By Mary Beth Pottratz
White wispy clouds slowly brush over a welcome blue sky. This morning’s 50⁰ start had me packing my fall jacket. But I leave it in the car as today warms by fifteen degrees.
After another long, rainless spell, I wonder whether we will have much fall color in the metro area. But the drenching of the last few days has certainly revived and freshened the prairie. Chirping crickets beckon me in.
The grasses – side lit by a sun that seems suddenly low in the sky – sport their fall jackets. Indian grass forms a straight wall of red blades with single slender orange-hued seed stalks. Little bluestem is frothed with tiny, fluffy white seeds that glow in the sunlight atop its yellow-orange stalks. Its lower leaves are still greenish yellow. Big bluestem seedheads stand regal above its now pipestone-tinged leaves. Grasshoppers hop-fly in front of my every step, and a small snake rustles away through the brush.
I meet Jake and Sue, Arboretum members from Rochester. They visit here often. They revel, as I do, in the sunshine and rain-fresh air.
Some prairie flowers are still in bloom: Giant sunflowers and a few lingering rudbeckias are highlighted by small stalks of white sage flowers and hairy false golden aster. Orange sulphur butterflies are nectaring on purple asters. A chubby white-throated sparrow flits in a fir tree at the prairie’s edge, probably at rest on its fall migration.
Goldfinches party in still-green maple trees. Their smart yellow tuxedos have started the annual fade to muted gold and olive green. Even the leaves have traded summer clothes for fall. Some woodbine leaves are a deep, rich red against green grasses. The green leaves of dwarf bush honeysuckle are tinged a regal shade of vermilion.
Some trees and shrubs have yellowed, seemingly from the recent drought rather than the season. A gorgeous, tall elm is lushly green at top, but a fourth of the way down its leaves turn yellow and many branches are bare. Or is that Dutch elm disease taking its toll? A woodpecker drums from the woods beyond, beckoning me forward.
A ragged brown butterfly with burnt orange highlights and white fringes on its wings feeds on small white aster flowers. I admire its striped antennae with clubbed tips and sigh. Like the mere week of warmth we have left in Minnesota, its days are numbered, too.
Native sugar maples are still a sea of deep green, with just the first few touches of red showing on just a few leaves here and there, seeming air brushed. The shaggy yellow birches have turned brilliant yellow. I turn my face up to the sky to feel the sunlit color wash down on me.
Tamaracks are still a soft green, as is most of the forest. The higher moisture levels helped them survive the dry spells. The recent rain will stall their fall jackets for a few more weeks. And I hope our forecasted warmth will delay mine, too!
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org