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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

How we spent our winter vacation -- on Long Island

Mitchell Schlimer of Glen Cove shoots wildlife photos

Mitchell Schlimer of Glen Cove shoots wildlife photos at Jones Beach on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015. Credit: Jeremy Bales

The winter of 2015 has certainly made its presence known on Long Island, with weather that's been mostly snowy, icy and beyond freezing. Our groundhogs hibernated, peeked out for a brief moment and scurried back to shelter, but many readers across Long Island braved the elements to find beauty in the midst of nature's wintry onslaught.

Gardeners in the region, who know the growing season is short and precious, have learned to find ways to enjoy the outdoors -- even when nary a blade of grass has been spotted in months.

From birding and arboretum walks to quiet contemplation overlooking frigid waters, these Long Islanders bundled up and found peace and inspiration in wildlife, sunset vistas and the bone-chilling deep freeze.

Winter hangout: Jones Beach

Recommended by: Mitchell Schlimer, 58, Glen Cove

"If there's ever been a time we needed to warm our souls, it's been these past few months," said Schlimer, who is a birder, photo enthusiast and also founder and executive director of EpiCenter and Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame in Atlanta. "When everything is as frozen as it has been, my favorite place is Jones Beach, especially the West End. I go by myself or with other photographers and I walk around, looking for birds or anything of interest. Then I set up my camera and hopefully capture a moment.

"Jones Beach has been very active this year. I've seen hawks, long-eared owls, short-eared owls, snowy owls, peregrine falcons, merlins and other assorted birds. Also, if you're at West End and you go by the water, there are all these rocks and there are winter ducks there, as well.

"Life has its way of grabbing us, and we don't always make the time to see all the beauty in the world that's free, so I really enjoy all the walking, standing with patience for hours at a time and even carrying equipment that is quite heavy. I enjoy the adventure of it, the adrenaline flow, the capturing of it and the sharing of it.

"We're all so busy between email and texts and jobs and kids, and time frames and attention spans are razor thin, so a lot of people don't get to see these things. I love to share them and, hopefully, when people see my photos, they feel good."

Winter hangout: Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, Oyster Bay

Recommended by: Paul Levine, 42, Woodbury

"Winter has its own flavor when you walk in the Synoptic Garden at Planting Fields," said Levine, organizer of the Long Island Gardening and Arboretum Walks Meetup Group. "There are no leaves on the trees, but there's a nice sense about it. You can walk through the trees and see the branches and the bark, and it's very peaceful there.

"When I take my group, we walk around the entire park, and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. There are sights to see everywhere you look. We spend a half-hour in the Synoptic Garden, then walk around the park for a good 40 minutes or so and then end up in the greenhouses. They're magnificent, and everyone likes to see the colors and the plants.

"In February, the camellias are in bloom, so that's something to go in and see. And then the other greenhouse has indoor and tropical plants, and it's nice to see them as well. That's a great way to spend a winter day."

Winter hangout: Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River

Recommended by: Vincent Drzewucki, 56, Freeport

"Bayard Cutting Arboretum is majestic during winter," said Drzewucki, horticulture and urban forestry resource educator with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County. "It's a pleasure to walk around on a snow-covered winter day. I like it because it's right on the water, and I'm a person who likes to be by the shore. I don't go to the beach in the summer because of my fair skin, but I enjoy being by the water in the winter when no one else is there. I have the whole place to myself. It's peaceful, it's a great way to relieve stress, change the pace a little bit, get away from technology and everyday life. Luckily for me, I'm in an industry where occasionally I'm able to make it part of my workday.

"Gardening is a 12-months-a-year thing for me. Although you can't work in the gardens, you can certainly enjoy them by taking a trip and walking around. It helps with the cabin fever. It inspires and brings hope that spring is around the corner. The gloomy days of winter can be a little depressing, and a walk around the arboretums helps relieve that a lot.

"I think there's something intrinsic about being around plants that's therapeutic and beneficial to our psychology. It certainly beats a therapy session and is much cheaper -- just the price of admission to the garden."

Winter hangout: Robert Moses State Park

Recommended by: Corris Little, 39, Holbrook

"After so many snowstorms, my husband, James, and I had just had enough of being forced to be inside, so we said, 'Let's just drive anywhere,' " recalled Little, a communications professional. "James suggested Robert Moses because we used to go there a lot when we were dating. So early in the morning, we loaded up the car, took the dog and a cooler full of snacks and sandwiches, and a thermos of hot cocoa, and we just drove out there listening to the Dave Matthews Band. We just parked for a while, sipping hot cocoa while staring at the water from inside our toasty car.

"When we ventured out to the boardwalk, surprisingly, there were other people there as if it were a nice sunny day, but they were all bundled up. We walked the boardwalk, talked and made our summer plans. Then we got back in the car and drank more hot cocoa and listened to music.

"Robert Moses is definitely a place that's very special to us. Plus, we're lighthouse fanatics, so there is no question of where to go whenever we need to get out of the house. We just go straight to Robert Moses Field 5."

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