By Greg Lecker
My selection of this title is even more intentional than usual. Though I could have used “importance”, value means something quite different to an artist than it does to an English major. Color and value are two ways to describe shapes one finds when exploring the Arboretum. Black and white images allow one to partially judge shapes; color images offer further clues.
Walking towards the woodland garden, I notice long shadows cast by the forest. Why does snow appear blue, especially in the shadows? On a clear day, the sun casts shadows of trees and other upright objects. Why do these shadows appear blue rather than gray or black? The blue sky is the reason! Though sunlight does bend around objects significantly; skylight does illuminate the shadows. And, on a clear day, the sky is blue – hence the shadows appear blue.
Entering the Woodland I come up on a pattern that could be an art installation if it were not a sign of nature. If not for color, the pattern could be a dusting of dirt or torn leaves. The rich reddish-pink color is the giveaway that it is a sign that one animal was sacrificed so that another animal would live. Though most of the prey animal’s remains were likely removed by Arboretum staff wishing to spare the viewer further details, a few clues remain. The amount of blood suggests a victim larger than a rabbit. I also find gray-brown tufts of hair rooted to a thicker hide that suggests a deer.
Another clue from the victim is the nearby presence of pellets that are indicative of deer. Lastly, having seen tracks elsewhere and knowing that coyotes are present, I suspect that the predator was one or more coyotes. Though coyotes are often solitary hunters, they do often hunt groups in the winter when food sources are a bit scarcer. The blood splatter suggests a struggle.
Elsewhere in the Arboretum I have found canine tracks that suggest coyotes. The low sun angle illuminates the vertical edges of the paw prints – illustrating the conditions when snow appears brightest. Though we think of snow as white, snow lying in horizontal planes appears less white and more bluish-gray. The sun – located low in the sky during the winter – grazes the snow rather than illuminating it from directly overhead. South-facing hillsides, snow ridges left by plows, edges of ski and snowshoe tracks, and edges of foot prints receive a direct light rays and appear white, maybe with a cast of yellow, pink or orange.
Be alert on your winter explorations. Careful observations yields clues of nature at work.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.