Clouds, Pips and Pancakes

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Thick gray clouds thin to wispy white as I walk through the forest at the Arboretum. A balmy 44⁰ and sun reflecting brightly off the snowbanks warm me despite sailboat-worthy winds.

A tall red pine reminds me that in nature, it’s often what you don’t see that matters. The sky is visible through its sparse needles – except for the middle left. A close-up proves that there must be something there. A large nest? Roosting turkey?

DSC_0659 its what you dont seeIt’s what you don’t see that matters

Red oak and ironwood leaves cling stubbornly to their branches. Invisible birds chatter from thickets: the guttural “aunk” of a white-breasted nuthatch and chickadees call and answer “fee bee”, “fee bee beebee”. Cardinals hidden high among treetops whistle their clear “what-cheer, cheer, cheer” and blue jays rasp “too-teloo, too-teloo”.

In a patch of bare dirt next to the Snyder Building, a swatch of lime green pips glow, a full inch tall! Daffodils, maybe?

DSC_0639 Daffodils maybeLime green pips

New members Sharon and Richard stroll the grounds. They came to see the floral displays in the great hall, reminding me that there is an indoors, here, as well! The displays are indeed imaginative arrangements of spring plants and blossoms. Interactive scent stations explore the chemistry of fragrance. I inhale the sweet smell of hyacinth.

DSC_0591Mosaic by Somali women artists of St Cloud MNSomali mosaic

A display of artwork in Reedy Gallery engages me: Somali Stories through Art. Six stunning panels of mosaic titled Beauty & Strength, Women of Africa were created by Somali women artists from St. Cloud. It also includes works of photography, cloth, oil and acrylic, and a floating Aqal, or nomadic hut. Inside the hut is an interesting video reading of poetry.Each work portrays a vignette of Somali life.

But the light is waning so I head back outside and downhill to the Sugarhouse. Lately, the weather has been freezing at night with days above zero. I suspect it is perfect for making the sap run.

DSC_0617 Maple Syrup Vat and PumpMaple syrup vat and pump

There is a huge, oblong vat outside, with a three-foot tall blue machine atop one end. The machine hums loudly, and has blue tubes entering it from the trees uphill. Further along the hill, a series of single blue tubes connect to one large tube. Sure enough, the sap is running. I watch as pulses of sap and air alternately pump out to the larger tube.

DSC_0622Sap collection buckets

Atop the hill are also some buckets hanging beneath a spile, one per tree, in the charmingly old-fashioned way. A bucket has blown off. I replace it, but doubt these brisk winds will leave it alone tonight.

DSC_0636 CloudsDark clouds

Sure enough, out on Three Mile Drive the wind hammers me. Dark clouds are just starting to billow in, and raindrops dot my face. Think I’ll have pancakes for dinner…

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


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