Beautiful Forms

By Mary Beth Pottratz

“The dry grasses are not dead for me. A beautiful form has as much life at one season as another,” said Henry David Thoreau, and his quote tops the Nature Notes board in the lobby of the Great Hall.

Indeed, beautiful forms are evident everywhere. Graceful grass stalks sway and dance above half a foot of glittering snow. Evergreens and tree branches are iced white. Sturdy seedheads stand out against the wintry blanket. Bare and lacy tree branches are silhouetted against the sky.

Tree Branches
Tree Branches

The bright blue sky is brushed with wisps of cirrostratus clouds. I waited out this morning’s 20⁰ below zero, and am rewarded with a sultry -2⁰ this afternoon.

Staghorn Sumac
Staghorn Sumac

A rafter of turkeys perch in the treetops. A lone tom roosts on an old log. All seem to be napping the sunny afternoon away. The velvet of staghorn sumac reflects sunlight. River birch branches bend elegantly towards ground, tipped with little bunches of catkins.

Bird of Paradise
Bird of Paradise

My camera freezes up and I head indoors. Delightful scents pull me into the Conservatory’s warmth. Snowflakes sparkle in sunlight on the glass roof, and a Bird of Paradise takes flight. Yellow, purple, blue, white, orange and pink orchids are in bloom. One is scented floral with baby powder; another citrusy and fresh; and another like roses and candy.


Nests are easily visible in the treetops: tiny, grass-woven cups; medium-sized bowls braided with twigs and cattail leaves; larger platforms that look like a pile of pick-up-sticks; and highest of all, the bushy leafy-branch piles of squirrels.

I check twigs for old hummingbird nests. The tiniest of all nests, they are made of lichen, leaves, spider web, and silk. A hummingbird egg is the size of a Tic-Tac, and the nest starts out the size of a water bottle cap. When the chicks move around, the nest is flexible and moves with them, and stretches with them as they grow.

Deer Trail
Deer Trail

The snow is too deep to see footprints, but I can guess who left those trails. Deer drag their feet through the snow, leaving a solid line between hoof prints. They follow in each other’s steps, creating a wider trail. Turkeys leave body prints where they “plop” down in the deep snow from a branch above. Fox prints are close-set and neat, usually following an edge. Tiny chickadee and junco prints leave snow piles like tailings outside of ant mounds.

Back indoors to warm my camera, I hear melodic bells tinkle and echo lightly from the music program in the auditorium. Tomorrow a warm spell returns; I’ll have to bring my snowshoes!

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at




One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s