Nature Notes

January Thaw

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Although the sun is low in the sky, balmy temperatures in the low 40s make for a January thaw. People are strolling, jogging and enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. Colored lights are everywhere on the Arboretum grounds, and curling bare branches highlighted by sprinkles of snow frame the landscape.


In the woodland garden, squirrels chatter and climb up tree trunks. A barred owl calls from up the hill, and black-capped chickadees call their names. The texture of boulders, snow, fallen leaves and dried plants lend pattern, texture and color to the forest.

20190105_162852 bouldersBoulders

Three young people break off the path and climb uphill, scaring a pair of pileated woodpeckers. The huge birds fly off silently and circle high above the trees. The trio is amazingly unaware of the woodpeckers.

20190105_153443.witch hazeljpgWitch hazel

Witch hazel is still in bloom! Its tiny petals are shriveled up close to the bud as though to protect it from the cold. Animals tracks are everywhere in the snow. I can identify squirrel and deer, and tiny mouse tracks with tail drag. And are those chipmunk tracks? Even they are out in the thaw.

As the sun sets and the air chills, lights start coming on around the grounds. People gather to admire a human-sized butterfly in the perennial garden as its colors shift in rainbow hues.


A young boy and his Mom stand near the butterfly for other reasons. Rutabaga (nicknamed by Mom) is engaged in a Pokemon battle smack on top of the butterfly! The grounds here are studded with Pokestops, gyms, and even rare Pokemon – a great way to engage gamers outdoors!

20190105_171119 (2)firepitsFire pits

Back at the patio behind the Snyder Building, people are seated around several fire pits roasting marshmallows, chatting while building s’mores. What a congenial way to end a hike!

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

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