Knocked our boots off the Howell Nature Center surely did this past weekend. It was quite astounding to see close to 300 acres of such pristine beauty so near to the metropolitan area. Their mission is education and rehabilitation of wildlife. Those they cannot re-release into the wild, they keep for visitors to enjoy, which is why we saw this bird up close taking a bath in sub-freezing temperatures. Other visible critters include a great horned owl, coyotes, possums, a flying squirrel, an eagle and Santa! Yes, in one of their beautiful lodge buildings overlooking Pleasant Lake, they hold breakfasts with Santa on the weekends. Kids were squealing with delight as they could see the Jolly Old Elf peeking in the windows out on the deck before he made his grand entrance. If that is not enough, they have hayrides with Santa in the evening. Plenty of groups and organizations use this idyllic setting for retreats year-round, as they have enough lodges and housing for over 200. They are selling beautiful Christmas trees daily until they run out. They put them in a machine to shake any snow and loose needles off of them. The gift shop is super cute, too.