Every year after Thanksgiving, leaves fallen and cold bunkered down, the Ross family packs a picnic in a backpack, bundles up in ski jackets and heads to the woods for lunch.

Every year after Thanksgiving, leaves fallen and cold bunkered down, the Ross family packs a picnic in a backpack, bundles up in ski jackets and heads to the woods for lunch.

We have some land of our own, but we don't go there.

Around Christmas time we will, stomping through the snow into a place we've known these past 20 years. There's a pond where we used to play hockey on snow days and a pine forest you can sometimes smell from the deck.

But on the Friday after we carve a turkey, we go down the road to the Holden Arboretum, the quietest place we've ever been.

You can forget what silence feels like, how it can be big and pure and deafening. You can forget why you need it. We go there to rediscover solitude, if only for an afternoon, in Holden's leafless, wintry woods.

It's always waiting, as regular as clockwork.

The conservation facility lies on a secluded tract in Kirtland, about 25 miles east of Cleveland. It started with only 100 acres in 1931 and grew steadily with help from benefactors and seed money bequeathed by a mining engineer named Albert Fairchild Holden, who started an arboretum in memory of his daughter.

Today, it encompasses 3,600 acres that include a number of natural ecosystems and juried collections of trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers. About 5,800 plant species live there, and 20 miles of trails run around ponds and marshes, forests and fields.

The Pierson Creek Loop wanders through a secretive ravine filled with ferns and, in warmer months, beautiful wildflowers. I've always enjoyed the 1.5-mile trek around Corning Lake, too.

Most years, the Rosses choose the Old Valley Trail, a rugged 2.8-mile trek through the northwestern section of the grounds. The loop runs up and down a steep ravine, and a number of staircases draped with hemlocks assist on more difficult climbs.

Sometimes we stop to inspect the plaques that identify trees and disclose facts about healthy streamside ecosystems. Mostly we just keep walking, smiling and quiet. We know the path well.

When I was about eight years old, my mom took us on it just before a snowstorm hit and nearly got us lost. Our tracks beneath a coat of powder, she made us sit down while she hiked to the highest place and found the stairs out of the ravine.

Two years ago, my dad and I hiked after a blizzard, trudging through knee-deep drifts that glistened in the sunlight. We reached the top exhausted, sat down and watched our breath turn to mist.

Most years, things are easier.

We choose the Old Valley because it crosses a small brook several times. My mom, who packs the lunch and gets to decide location, will only pick a spot where she can hear the water.

"Mom, this place is fine," I'll insist, hungry for a turkey sandwich and candy bar.

"Well, I don't hear it," she'll say, pausing perplexed in a hot-pink ski jacket you can see from space. "I want to hear it babbling. You gotta hear it, babe."

She's right. I like the water's soft, steady pulse.

So will you.