Winter Lights

By Mary Beth Pottratz

The noon sun sits low in the sky as we near the winter solstice, or shortest day of the year. The sun is at its furthest point from our equator. Less than two weeks before our days will start to lengthen!

20181209_141905Low sunNoon Sun

Despite the low sun, today’s 29⁰ with low winds and blue sky feel pleasant and the air is fresh and clean. Wild cucumber pods hang from tree and shrub branches. They have released their seeds and are dried and hollow as they wave in the wind.

Tracks are everywhere in the shallow snow: deer, squirrel, coyote, fox, mouse, vole and even human! Tiny rodent tracks bound underneath the safety of grass cover.

The once-spongey bog is frozen solid, and I follow the bog walk to see the seeds and berries of plants now that the leaves are gone. Seedheads sit on boneset, joe pye weed, asters, goldenrod, even green bog orchid.

20181209_144457green bog orchidGreen Bog Orchid

Sunlight sparkles on snow. A woodpecker drums continuously – rapid drumbeats in a steady pace and single note. A blue jay squawks from the treetops.

20181209_155650Winter interestWinter Interest

Some plants are left standing to provide winter interest in the garden. Many of these stems also provide a home for insects including pollinating bees. Come spring, these same plants provide fibers for birds to weave into their nests. Oriole sac-nests are woven almost exclusively from plant fiber!

20181209_154635Greg Lecker light and waterLight and Water

I warm up inside the Visitor Center while enjoying a multi-faceted collection of art from the Outdoor Painters of Minnesota – including a capture of light and water by fellow Master Naturalist Volunteer and Arb blogger, Greg Lecker (second from left).

20181209_160522Minnesota Herb Society Tree

Downstairs, the hall is festive with lights and trees. My favorite is the Minnesota Herb Society Tree, covered with handcrafted ornaments made from natural materials found at the Arb! Nests, reindeer, stars, flowers, fairies, angels, swans, butterflies, and much more are crafted from birch bark, acorns, twigs, grass seedheads, flower seed pods, feathers, felt, sweetgrass, berries, pine cones, leaves, and more. And children cluster round the tree, looking for ornaments on the Scavenger Hunt list and oohing and aahing over each creation.

An orchestra provides music and the Reedy Gallery offers an exhibit of botanical art. Stunning in their accuracy, detail and precision, there are more in the Cafe Skyway.

Birds are aflutter at the feeders outside the cafe windows. Blue jays, black-capped chickadees, cardinals, house sparrows, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers and more take turns for seed and suet.

20181209_172947Winter Lights

Back outside, the gardens are illuminated with the “Winter Lights” display, and many have come on this relatively warm day to see them. Even the beautiful American elm reflects light back against the starry night sky.

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


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