By Mary Beth Pottratz
At six below zero, I don’t expect many people to be at the Arb today. Am I ever wrong! The parking lot is packed.
I wonder what’s going on but am drawn from one set of animal tracks in snow to another. Deer tracks amble into the woods with telltale dragging of their hooves across the snow. Tiny mouse prints leave impressions of its tail striping the snow crust and disappear into the subnivean world beneath the snowpack.
There, temperatures keep to the balmy low 30’s despite the temperature above. Snow melts, evaporates and condenses on the snow next to the ground. This forms tunnels where mice and voles travel protected from eagle eyes above.
The stately oak outside the Sensory Garden strikes a pose. Its dark brown limbs are accented with contrasting snow. Deep rust-colored leaves cling to the lower branches. The topmost branches are completely bare and resemble filigree against the blue sky. Squirrel tracks lead directly to its trunk.
And is that a mink trail? Oh, rats! Despite keeping it inside my coat, my camera freezes up. I head to the Visitor Center to warm it.
Spicy scents of balsam, cinnamon and citrus greet me. Themed Christmas trees soar towards the vaulted ceiling. One trimmed with objects found in nature was fascinating. Ornaments of dried grasses, husks, leaves, bark, seeds, pods and feathers adorn its branches in countless variations. My favorite is a simple circle of translucent dried gingko leaves dusted with glitter.
I head back outside towards the bird feeder behind the Snyder Building. Turkeys peck at the fallen seeds on the patio, while chickadees, woodpeckers, nuthatches, cardinals, and juncos take turns on the platform above.
Blue jays call from the trees. Turkey prints run in a highway between tree and shrub towards the feeder. Pine trees frosted sparkling white resemble ladies in ball gowns waltzing on the hillside.
The temperature again stalls my camera and I enter the Snyder Building. Holiday Tea is in full swing. The halls are decorated with wreaths, garlands, planters, bouquets, ornaments, potpourris and sleigh loads of other crafts at the Women’s Auxiliary craft sale.
But the best treat is finding the Impressions of Nature exhibit curated by Andersen Horticultural Library staffer Gretchen Burau. I am struck by the detail in fine lines of grasses and prairie smoke blooms in seed. Gretchen explains some of the nature imprint processes used in the prints by Sonja Larsen and John Doughty and I study displays on the process.
The sun is low in the sky as I leave, but it’s only mid-afternoon. In just two more weeks, the days will start to lengthen again as we pass the winter solstice. Meantime, we have impressions on both snow and paper to enchant us.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.