Holiday connections of a different sort: a little chickadee and a police station party

This holiday season, the Cleveland Metroparks invites families looking for something beyond the season's ubiquitous candy and glitzy digital animation to make a more authentic and gentler connection – with nature.

An array of free hand feed the chickadees programs offer up a breathtaking experience that's been a Metroparks tradition for more than five decades. Avian enthusiasts stand in a designated spot with an open hand of sunflower seeds and the tiny creatures land therein, pick up a seed and fly away to eat it.
"The trick is to watch a person's face as a bird lands in their hand," says the Metroparks' director of outdoor experiences Wendy Weirich. "That's worth everything."
The program is available at the Brecksville Nature Center from Dec. 19 through 31 from 10 a.m. to noon every day except Christmas, and on Saturdays and Sundays from Jan. 2 through Feb. 28 also 10 a.m. to noon. Two 1.5-mile Chickadee Feeding Hikes will be conducted at the Rocky River Reservation on Jan. 3 and 24 from 10 to 11 a.m., or meet the hungry and not-so-timid chickadees at the North Chagrin Reservation, which hosts bird-watching hiking events of various lengths on Dec. 19, 21, 26, 27, 29 and Jan. 4.
Would-be wildlife explorers are advised to dress for the weather with layered clothing and appropriate footwear (trails may be snowy or icy). Calling ahead to confirm programming and registering is always a good idea.
"It's connecting people to nature," says Weirich. "What’s more important than that? If we don't get the next generation falling in love with nature, we're in for some trouble."
She notes that the feed the chickadee programs do not impact the birds' natural feeding habits - but it does impact program participants.
"It's a life changing experience," says Weirich."
For a connection of a different sort, this Saturday, Dec. 19, the 73rd Street Block Club and Ka-La Healing Garden Resource Center will team up for their fifth annual Winterfest event, which is for children up to age 17. Free and open to the public, the event will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Cleveland Police Department's Third District Community Room, 4501 Chester Avenue. Kids will enjoy a host of holiday treats and receive toys as well as hats and gloves. Last year's event attracted nearly 20 volunteers and 100 area kids, many of whom come from economically disadvantaged homes.
Previously held at the Ka - La Garden, this year holding Winterfest at the new police station will help reinforce one of the ongoing goals of the organizers: getting urban youths to interact with police in a positive way. While that ambition is surely lofty and honorable, event founder and community organizer Tanya Holmes says it's not the best part of the annual Winterfest.
So what is?
"The looks on the kids' faces," she says, and somewhere a chickadee chirps.

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit for complete profile information.
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