Quiet and Gray

By Greg Lecker

It’s quiet, calm, and dim in the Arboretum this late afternoon. With luck, temperatures are bottoming out this weekend and will rise over the next few weeks.

I’m walking in a gray-scale world. The sky matches the snow in brightness and hue. There are few shadows to reveal depth and form.

Walking through the maple sugarbush, I find tracks of all sorts. A curving line, staggered dots, then a line again – this represents the wary path of a mole, vole, or mouse.

Vole Mole or Mouse Tracks
Vole Mole or Mouse Tracks

Squirrel tracks lead to and from tree trunks. The freshly fallen snow show toe pads. As the squirrel bounds, its larger hind feet overlap its smaller front feet. In this pattern, the squirrel resembles the rabbit. However, the squirrel’s front feet are aligned in contrast to a rabbit’s offset of its front feet. Most obviously, it makes sense that squirrel tracks, not rabbit tracks, could start or end at tree trunks.

Snow Snake Tracks
Snow Snake Tracks

Snow snake tracks are easy to identify for the sidewinder and serpentine patterns left in the snow next to a bench and leading towards the Bennett-Johnson prairie. Another characteristic of snow snake tracks ….just kidding – these patterns represent ridges formed by human footpaths augmented by sun warming on a south facing slope.

Ostrich Fern Fertile Fronds
Ostrich Fern Fertile Fronds

The fertile fronds of Ostrich fern remind me of the ornament atop headdresses of horse and knight on display in the Habsburgs special exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. But rather than fluffy and white, the fern’s spore structures are stiff and brown as they stand erect amidst the snow.

Wingstem Sunflower Seedhead
Wingstem Sunflower Seedhead

Walking through the Grace Dayton Wildflower garden, I find welcome interest in the same Wingstem Sunflower seed heads I found so intriguing in September.

Glossy Black Chokeberry Autumn Magic
Glossy Black Chokeberry Autumn Magic

Light snow is falling as I turn to leave. In contrast to the light, white snowflakes, the fruits of Glossy Black Chokeberry are shriveled and dark. Still, the cascade of black fruit falls offer the reminder of green shoots sprouting and springing to life as new growth in less than two months. I reach my car; it waits alone in the parking lot for my departure.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.


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