By Holly Einess
The Arboretum grounds are as quiet as I’ve ever experienced them. With the exception of Canada geese honking overhead as they fly south in V formation, I hear no birds. There is no wind, and I see almost no other people. Even the few squirrels I spot are high in the bare treetops rather than scurrying noisily through the leaves on the forest floor. It feels as though the whole place is hunkering down in anticipation of the predicted winter storm.
I wander through the Wildflower Garden, where there are some interesting seed heads to be seen, including thimbleweed and Great St. John’s Wort.
Near Green Heron Pond I finally hear some bird activity; downy woodpeckers are making their way from tree to tree in search of food, and a few chickadees are calling. On the pond below the Snyder Building is evidence of a recent turkey trek, though the birds themselves aren’t in sight.
An impressive hornet nest can be seen from the boardwalk, its entrance clearly visible. Hornet queens build nests in the spring, chewing wood and mixing it with their saliva to create the paper-like substance with which the nests are made. The queen (who mated in the fall and hibernated over the winter) lays her eggs in the nest, and the colony of several hundred offspring occupy the nest until late fall, when the cold kills all but any newly mated queens. Despite the obvious amount of effort put into building it, each nest is used for only one season.
I finish my walk as the first snowflakes begin to fall and am glad to make it home ahead of the storm. The next day dawns clear, with a beautiful blanket of fresh snow. One of the (many) great things about being an Arboretum member is that I can visit as often as I like without paying the entrance fee, so on impulse I decide to go the Arboretum again today and see how different things look after the storm. I retrace my steps from yesterday, and offer here a couple of side-by-side comparisons:
Though it’s breezy and below freezing, the bright sun warms me. Cardinals chip in the branches of the crabapple trees in the Sensory Garden, their red plumage matching the color of the fruit still in abundance in the trees. Snow is piled high on the fenceposts in the Wildflower Garden.
Gray squirrels are active, leaping from branch to branch, sending snow sparkling down. A plump red squirrel chatters loudly as he races about, then pauses to survey his surroundings.
There are a lot more people out than there were yesterday, many on snowshoes or cross-country skis. A couple pushes their young child in a sled down the hill near the Ordway Picnic Shelter. It seems everyone, me included, is making the most of this wintertime bounty.
Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.