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Marriottsville/Sykesville/Woodstock: For winter lovers, a nature walk could be just the ticket at Howard County Conservancy

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So far, winter temperatures in our area have felt mild, thus confusing some early spring-blooming plants. In my yard, winter jasmine has broken out in happy yellow bloom and daffodil sprouts have bravely popped above the surface of the earth.

For those who revel in the stark beauty of winter, a nature walk could offer a wealth of discoveries. The Howard County Conservancy offers the perfect venue.

Visitors are welcome to explore the Conservancy's property and trails any day between sunrise and sunset, but winter hours are now in effect for the buildings (including restrooms), which will open Wednesdays through Fridays only, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The address is 10520 Old Frederick Road (Route 99) in Woodstock.

The Conservancy has also returned to its usual Wonder Talk schedule – 10 a.m. on the second Saturday of the month — and the Jan. 14 program will educate about "Cool Turtles and Snakes in Your Backyard." Ray Bosmans, professor emeritus at University of Maryland and president of the Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society, will show off his collection of live snakes and turtles as he shares some interesting facts about them. The program is free.

Film night at the Conservancy is Jan. 19 and this year's presentation will feature "Dirt! The Movie." The 2009 award-winning documentary, narrated by Golden Globe winner Jamie Lee Curtis, spotlights the underappreciated role of soil in our world. Where did dirt come from? What benefits does it have? How has human behavior impacted this valuable resource? Soil scientist Patrick Drohan will lead an audience discussion after the film.

"Dirt! The Movie" costs $10 per family through January 17 or $12 after that date. Refreshments are included. To register, call 410-465-8877, or go to http://www.hcconservancy.org.

Speaking of dirt, don't forget that your old Christmas tree can be recycled into compost and mulch. Since our community houses the Alpha Ridge Landfill (2350 Marriottsville Road), disposal is super-convenient. Simply drop off your tree at the wood waste area of the landfill any time during normal business hours: Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Double-check that you have removed all ornaments, as well as tinsel, garlands, lights and any other decorations.

Have an artificial tree or wreath that's seen better days? No problem! Dispose of that at Alpha Ridge, too, but in the scrap metal area.

How are you doing with your New Year's resolutions? If you pledged to help others in some capacity, many local opportunities are available. For instance, even if you don't have a lot of time to spend volunteering, donating blood may be an option.

St. James United Methodist Church will sponsor a Red Cross blood drive Jan. 26 from 2 to 8 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome, but reservations are recommended; call the church at 410-442-2020. The address is 12470 Old Frederick Road (Route 99) in Marriottsville.

Those on the go may also enjoy working with Neighbor Ride, Howard County's volunteer-based transportation service for seniors. Neighbor Ride needs additional drivers to handle the burgeoning demand in our area. You can help an older resident maintain his or her independence by providing transportation to medical, business, or personal care appointments, religious services, shopping, social engagements, or other commitments.

Volunteer drivers may provide rides that are convenient to their own schedules and destinations, and they may bring their children along for a rewarding intergenerational experience. For more information, call Patrice Cerwonka or Rosemary Noble at 410-884-RIDE or email volunteer@neighborride.org. The organization's website is http://www.neighborride.org.

Perhaps your interests lean more toward a fascination with history. The Howard County Historical Society seeks volunteers for a variety of projects and activities; if you would like to help or learn more, call volunteer coordinator Paulette Lutz at 410-480-3250 or email info@hchsmd.org.

The society also welcomes donations of materials pertaining to the history and families of Howard County — especially Western Howard County. Bring your donations directly to Historical Society's new location on the second floor of the beautiful new Miller Branch Library, or call the number above to arrange for pickup.

Volunteering and donating aside, the society would like to invite Civil War buffs to attend a special presentation on "The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War: A Marylander's View," scheduled for Jan. 21 at 2 p.m. in the new Historical Center.

Henry Stansbury, former president and chairman of the Maryland Historical Society, will take listeners from the presidential election of 1860 to the Pratt Street Riots in 1861 and Maryland's subsequent occupation by federal troops. To register for this event, call 410-313-1950, or go to http://www.hclibrary.org and select the "Classes and Events" tab.

Bon Secours Spiritual Center will host its monthly community program, "Keep the Spirits Up," Friday, Jan. 13 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The day offers an opportunity for those in the midst of career change to find spiritual refreshment and improve their personal and job search management skills. BSSC suggests an offering of $15 for the program.

During the last weekend of the month, Bon Secours will offer a weekend retreat, "Praying with Henri Nouwen." Nouwen (1932-1996) was a popular priest, author, and professor whose writings continue to speak to contemporary spiritual struggles. Facilitator Gordon Creamer will help participants use Nouwen's ideas and literary works as an opportunity for personal exploration and group reflection. The retreat, which costs $225, begins at 5 p.m. on Friday, January 27 and ends at 11 a.m. on Sunday, January 29.

To register for BSSC events, go to http://www.bonsecoursspiritualcenter.org or call 410-442-1320. The address is 1525 Marriottsville Road, in Marriottsville.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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