By Greg Lecker
Yellow leaves fall around me as I descend the switchback trail from Berens Cabin into the Grace Dayton Woodland. Though past peak, autumn colors still delight. It’s easy to see through the trees now.Morning’s first light breaks over the tree line and lights up the remaining leaves of the forest canopy.
Looking around, I note the seed heads fluffy seed heads of zig-zag goldenrod. Its foliage and that of woodland poppy remain green among the brown forest floor. Maidenhair fern has turned mottled brown.
Scanning skyward at the filtering light scattered by the filigree of foliage and fine twigs, I focus on three trees that form a story circle.Let me tell you not a tale of two cities but a tale of three trees.
Sugar maple begins, speaking in words as smooth and gold as honey. Red oak rustles, somewhat brusquely. Seemingly hurt, sugar maple whimpers, its response trailing off. Long after the others have hushed their exchange, Canada hemlock lingers, brooding deep and dark.
A bit more about the mighty red oak – in truth, a swell fellow. Looking skyward now at the red accents of the woodland ceiling, I realize just how much red oaks dominate the mature canopy of the woodland bowl below the sugar maple fringed ring. Anchored by massive trunk and bough, the red oaks here reach 120 feet (my estimate).
As I walk between the woodland and the prairie, the subtle music of Jim’s flute serenades me this Sunday morning. Subtle movement in the treetops attracts my attention. A pileated woodpecker cackles. It encircles a tree trunk. Flashing one after the other through the canopy, two large winged forms dart past. At first I suspect they are grouse, given the fan shape of the tails. Watching, I barely catch a glimpse of the tail and wing patterns. Red shouldered hawks chasing one another – I think.
Having heralded the march towards autumn, blazing sumac foliage now brings up the rear.The story of the prairie is now all about textures. Bridging the roadway gap between the wide open prairie and the Capen Display Garden are the blooms and fuzzy seed heads of hairy golden asters.
Though seemingly dainty, a few purple harebell blooms dangle above the spiral of the water feature — now quiet and dry. The silence is marred just slightly by distant traffic. Calling and buzzing, a black-capped chickadee plays peek-a-boo among the stems of goldenrod.
The breeze picks up –a milkweed pod clings steadfastly to its downy seeds. Time to go, say I.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.