The leaves have finally fallen off the trees in the Talladega National Forest near Heflin. Wild turkeys scurry in the brush as a watchful hawk flies above the pines searching for prey. A gunshot carried by the breeze from a distant hunter echoes up a hollow as pileated woodpeckers chatter about.

It’s wintertime in the forest.

Colorful lichens, mosses and ferns dot the meandering Pinhoti Trail, Alabama’s longest footpath,  offering evidence that life never stops.

Bright red partridge berries and mushrooms of all description dot the understory on both sides of the trail.

According to Renee Raney, superintendent at Cheaha State Park, winter is a beautiful time in   Alabama’s forests.

“Exquisite winter sunrises that cause lichen-covered quartzite to glow in a hundred shades of green,” are among the sites to seen in the state’s forests in winter, Raney said. “Evergreens such as ferns, ground cedar, native holly and partridge berry creepers stand out against the gray and browns of the winterscape,” said Raney.

“Ragged shadows of twisted trees dance across a calico quilt of an autumn leaf carpet,” Raney said, “just as an X-ray reveals hidden things, winter is a season of looking into the secrets of a forest.”

Much beauty is revealed when leaves fall away with the seasons, Raney said.

“Abandoned nests of birds, artwork of insects such as paper wasps and hornet nests, mammal track and burrows, and fruiting bodies of fungi on trees, fallen logs, and in leaf litter that play a role in the decay process and also serve as winter food for many forest creatures,” she said.

“Every moment on a winter trail brings new revelation and wonder,” said Raney.