By Lee Anne Laskey
On one of my most recent Arboretum visits, I craved staying cozy instead. I popped indoors longer than usual to nurture myself with nature inspiration in photos, paintings and conservatory blooms. I revisited Neil Sherman’s art in the Reedy Gallery. I met this kind and very talented painter randomly along the Northshore once, while snowshoeing a frozen creek! I rounded the corner and there he was. We visited for a little while & shared our love of the Northshore beauty. I was blown away by his talent and dedication to creating and staying curious in the cold weather season. I love that he is now continuing to connect all of us to nature through his art, right here at the Arboretum! I can’t leave the gallery until I revisit, “Snow Frosted Pine” by Greg Lecker across the hall and I instantly close my eyes, the pine scent awakening my mind. Aaah. Thanks Greg! Which of these pieces of nature art by all the talented artists are you curious about?
My indoor nature fix continued as I breathed in the warmth of the close- up succulent photo by the cafe. As I was daydreaming of planting my future succulent pot, David, my husband who joined me, dodged into the cafe to search for a sweet treat from the kind ladies who always greet us with a smile. Lots of choices on how to “fill up” inside on these cold days too! Conservatory orchid blooms scattered among the shades of green grinned back at me in gratitude for the warmth.
Today, on my next visit of the week, curiosity bubbles up for everything outdoors instead. Westerly winds are giving us some of those milder days and a break from the bitter cold. The temporary snow melt from the branches above tickles my face as I tromp along the Wood Duck Trail. I feel like a pilgrim on a quest to keep being curious, always, especially in this cold weather season. The soft fuzz of the cattails softens the frozen blue sky. Maybe a mouse family is enjoying a warm, cozy nest lined with this. I can just picture birds in springtime creating a soft cushion for their newly hatched babies.
Chickadees chatter above while interesting varieties of animal scat linger on the path below, signs I’m not the only ones exploring this week. Chickadees and birds in general have an easier time than mammals staying warm this time of year. Their feathers insulate, they lack tails, ears and fleshy areas on their legs where warmth can escape from. Their body temperatures are naturally higher too. Keep those winter feeders full and the suet coming for these fierce little ones and our many other winter birds. I weave my way up the hill, following the lovely snowshoe path that goes on forever and satisfies me and my January restlessness.
As I stop to investigate a tree trunk hole for a possible screech owl or something, I hear a Red-bellied woodpecker high in the treetops, too busy drumming to notice me. I enjoy a long moment with my binoculars just watching the solo performance. These woodpeckers are quite active during the day and tend to defend a particular territory all year round. Besides insects, their diets can be more than 50% plant material at times including acorns, fruit & seeds. What birds are you curious about? Come tromp in the woods here and listen to their conversations for a while. I continue, passing a couple snowshoeing while holding hands, another cheery lady hiking & we stop to chat about the birds, snow and refreshing trails. I love the Arboretum trail community don’t you!
Afterwards, I end up resting on a bench by the Japanese Garden, glancing at a Peter Pan hosta sign in front of me. Oh, I don’t know this variety. I can’t wait to see it emerge this summer and of course will want to look it up when I get home. Remember, always keep a notebook handy. You will always learn something new. I end my visit over by the bridge on the way to the bog walk. Dozens of Juncos catch my eye with all of their flashy movements. Holly captured one perfectly last week! I notice some interesting Siberian Larch pinecones above me as I watch these birds fly back and forth to the old, twisty stump thicket that always reminds me of an octopus! Stop and see the bird party by the pond. It’s a lively bunch!
I follow a side footpath off of the boardwalk, noticing plant signs for Joe Pye Weed and White Turtlehead. It’s such a comforting feeling to know these favorite perennials and others are just waiting patiently in the white blanket of snow to treat us and pollinators again soon to their blooms!
These are the take-aways from just one walk today. I leave so content. Curiosity is constantly nourished here at the Arboretum isn’t it. Stop by this week, no matter what the weather is and you will be satisfied. In the words of Jim Gilbert, “Winter in Minnesota is made up of distinctive wonders, scenes, and experiences.” I look forward to seeing you all soon, indoors and out, experiencing your very own winter wonders.
Lee Anne Laskey is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.