By Mary Beth Pottratz
The ceiling of the Visitor Center is festooned with snowflakes edged in gold and silver, sparkling in the sunlight. It is a balmy 1⁰ this afternoon, but the wind chill is 19⁰ below.
Bracing for cold, I step outside into bright sunshine. Before my eyes adjust, a large bird with a dark body and mottled underwings flaps into the trees. It heads down the hill and disappears behind the building.
A group of photographers with very long lenses turn and follow. “Wild turkey!” they laugh and shout. They are an InstaMeet group, joining up at the Arb today for winter photos and videos, one tells me. “Check me out at Misty.Garrick on Instagram,” she says.
They move indoors to warm up and check out the amazing botanical art in the library, a delightful macrophotography display, and Winter Wonderland: Beauty Revealed, running through March 31 in the Reedy Gallery.
Late afternoon sunlight casts blue shadow on snow drifts over the now-quiet rock garden. Turkey, squirrel, rabbit and tiny mouse tracks abound in the shallow snow. Bright red berries jump out from a background of snow and bare twigs.
A large pile of scat sits on the terrace near feeders. Pretty thick for coyote, so I try to determine its diet. Are there bones and fur? Insect or plant parts? Wood and bark fibers? But the lump is frozen solid!
Bird calls distract me. Some birds seem to be matched up already! Two White-breasted nuthatches flap wings at each other and dart head-first down branches. Two Common redpols munch seeds together on a platform feeder for their date night. And pairs of Downy woodpeckers play tag in a Kentucky coffee tree festooned with pods.
Not yet paired up are Black-capped chickadees. Branches are dotted with single birds politely awaiting a turn at the feeder. Cardinals, jays, and Dark-eyed juncos all seem more interested in their tummies than in a mate. Only the Crows seem absent today.
I am delighted to find a green roof atop Building C, near the Learning Center. Rooftop gardens provide beauty, habitat for pollinators, insulate the building, and even help clean water and air. Plus, last season’s stalks offer winter interest, habitat for pollinating insects, and fibers often woven into Baltimore oriole’s hanging sack nests in early spring.
There are quite a few green roofs and green walls throughout the Cities: Hamline University, Target Center, health care centers, some private homes and garages, and more. But my favorite is a little postage-stamp of a roof with an amazing tamarack bog on top at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). Created by artist Christine Baeumler,the tiny roof is complete with a water recycling system, sphagnum moss, Labrador tea, sedges, cotton grass, pitcher plants, and more. It displays interesting biodiversity and beauty. It also inspires many artists! Learn more about it here: http://mcad.edu/features/reconstituting-the-landscape.
But the wind freezes the focus on my camera, and my breath forms icicles on my hat. I return to my car. A lone red oak clings tenaciously to its leaves, glowing in the setting sun. The horizon is tinged pink as I 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.