Grateful for my warm coat, I know an outdoor walk will be far more interesting than braving the mall on its busiest weekend. Maybe even too interesting!
The beautiful white oak just outside the rose garden holds tightly to its inner leaves. But with outer branches bare, I easily discern its crooked, craggy limbs and spreading shape. Branches bend low and beckon me to dally underneath for a while. A few tiny ice crystals dance around me as I decline the offer and head towards Green Heron Trail.
Fantastic forms and shapes of the trees are evident now without their leafy coats. Behind bare sprays of red-osier dogwood clumps strung with wild cucumber pods, a thick willow tree rises up from the swamp. Its thick grey bark shows terra cotta streaks between its deep furrows. The bark curls and twists into weird shapes, like thumbprints – no, like a fluffy gray beard – no, like…
Crash! Squirrels dive through dry underbrush and draw my attention to leaves carpeting the forest floor. A glorious mélange of orangey clay, tan, and beige oak leaves are dotted with slender green willow leaves tinted faded yellow and peach. Their silver backsides are shining, reflecting clouds.
The trail around the pond boasts more shades of beige than Crayola could ever imagine! Cattail leaves colored sun-bleached sand are cracked and bent from the wind. Their shaded sides show stronger hues of bronze and golden honey. Cotton puffs of aster seedheads burst open against faded purple-brown stems. The willows in the distance create a yellow haze over the bare brown forest branches behind them. Sand and ecru grasses with hints of gold sway and bend in the breeze. Paler still are the goldenrods and taller grasses, tipped with eggshell-hued clouds of opened seeds. Rich chocolate brown cattail heads are half-erupted into creamy tufts of silk.
Several mallard families dabble casually on the pond, adults quacking low, giving lessons to their young. A thin sheet of ice floats atop the inlet from the pond to the path. The breeze stiffens, sending me on.
As I round the corner along Three-Mile Drive, I notice the bare knobby twigs of tamaracks, punctuated by cones. Fallen tamarack needles dust the trail edges with bright shades of gold and copper with paler rose tints.
Dark-eyed juncos peck up seeds along the path. With feathers fluffed out against the cold, they look fat and round enough to bounce. They flit from path to tree, then away. Not yet wintrified, I follow their cue and head on home.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.