What Lies Beneath

By Greg Lecker

The title of this report is not intended to evoke horror, but a deeper contemplation. The past two weeks, I’ve been silently cursing the early return of winter, though not as much as residents of Buffalo, NY. Then I visited the Vine Arts photography exhibit of Jack Mader, a neighbor. What on first glance appears to be microscopic or telescopic views of cells or celestial bodies are actually views through clear ice to air bubbles or oak leaves and fish locked in the ice of frozen puddles and lakes. The framed prints remind one that with the cold and ice comes beauty as well.

Three Mile Drive is closed to traffic now; and its wide walkway beckons one to explore Arboretum grounds in relative solitude. I choose to walk around Green Heron Pond. No longer does its watery surface reflect the changing sky. It has frozen into a flat white sheet nestled within a fringe of tawny reeds, rushes, and cattails.

Until groomed ski trails redirect my foot travel, Wurtele Boardwalk offers a relatively accessible path through snow that is both packed down and, here and there, melting somewhat in the fading but still strong sunlight.Sun glows from behind a cattail, creating a halo around seed fuzz and a snow crown. This specific cattail, photographed several weeks apart, now resembles a corn dog having been dipped in snow batter.

Cattail Crowned in Snow

Cattail Crowned in Snow

Light breezes tilt standing leaves. Their edges brush each other and yield sounds resembling those of cross-country skiers yet to stride by.

Leaf Mimicry

Leaf Mimicry

Tamarack leaves (needles) and cones hold snow on branches. The fact that some deciduous leaves remained as the first snow fell meant that autumn raking was never completed by some of us.

Other Leaves Remain

Other Leaves Remain

Snow atop dried seed heads transforms dead plant stalks into snow flowers.

Snow Flowers

Snow Flowers

As I skirt the Ordway Shelter on my return to Three Mile Drive, a gray squirrel stubbornly digs at the snow. Is it searching for oak acorns that had rolled downhill or seeking to retrieve its buried deposits in the now freezing earth? Just three weeks ago, oak leaves carpeted this land, their tannin resisting decomposition and consumption, remaining to serve as natural mulch for an oak seedling or other woodland plant.

Searching for ...

Searching for …

I enter the perennial garden through a gate in the deer exclusion fence. A flash of red overhead reveals itself to be two cardinals – the second one a brilliant red. I’m reminded of a public radio report that, like flamingos, cardinals derive heightened color from the pigments in the food they consume. A deeper story often lies beyond the first glance.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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