Nature Notes

A Taste of Winter for the New Year

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Witch hazel with ice.

The Arboretum with snow! Temperatures in the mid-20s and a wind advisory warning of gusts up to 50 mph didn’t even slow me down. Toasty-warm in long johns and my old down coat, I stride down Three Mile Drive in anticipation.

Dabs of white frosting are frozen onto pine branches. Grasses and forbs bent under their snowy coats stand still in the high winds. Clouds are moving fast in many layers, all but covering the blue sky behind them. The landscape is brighter now. White snow reflects back the light, where yesterday gray leaves and brown trunks darkened the view.

Power-walkers are out, slowing to baby steps through a slick patch, then regaining long strides on the sanded walkways. A foursome heads out on Green Heron Trail; a couple holds hands underneath a bare trellis.

Tiny sprigs of yellow pop out of the landscape like neon in dark. Witch hazel! Its bent petals are still open; its leaves long gone. Although it typically flowers in late fall and winter, witch hazel is not normally found in the metro area. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is considering elevating its “special concern” status to “threatened,” due to the facts that it only occurs in four easternmost Minnesota counties, is often taken over by invasive species such as buckthorn, and has been almost entirely eradicated through development.

It sounds like a jet engine is just behind the trees. No, it’s the roaring of the wind! It pushes me forward. I spread out my arms for balance, and feel the wind lift me under the bulky sleeves of my coat. Blowing snow, dried leaves, seeds, and even whole pine cones fly through the air. I move on to a more sheltered area.

Just below the Herb Garden, parents are teaching their snow-suited boys how to roll down the hill. Little Simon is too young to know to lift his face up on the tummy side of the roll. He starts wailing, mouth wide open, at the unexpected sting of cold on his face.

As Mom brushes him off, a soft blob of flakes inevitably lands, mid-cry, on his tongue. The wailing stops. Simon’s eyes widen, first in surprise, then in delight. He smiles, mouth still wide open. “I ate SNOW!” he yells in joy.

From the bottom of the hill, big brother Everett flops on his back. “And I won the race!” he shouts triumphantly.

I think they both won.

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteer.

1 comment on “A Taste of Winter for the New Year

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