Nature Notes

Preparing for Spring

By Mary Beth Pottratz

A delightful hazy sun and temperatures in the balmy 20’s lure me out to the Arboretum. The Kentucky coffee trees over the patios behind the Snyder building are laden with half-foot long dark brown pods that seem almost ready to drop. And drop they will, as soon as nature declares spring has arrived.

20190302_153450Trunks and shrub topsTrunks and shrub tops

But for now, sun glistens lightly on more than three feet of snow. Tree trunks and shrub tops rise above drifts, and the white carpet is dotted with craters from snow meteorites falling from branches above.

20190302_160522Animal tracksAnimal tracks

Animals tracks are more difficult to identify as they sink more deeply into the snow. Smaller mammals such as mice and voles are doubtlessly travelling under the snowpack, where temperatures hover near 30⁰ F. This insulation causes a condensation effect near the ground, creating tiny passageways where small mammals can travel protected from raptors above.

20190302_160004Cross country skisCross country skis and trail

Skiwear and camo jumpsuits are de rigeur today for all the cross-country skiers. A party returns from their adventure, piling their skis for pickup and enjoying a snowball spree.

20190302_162214Orchids in windowOrchids in Tea Room

I head indoors to warm my camera fingers. Tea has just ended in the Tea Room for some fortunate group. Orchids pose in sunny windows, and the room is warmed by a glowing fireplace and wood beams.

20190302_164348Snow Above Bench SeatsSnow above bench seats

Outside the Tea Room, walkways are cleared and sanded. Snow rises above bench seats, showing only the seatbacks. A few chickadees are chirping back and forth from the treetops, when one suddenly starts to call: “Feeee beeee”, the first I have heard this year!

Although it feels far to wintry right now, the spring equinox is only a few weeks away! It seems the Kentucky coffee trees and chickadees already know that.

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

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