By Greg Lecker
On a gray Christmas Eve day, I have the Arboretum nearly to myself, except for one or two walkers and a photographer. Temperatures are mild; the air is very still. From one of the trees lining Three Mile Drive, maple leaves curl – both individually and as a mass.
I pause at the Ordway picnic shelter and see feeders I’ve not noticed before. Compared with the feeding stations near the visitor center, the relative seclusion of this spot seems to welcome more birds or at least a broader variety. Chickadees and a white breasted nuthatch flit in an out. A little downy woodpecker hops backwards on a branch until it can spy a landing spot on the green mesh of the suet feeder. A northern cardinal couple hangs behind. Gray and white juncos hop on the snow around one feeder. A few tiny birds – goldfinches, I think – dart through the wire openings of the mesh surrounding a roofed platform feeder. Wild turkeys peck at the ground below and cluck longingly at the more bountiful buffet above. When approached for its portrait, one of the turkeys takes off on a 50-yard dash down the tracked, but melting cross-country ski trail surrounding Green Heron pond.
No fewer than two maintenance vehicles pass by – both are scraping snow and ice from the drive; and one spreads sand in preparation for tomorrow’s forecast freezing rain. As I walk across the Sensory Garden Parking lot, I notice patterns in the snow. Sweater pattern design or footed feat of feathered fowl?
Shortcutting through the Grace Dayton Woodland on my way to the prairie, I notice that the asphalt paths have been whiskered clear by unseen workers. At the entry to a woodland wood chip trail, I see oversized footprints next to boot tracks. “My, what big feet you have”, I think to myself. The better to traverse the changing snow conditions on snow shoes with –I suspect.
Several sneaker footed runners pass me on Three Mile drive demonstrating that fitness does not take a holiday.Along the curving prairie, I glance down and see the tracks of squirrel, sneaker, boot and snow tire.
Standing quietly at the edge between prairie and woodland, I can hear the faint bark of a distant dog and the nearer, though no less audible knocks of a woodpecker. Then at last I near a very soft tinkle of the still flowing ravine brook. I try my best to capture the sound I hear in a photograph.
I walk back to the visitor center through the maple woodland. The subtle odor of rotting biomass I detected in my earlier walk past the woodland pool is too faint to detect from this far away. Instead, I smell the freshness of hay or straw, possibly laid over tender plants asleep during winter.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.