By Holly Einess
The morning is overcast and cool, and a hike along the Ridge Trail seems in order. Immediately I leave the crowds behind as I enter the woods just east of the Snyder Building; sadly, a few deer flies and mosquitoes decide to accompany me!
Right away I spot the bright red berries of the red baneberry, aptly named for its poisonous fruit (which likely won’t kill you if eaten, but will make you sick!). Nothing blooms on the dark forest floor, but along the trail edges fleabane and milkweed are growing.
Before long I emerge into a wetland area where I hear the “witchity-witchity” call of the common yellowthroat and marvel that some of the grasses are taller than I am—well over knee-high by the fourth of July, they’ve got corn beat! Continuing on I begin to see red clover, black-eyed susan, common yarrow, and, unfortunately, leafy spurge, an aggressive non-native plant. I’m surprised to see that some of the sumac is already fruiting, nearly a month earlier than usual.
After climbing a hill I see several eastern phoebes “hawking”—waiting on a dead tree branch for passing insects before flying out to catch them, then returning to the same branch. I hear a field sparrow sing its “bouncing ping-pong ball” trill as a great blue heron flies overhead. A house wren pair is busily flying in and out of its nest box and tree swallows are acrobatically catching insects mid-air while several cedar waxwings flit about high in a nearby tree.
I’m fussing with my camera as I head back down the trail and am startled to a stop when I look up to see a deer, equally startled, staring back at me. He pauses long enough for me to snap his photo, then bounds off, white tail flashing.
As I near the boardwalk toward the end of my 2.5-mile hike and start hearing and seeing people again I realize just how remote the Ridge Trail feels. I’m grateful for this natural area where human impact is minimal and the winged and four-legged creatures live much as they would in the wild.
Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer