By Greg Lecker
Crows caw in surprise at my early morning arrival. Frost patterns coat the gate of the fence that guards the inner perennial and conifer collections from hungry and inquisitive deer. At feeder stations adjacent to both the old and new dining rooms, many birds are flocking: Northern Cardinals, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-bellied and Hairy Woodpeckers, and the ever-present House Sparrow and Gray Squirrel.
As I enter the Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden, white oak leaves rustle softly and low in the gentle breeze. The black plant name tags look lonely as their wearers are asleep underground. At the prairie, raking sun casts pleasingly long shadows uphill towards the bright glow of dried grasses glowing along the brow of the hillside.
As I round the curve towards the Garden for Wildlife, a Black-capped Chickadee whistles its descending two-note “fee-bee” song phrase. A faint crescent moon is just visible in the brightening blue sky.
No film or digital light-sensing chip can truly capture the ephemeral sparkle of snow crystals below. Fluttering between evergreen and deciduous boughs, flickering sun beams that would hypnotize and annoy a driver delight me. This sunny day follows what was the coldest week of the winter, possibly the coldest period in more than a year. Expected this week is a warming January thaw – go outside and enjoy the fine weather.
Reaching the new High Point sculpture garden, I admire George Rickey’s 1986 sculptural mobile, which is rather dryly titled “Four Open Rectangles Diagonally Jointed”. Its skeletal movement reminds me of the automatic linkage system of a bird’s wing bones that animate primary and secondary feathers.
Today, not just birds, but human visitors are more chipper than during last Saturday’s cold gray hike. The low sun accentuates myriad patterns of tracks across the open fields bordering Three-Mile-Drive: ski and pole, snowshoe, boot, and animal. The warm color of the rising morning lends chromatic complements: yellow-orange highlights on the road edge ice and blue tinted shadows cast by stone walls and hedges of the landscape collection I’m now entering. Even the landmark red barn’s shadows are a dusty blue in the hazy distance.
The wind again awakens leaves overhead – red oak in this vicinity. Is it my imagination or might red oak leaves, with their sharp tips, voice their rustling reply a bit high than the duller pitch of white oak leaves with their softly rounded lobes and sinuses? A chattering red squirrel and a buzzing Black-capped Chickadee call me crazy. Even the oak genus Quercus thinks my idea a bit queer. Yet it’s something to ponder during my drive back home.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.