Nature Notes

Signs of Winter

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Heavy winter clouds lighten gradually, first a stripe of blue in the distance, then a cotton-ball studded sky, giving way to pale blue and sunshine. With temperatures hovering around 30, an outdoor stroll is a welcome gift!

DSC_0400 cotton ball skyCotton Ball Sky

The gardens, forest and prairie are a display of contrast, pattern and the muted colors of the season. The lines of trunks and stems, poufs of cottony seeds and repeated patterns of curling leaves and seed globes against the snow delight me. New England asters are rich brown stands of dried seedheads with the leaves still hanging from the stem.

DSC_0363 rosebuds croppedPink Buds

Even roses have leaves that have dried green, leaving pink buds that were just starting to open when our wintry weather hit. Purple coneflowers stems are shaggy with dried leaves, pointing upright and tipped with bristly seed globes.

As I descend into the woods, traffic noise fades away. I become aware of my footsteps in the stillness, and hear quick “seet” calls from birds hiding in branches. Blue plastic tubing winds through the maples in preparation for sap collection later this winter.

DSC_0393 American elmAmerican Elm

Nuthatches trumpet their nasal calls from the woods, and a distant blue jay sounds an alarm. A magnificent American elm shows off its gracefully arching form now that it is devoid of leaves. Deer, turkey, squirrel and many other interesting tracks crisscross over the snow.

Warming up with hot cocoa in the cafe, I am happy to see the winter bird feeders back on the terrace. A dark-eyed junco picks at seeds on the ground. Black-capped chickadees take turns flitting to the feeder one at a time. I see the unmistakable red-headed woodpecker as he stops to snack. Shortly after, the pale cream head of a red-bellied woodpecker peeks his long beak around the edge of the feeder.

DSC_0350Poinsettia Tree

In the Visitor Hall, a tree made of poinsettia plants towers to the ceiling, topped by a glass sun sculpture. A trio of fresh evergreen trees are decorated with hand-made, natural ornaments such as tree cookies with berries and seeds, pine cones and twigs tied into stars. Lights and garlands decorate the hall.

The fascinating Arboretum Instructor Show is on display to Jan. 4 in the Reedy Gallery, with oils, watercolors, mosaic, sketch, fabric and more. My favorite is a series of six “Ecoprints” by Jean Manrique.

DSC_0407 trunk stripesTree-trunk Shadows

Late afternoon sun stripes the ground with tree-trunk shadows as I reluctantly head home. But there will be many more signs of winter before the season passes.

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

1 comment on “Signs of Winter

  1. Lovely photos, as always! Good to know about the bird feeders, so one can enjoy the sights of nature even while staying cozy and warm indoors. And I appreciate knowing what’s showing in the gallery….

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