By Mary Beth Pottratz
The Great Hall in the Visitor Center is piled with pumpkins, gourds, grasses and mounds of mums. Outside, a bride and groom pose under a canopy of deep red oak leaves. Families, friends and couples are strolling everywhere.
Dahlias are in full bloom, and I marvel at the hint of yellow on pink petals. But unlike other years, hummingbirds are not feasting on Dahlia nectar. I haven’t seen a hummer in four weeks now, and wonder how they will fare this year without their pre-migration nutrition.
A few flowers are still blooming: New England and Silky asters, Brown-eyed Susans and some hardy sunflowers, even the last of lavender Stiff gentians. Catmint sports its last tiny flowers, now a very pale lavender. Anise hyssop scents the wildlife garden, and a Blue lobelia catches my eye.
But leaves are the show today! Green Oak leaves tinged with wine, crimson and russet; bright yellow Maples in the sugarbush; plum-red Sumac; yellow-green Gingko; golden Birch leaves veined green with dangling catkins; and Tamarack needles are just starting to turn the branches gold.
The sun plays peekaboo from behind a mostly clouded sky. A crazy quilt of beige, gray, mauve, yellow, brick and brown leaves carpet the ground. Chickadees make their feebee calls, and blue jays warn of a nearby predator.
Rosinweed flowers have lost both petals and disk flowers. The stiff, dried achenes left behind shine silvery-gray in the sunlight, forming a beautiful and intriguing winter flower. Its stem will also provide a home for a tiny pollinator, and its fibers are used in bird nests in the spring.
A Red-bellied woodpecker lands on the grass at my feet, then spies me and zips up into a wild Plum tree. Dozens of Cedar waxwing stand guard in a Crabapple tree and chase robins away. Robins chide the waxwings with a high-pitched “tseet”, and the waxwings reply with a note so high I can barely hear it.
Flowerheads are dropping their seeds against a backdrop of orange, rust, pipestone, tan and gold trees. Red osier dogwoods resemble a prairie fire in the setting sun. A tapestry of branches, leaves and twigs pattern the sky.
A Dark-eyed junco drops to the ground and pecks between grass blades. New England asters sport white poofs of silk attached to a seed. Tan bunches of Goldenrod pompoms glow in the sunlight, ready to sow its seed for the season to come.
As I return to my car, a nearly full moon shines through a tapestry of leaves and twigs. I recall Kahlil Gibran: “For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalists.org.