Nature Notes

Don’t Look Both Ways: Exploring in Three Dimensions

The squirrels seem to dance and play in the canopy of these trees as they collect food and gather leaves to amplify their nests.

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By Sydney Chandler

“Look both ways when you cross the street” … “Read the word starting at the left” … “Take a right at the next road.”…We follow instructions regarding left and right often. Why lead a life so monopolized by these directions alone? Let’s add some instructions to daily life to explore the vertical axis, too!

Kentucky Coffee Tree in the Parking Lot

“Look up after entering the parking lot.” The Kentucky Coffee Trees in the landscape island of the parking lot reach high toward the clear blue sky. Seed pods hang at the end of the branches. These dark-brown pods seem to fold over hidden seeds and bright green inner tissue to make a quesadilla-like shape. Some have fallen to the ground, but many hang in the leaf-less tree.

Climbing Down the Conifers

“Watch your step when you climb down the tree like a squirrel!” Along Three-Mile Walk is a stand of conifers and a bird feeder. The squirrels seem to dance and play in the canopy of these trees as they collect food and gather leaves to amplify their nests. Small birds hopping from branch to branch after quickly grabbing food from the feeder add to the playful atmosphere up high. What if we could shrink down into miniature form and climb up to join the party in the trees? What a treat it could be!

Joining the Party in the Canopy

“Reach up before the crabapples turn to raisins!” The crabapple trees near the Sculpture Garden feature many remaining fruits. However, several of these fruits have wonderfully wrinkled skin. The bright red fruits contrast the clear sky and stand out among the leaf-less branches. Check out the slight variation in color and clustering between the various tree varieties.

Crabapples Near the Sculpture Garden

We are confined to the surface of the earth in many of our daily movements. However, curious eyes and perhaps a pair of binoculars can bring us closer to interesting features of vertical space that surround us everywhere! So instead of “take a right at the next road”, be sure to “take an up at the next tree.”

Sydney Chandler is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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