By Mary Beth Pottratz
A lone Red-winged blackbird greets me from the wetland as I turn into Alkire Drive.
Today is the first full day of spring: the vernal equinox. The sun crosses the equator, and length of day and night are almost equal. This 28⁰ morning air nips at my face, but climbing a hill and a bright sun warm me, too, as I rush to the woodland in anticipation.
I scour the dried leaves for signs of life. And I almost miss them! Tiny Snow Trilliums sport a three-petaled bloom less than an inch across. Only a few plants are in bloom, and there are a few more in bud; most are probably still covered with leaves. I jump as a Pileated woodpecker haunts the woods with its prehistoric call.
Dwarf trout lily pips are up about an inch above ground, and Yellow trout lilies are just piercing the ground in a few places. Suddenly, I hear the distinct trilled gobble of a pair of Sandhill cranes! They are not visible through the cattails and I return to my wildflower hunt.
Dried leaves have been pushed aside to uncover buds in a few spots. Dainty lavender Round-lobed hepaticas droop towards the ground. Last year’s leaves, which are evergreen, seem ready to call it a year. The new leaves will come up after the blooms are gone.
Tiny Yellow trout lily leaves are just starting to arise from the soil, rusty brown pointed leaves mottled with ochre yellow. These are ephemeral spring wildflowers. They will bloom only in early spring, before the trees have leafed out. Then, except for the hepatica’s evergreen foliage, the plants disappear, leaving no sign of their existence.
I meet Arb walkers Mary and Eric Baker. They, too, heard the sandhills calling earlier. Nature photographer Eric was ready at the edge of a wetland and caught the pair as they snacked their way across the wetland.
Tulips and daffodils also have spiked the tips of their leaves in many places. There are several other interesting buds peeking up out of the dirt, too immature for me to identify.
Maple Syruping is in full swing. I peek inside a metal bucket, and sap is dripping steadily out the spile. Most of the trees are hooked up to blue plastic bags, or their spiles are attached to blue plastic tubing that runs downhill to a collection vat.
Dark-eyed juncos peck at the ground, and their cohorts trill loudly from nearby trees. White-breasted nuthatches call, jays scold, and chickadees are calling “fee-bee” in a welcome and long-missed symphony.
There is no sign of Marsh marigolds or Skunk cabbage along the little forest stream, but inch-long tips of Blue flag iris leaves shine yellow in the sunlight. Tamaracks have swollen buds, but no sign of green needles yet.
I admire the black lacy tapestry the tamarack branches sketch across a blue and white sky as I head home, grateful for a beautiful spring day.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.