Nature Notes

A Winter for Exploration … and Reflection

From meteorological broadcasts, I’m reminded that brighter days lie ahead – literally, as well as figuratively. Day length will increase, first at sunset, then eventually at sunrise.

COVID-19 Update: All members and visitors need to make a reservation in advance of their visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Find updates and information here.

By Greg Lecker

We don’t need snow, do we?  The ground is clear and so are seeds fallen in the autumn – and chickadees are acting like juncos hopping amongst plant stems. Cardinals are “chipping” – calling with a loud, metallic chip. It is the most common call that northern cardinals make:  to warn off intruders to their territory, when predators are near, as birds carry food to their nests, or when encouraging nestlings to fledge.

We can try to embrace, rather than bemoan a “brown Christmas” or indeed, a brown winter. Dry trails and the “see through” seasons allow comfortable hiking in southern Minnesota. Trees in winter offer interest and reason to explore. 

Stories of the “wild ice” up north (until recent snowfall that is) tempt me. Conditions unseen for decades:  cold temperatures, accompanied by lack of snow or wind resulted in crystal-clear black ice – perfect for ice-skating.  We’re not quite as fortunate in southern Minnesota; but there have been some treats. For instance, in the small pond below the visitor center, I scared a small fish or frog that darted under leaves at the near edge – under ice. Reflections are muted – and intriguing.

Reflections

Don’t let the mere visible presence of ice tempt you to venture out without measuring ice and carrying safety gear!  Along the boardwalk, the ice looks safely solid…

Seemingly Solid

… But look at the open water that flows just on the other side of the boardwalk!

Caution – Open Water

Danger lurks below ice because of flowing water in channels or due to underwater springs – not to mention thin ice on creeks and rivers.  These “edge” places offer much interest for the eyes … and for the curious explorer. 

Happier days like just around the corner of the next several months – thanks to the arrival of vaccines and treatments for what ails us. Before the brightness of spring and summer, 2021 arrive; there is a season of rest and reflection. Gardeners AND farmers cherish this reprieve from hard work. Hibernating animals rely on instinct to modify their behavior to conserve valuable resources. Magnolia buds (large) and Scotch pine buds (small) sleep through our winter.

Magnolia Buds
Scotch Pine Buds

From meteorological broadcasts, I’m reminded that brighter days lie ahead – literally, as well as figuratively. Day length will increase, first at sunset, then eventually at sunrise. Speaking of sunset, if astronomy is your passion, don’t miss sky-gazing the 2020 winter solstice on December 21.  Between 5:15 and 7 pm, visible in near the horizon in the southwest sky; enjoy the conjunction of planets Saturn and Jupiter that will be aligned with our own Earth. Something to treasure about 2020.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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