By Mary Beth Pottratz
It’s wonderful to find that some things in life never change.
With unbridled delight, I find the leaves of last year’s prairie smoke open to the air, burnished purple. Spring’s coming, flowers will soon bloom from the centers of these leaves. Chickadees call their longer “feee-beeee” calls, and several nuthatches call to each other raucously. Red-winged blackbirds are protecting their territories. Geese are pairing up on ponds, and a mallard pair fly overhead with whistling wings.
The sun shines down brightly on the woodland floor, sifting through naked tree trunks. When a cloud whisks in front of the sun, the temperature drops instantly by about 8⁰.
With today’s warmer temperatures, the snow is almost completely melted away. The forest floor is blanketed with dried leaves. In a few places, wind has blown leaves away to reveal bare dirt. I search for signs of tiny pips poking through, but they elude me.
Looking closely at the ground, I spot tiny three-lobed leaves of deep purple peeking out from the beige duff. Hepatica! I look closely near the base for flower buds but see none. These are last year’s leaves. Typically, they last until the new year’s blossom opens. The new flower is then followed by the leaves. I look forward to hepatica’s tiny blooms in shades of lavender, white and pink.
A bird’s nest lay on the ground. About two inches wide at the top, it was woven onto a tiny twig that had snapped. Its inside was smooth with grasses, tiny twigs and leaves woven into a cup shape. Its outside bottom was completely covered with bits of bright white: birch bark, leaves, lichen, and mushrooms.
Another surprise is a set of four of last year’s stems, each tipped with a bud, frozen into the earth but open to the light. They resemble little fossils. I wonder if they will revive with sun and warmth?
And then I find it: a one-inch-tall coppery shaft rising above the moss. A flower bud! But which species? It seemed so familiar, but didn’t fit early wildflowers such as trout lily, snow trillium, spring beauty or bloodroot. Do you know it?
Flocks of robins peck at the ground under crabapple trees and perch above, chattering to each other. A lone wild turkey lopes by, sunbeams brightening its iridescent feathers.
Soon there will be flowers. For now, anticipation is so sweet.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.