By Mary Beth Pottratz
A brisk wind rushes in my ears but I refuse to don a hat! Bright sunlight warms me beyond the day’s 44⁰. An azure blue sky is dotted with a few fluffy cumulus clouds. What a welcome change from the gray stratus clouds of winter!
Black-capped chickadees are calling from everywhere at the Arboretum. “Cheeeeeseburger” they say, or “Chickadee-dee-dee-dee.” Then I hear “Feee-beee,” the second syllable lower than the first. This special call is often given by a male defending his territory – a sure sign of spring!
Squirrel tracks in the snow lead to a fallen log. The long tree trunk sits perpendicular to the slope, helping to prevent erosion. Its outer bark is half-on, and heartwood eaten and rotted out. A cozy curtain of leaves keeps the snow and wind out of this squirrel cabin.
Insects, plants, microbes, bacteria (the beneficial type!) and fungi also use the nutrients and moisture in this decomposing tree for food and habitat. The nutrients once absorbed by the tree from sunlight, air and soil are recycled back into the earth.
Tree shadows stripe the snow in moonlight-blue, their bare branches creating artworks that change by the minute. They follow me from tree to tree, reminding me of Cat Stevens’ “Moon Shadow” song.
Blue bags hang almost flat on maple trees in the woodland. The sap runs when daytime temperatures are in the high 30s to mid-40s and nighttime is freezing. The next few days should start that sap!
Cardinals call their territory and courtship calls: “Whit whitwhitcheeewww.” Usually I see one or two nuthatches at the Arb, but today they seem to be everywhere! And I miss dark-eyed juncos. I wonder, have they already migrated back up north?
Clumps of little bluestem grasses are a glorious shade of golden-orange against the snow. A few tiny white puffs of seed hang stubbornly on the stems.
Descending a hill, the wind calms to a breeze and a hush draws over the prairie. I suddenly notice it: “click, click, click, click, click” – first nearby, next all around me! Then I find the source: the dry, split pods of white wild indigo are clicking against each other in the breeze!
And I even find winter flowers! Their petals long gone, goldenrods’ calyces (those hard, outer parts that protect the bud and petals) are bleached white in the sun. Dark center mounds, their seeds now fallen, give contrast and dimension.
Despite sunblock, my face is starting to burn. What a welcome change from the freeze-burnt feelings of just a few days ago! I head home to check for juncos near my home. Could they really have left?
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.