Nature Notes

Archaeology in the Snow

By Sydney Chandler

The Arboretum’s Winter Lights display has been a popular attraction for visitors recently. But human visitors aren’t the only ones traversing the landscape this winter. The melting snow is like a slow-motion archaeological dig . . . without the digging! There are stories of the landscape in the snow.

The sun casts long tree shadows on the snow near the shade trees on Three-Mile Drive. Beneath the trees, the melting snow uncovers discarded seeds, husks of eaten nuts, dropped twigs, and decaying leaves.

The surface of the snow tells stories of snowshoe walkers exploring the icy trails with pointed walking poles in hand. There is also evidence of an animal highway frequented by raccoons, deer, squirrel and turkey. Their intermingled trails are frozen in time.

Some critters took the archaeological dig analogy more literally and dug through the icy snow cover! Perhaps they are revisiting caches of stored food. Or maybe searching for a lucky find in the decaying leaves.

A snapshot of sunshine is a welcome break from the recent overcast days. Looking up to soak in the sun also provides another story of winter. The impressive hive that was in tact only months ago has now been partially torn apart and exposes intricate honeycomb structure. Stories of life in the winter at the Arboretum are told at our feet and in the trees!

Sydney Chandler is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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