Nature’s Artistry

By Greg Lecker

Inside the Arboretum’s Oswald Visitor Center, all is color and movement – decorations, art, and entertainment. Outside, the world is a bit more subdued…..but not without interest when one searches carefully in the dim twilight-like fog that has persisted for days. Nature curiously offers her artistry to delight amidst the gray mist.

Between the parking lot and the entry to Three Mile Drive, I find a color collage of multiple layers: silver Russian Sage, yellow grasses (switch grass?), and red twig dogwood.

Color Collage

Color Collage

I enter Three Mile Drive and turn towards the sugarbush. A gang of now full-grown turkeys exits the woodland, confidently striding towards me. A low ground cover with holly-like foliage diverts my attention. Water beads on the smooth green-maroon leaves of Creeping Mahonia. I hadn’t known that there was a Mahonia species that was hardy in Minnesota!I turn to the right and enter the fern walk. A meltwater puddle beckons me. I kneel down and notice a brilliant reflection of bronze fern leaves, and beyond that, trees and sky.

Reflection of Unusual Perspective

Reflection of Unusual Perspective

Besides the perspective, what is surprising is that there exists a mirror of liquid water on December 15 – amidst mid-40s temperatures. Nature has given us a great seasonal gift – comfortable conditions to walk in sneakers and a light jacket. Even without gloves, hands are not cold. All of this – and a second chance before the “real” winter returns to clean the gutters and the garage – and these are on my schedule for today. The landscape is wet from meltwater, drizzle, and damp fog. The colors of landscape boulders, asphalt, and bark, and even the leaves of prairie grasses has deepened in saturation.

I stroll through the prairie display garden and walk through the shade tree collection. I watch a Gray Squirrel move in an unusual fashion. It rubs its front paws together repeatedly as it appears to be patting leaves to disguise freshly discovered or newly buried treasure. I walk through the Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden and stop at the frozen pond. As meltwater atop the ice has drained into the culvert under the path, it has sculpted the shape of a tree trunk and branches.

Meltwater Artistry

Meltwater Artistry

Nature presents one final vignette that I notice just after entering the deer exclusion fence for the inner gardens next to the visitor center. An oil sheen has morphed into the shape of a fern frond.

Oil Sheen Fern Frond

Oil Sheen Fern Frond

Stopping inside the visitor center, I briefly review the cornucopia of human arts programming – the restaurant gallery “Miniatures” show that closes December 31, the Great Hall’s holiday trees, the entertainment offerings, and the Reedy Gallery’s new show “Holiday Sprits” (now through January 25). I wish that I had more time to savor the attractions; but a busy “to do” list awaits. Don’t you miss taking in some of these offerings, especially once winter returns over the next few days. Consult the Arboretum website for complete details of holiday entertainment and art exhibits.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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