and Nature Detectives Story Time-Big Tracks, Little Tracks



Cafe Rebelde

Don't Wait - and Spread the word! Join the Cafe Rebelde/Common Ground Coffee Club! Pickups are monthly at Common Ground. 5% of your purchase of this Coffee with a purpose will go to Common Ground! Join today and spread the word! Visit
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Take kids outside this winter!

Wondering how you are going to survive this winter pandemic with your children? Take them outside! This fun and creative workshop will give participants many ideas and examples of how we can support young children (1-12) as they play outside in all weather. Check out this PWYC webinar from our friends at the York Region Nature Collaborative this Wednesday.


About this series

Our programs for children at Common Ground are place based, hands on, and focus on community, friendship, and nature-based learning and play.

In this time of virtual learning and social distancing, we seek to support teachers and families in getting outside in safe and healthy ways. We hope this series provides content and activities to help your students or your family engage in nature-based learning, whether you are learning in person or virtually.

Some of the funding we rely on to keep Nature Notes free comes from the Robert F. Schumann Foundation and The Claire C. Bennitt Watershed Fund, established by the South Central CT Regional Water Authority.