SANDWICH -- When we stopped at the Green Briar Nature Center to pick up a trail map, scents of ginger and apricot wafted from the jam kitchen. Excited children were assembling at the twin rows of gas burners, where education director Mary Beers was getting ready for the afternoon's ''winter jam" workshop for families.
She paused to advise us on the best trail for a winter walk in the woods.
''It's kind of wet today, but I'd say Briar Patch," Beers said as a wistful look passed fleetingly across her face. The trail, which circles Boiling Springs Pond, is only about a half mile long, but it crosses a lot of wildlife habitat as it winds along a ridge, down into hollows, and past a marsh.
''You'll see tons of animal tracks," she predicted. ''Along the trail, you'll see a hole on one side and a hole on the other with tiny mouse tracks between them. And on a sunny day like this, be sure to look up in the trees and you'll see at least one raccoon taking a nap."
Beers seemed to be envisioning it all in her mind's eye, a veritable Thornton Burgess fantasia enacted beneath a blue sky in a foot of slushy snow. She seemed ready to light out for the territory and leave the kitchen behind.
Indeed, the nature center and jam kitchen are run by the Thornton W. Burgess Society. Fittingly, one corner of the library is devoted to children's books by the Sandwich native who lived from 1874 to 1965. Recalling how much we had enjoyed ''The Adventures of Chatterer the Red Squirrel" and his buddies made us glad we had grown up in an era when adults gave children books instead of DVDs. To brush up on our wildlife identification skills, we consulted the library's extensive collection of field guides.
The aptly named Briar Patch trail (stray bramble runners tugged at our clothes) crosses the very turf where Burgess placed his anthropomorphized menagerie, most of whom must have been snoozing the winter away. Without leaves on the shrubs and trees, the snow-laden briar patches were humped up like thatched cottages offering safe havens for chary rabbits and chipmunks. The skeletal branches of the beeches and silver birches were silhouetted against the white snow and bright sky, but much as we scanned the trees, we never did spot a napping raccoon. We heard the calls and twitters of chickadees, jays, and sparrows, but only one genuine early bird was curious enough to show itself: a fat robin in search of spring.
Spring, however, was still weeks away, and slopping through the wet snow gave us good reason to warm up. The seats in front of the 2,150-degree furnace at the Sandwich Glass Museum's glassblowing exhibit were just the right place. The museum does an admirable job of telling the story of how Deming Jarves started a local industry in the 1820s, intending to use the plentiful sand from Sandwich beaches. Not until he fired up his furnace did Jarves discover that Cape Cod sand was so full of iron that it made poor glass. Undaunted, he shipped sand from as far away as Florida and proceeded to deforest much of Cape Cod to keep his hungry furnaces fed.
We shook off our chill by watching glassblower Don Parkinson at work. In summer, the museum glassblower does an educational set piece that recapitulates the history of glassmaking. In winter, Parkinson blows and shapes pieces for the museum shop inventory. He fielded questions happily and explained each step of the process as he worked to create a vase of swirled blue, green, and golden glass.
Sandwich is a rare place where the items on display in the local museum are also for sale in the antiques shops. The Sandwich Antiques Center (131 Route 6A, 508-833-3600), in a rambling 19th-century commercial building, has an extensive selection of Sandwich glass. While we were perusing the shops, we also checked The Weather Store (146 Main St., 800-646-1203). Alas, the beautiful brass instruments could tell us temperature, barometric pressure, phase of the moon, and wind speed -- but not one could tell when spring would come.
At the Heritage Museums & Gardens, the display gardens of daylilies lay beneath the snow and the rhododendrons were still wilted to conserve their moisture. Most visitors flock to Heritage in spring and early summer when the plants and shrubs burst into bloom. To encourage visitors to enjoy the subtle winter season, the institution offered free admission this year on weekends for most of January and February. Even though the azaleas and rhododendrons were sporting fat buds, snow-crusted holly leaves provided a reality check on the weather.
The estate of pharmaceutical heir Josiah K. Lilly III encompasses about 100 acres, but the walk on a paved path from the parking lot to the art museum is only about a half mile, and there are plenty of stops along the way.
First up is the Antique Automobile Museum in a structure modeled on the round barn at Hancock Shaker Village in the Berkshires. Visitor assistant Scottie High literally had her hands full polishing the chrome on some of the most beautiful automobiles ever crafted, including a green and yellow 1930 Duesenberg Model J Derham Tourster once owned by Gary Cooper.
''They have chrome all over," High said with a mixture of admiration and exasperation. ''There are a lot of curlicues." As we left, she was rubbing oil into some 70-year-old leather seats to keep them supple.
Josiah and Josephine Lilly liked well-made things, and the classic Cape Cod windmill they moved to the property from Orleans is no exception. We gave it an admiring glance and moved along to the American History Museum for an exhibition that celebrates those boys of summer, the Cape Cod Baseball League. The museum will house the league's Hall of Fame through at least 2008.
Practically next door, the art museum is a boisterous celebration of Americana. The folk art gallery is fairly stuffed with carved shop signs, hunting decoys, cigar store Indians, and ships' figureheads. But the best piece of all is the 1912 traveling carousel manufactured by the Charles I.D. Looff Co. of East Providence. It was found in pieces in a barn in Provincetown, and moved to the museum for restoration and reconstruction.
We, of course, took a spin.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon are the authors of the ''Cape Cod Compass American Guide."