By Greg Lecker
Two grey squirrels frolic – chasing one another through the Japanese garden as I move into the woods near home demonstration garden. In the dim morning light, American cranberrybush berries brighten a thicket of twigs seen against snow and dark evergreens.
American Cranberrybush Berries
I’m happy we’ve crossed over the solstice and that daylight is lengthening – even as temperatures plummet into the depths of meteorological winter. Among its seemingly cozy, fuzzy buds, star magnolia stubbornly holds onto its leaves. The early onset of cold weather is likely responsible here and elsewhere.
As the slight breeze shifts to and fro, I hear the faint sounds of gobbling turkeys, buzzing chickadees, a dog, and chatter of red squirrels. Looking up, I spot a leaf nest.
Squirrels’ Leaf Nest
Besides nesting in cavities made by woodpeckers, squirrels nest in constructions of twigs, leaves, moss loosely woven within tree forks. I find it hard to believe that such a home can withstand winter’s chill.
Wild (or prickly) cucumber vine has been fruitful this year, darning its stems and tendrils in and out of the thicket of red twig dogwood growing next to Green Heron Pond.
Wild Cucumber Fruits
Though blooms are inconspicuous, the fruits of its kiwi-shaped pods – ”Cactus balls” or “porcupine eggs”, along with its tendrils, are eye-catching at this time of year!The vine is found near streams, rivers, and wetlands.
Glancing down as I walk along the boardwalk, I find a most interesting sight.
Frozen and Flowing
Amidst the snow and ice surrounding the bulrushes is a flowing stream within which there is ballet-like dancing of organic matter. On a cold 17-degree day like today – likely even when a skim of ice locks away our viewing – there is sufficient water movement to allow some liquid water to flow and to sustain life.
Walking further around green heron pond I see the contrast of darker ice in the middle of the pond compared to the snow-covered fringes. This is yet another indication of the strength of water movement through Green Heron Pond. The sky is a cotton candy blur of pink and blue.
Snow and Thin Ice Beyond
Turning onto Three Mile Drive to return to the visitor shelter, I see turkeys encircling each other in a kind of dance. Practicing for spring mating or just trying to stay warm? I’m heading inside myself. There are plenty of sights indoors on days like today!
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.