By Mary Beth Pottratz
Splendor meets me at every turn, despite most trees having already lost their leaves! I delight in the shapes of naked gnarled branches and burled trunks that have become visible. The forest floor is strewn with a crazy quilt of shapes and colors: maple, oak, coffee tree and basswood leaves in hues of purple, red, brown, gold and tan. A red oak canopy spreads protectively high above the woodland, basking in the late afternoon light.
A Hairy Woodpecker rat-tat-tatted from a tree above. A lone Blue Jay called but received no reply. Some of the basswoods are still shining golden, and a brilliant maple glows orange and gold. Tamarack needles are still turning from green to gold. Its needle-leaves haven’t started dropping yet.
The sun – already starting to eclipse – shines through a tree branch in the prairie, backlighting the wildflower mosaic and casting a glowing ball over the naked branches. A few hardy sunflowers and asters are still in bloom. A pair of Barred Owls hoot their familiar “Who, who, who cooks for you all?” from beyond the prairie.
The sun and the trees aren’t the only things in eclipse. Sunflowers, coneflowers, goldenrod, asters and rosinweed show off elaborate seedheads. Slender grasses are tipped delicately with spikelets. Stalks of guara have tiny seedpods lined in red along their tops.
A family of mallards float in a nearby pond. They dabble lazily, unaware of the rarified light around them. The moon is now uncovering the sun. Prisms and halos beam through the air above pond and prairie.
Wild Turkeys, acting more tame than wild, scrabble across the road in front of me. The sun drops below the horizon. It is still in partial eclipse. Dozens of blackbirds call from below the cattails along Arboretum Drive. Organizing their migration, no doubt. The eclipsing plants must be speaking to the blackbirds, too.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.