By Mary Beth Pottratz
Occasional cool breezes remind me that today’s near 60⁰ is unusual for November! The sky is deep blue and cloudless. A lone waxwing greets me in the parking lot at the Arb, calling its high-pitched “tseet” in tremolo.
Virgin’s bower vines are clumped with wispy balls of seeds that glint like snowflakes in sun. Squirrels casually hunt for woodland treats, eating them on the spot instead of stashing them for the approaching winter. Fields of puffy flower seeds glow in late afternoon sunlight.
The woodland brook, previously dried up,trickles and seeps through the forest. Horsetails along its banks are still green. Moss grows lush on stream bed rocks. In one spot, the stepping logs are underwater.
A young maple tree is tied with dozens of multi colored ribbons, its base encircled with hand-painted stones. This living memorial to Grace Elizabeth Fazendin is clearly well-remembered by her loved ones, as well as a lovely gift to the Arboretum.
A pair of birch trees high-five each other above a field shimmering in the sun. Seedheads provide texture: round balls of aster, lush fronds of goldenrod, straight spikes of liatris and tall stems of grasses that sway in the breeze.
A goldfinch flits quickly overhead. Tamaracks have lost their needles, and the ground beneath has telltale washes of gold. A hairy woodpecker drums on the birch tree above me, leaving fresh holes in the dead branch. Translucent, bright red high-bush cranberries dangle in clusters from naked branches.
Witchhazel is in full flower. Its tiny yellow blooms with ribbon-like petals are barely an inch long, but such a welcome sight in late fall! I inhale deeply and take in the rich, spicy scent of a few Anise hyssops still in bloom in the wildlife garden.
Catkins dangle from hazelnut shrubs and birch trees. Bare gingko trees stand sentinel over carpets of golden leaves. Turtlehead stems are tipped with green and tan seed pods, with many leaves still green! Wild prairie rose hips are black-red and dried on the stem.
Clumps of prairie dropseed are honey blond. Little bluestem glows pale orange studded with white tufts of seed. The landscape is tan – but no monochrome here! Rich browns, ecru and beige counterpointed with white seedheads, mauve flowertops, swaths of cattails and red-osier dogwood.
There is not a cloud in the sky to reflect the flaming sun as it drops behind trees. Time to head home.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.