Nature Notes

It’s All Downhill from Here

The Dakota name Minnewashta means:  minne meaning water and washta meaning good.

By Zan Tomko

Take a walk or a ride, downhill, from the Tashjian Bee & Pollinator Discovery Center to the Arboretum parking lot.

The sun casts a deep-winter side-glance at this groomed woodlot on Peter Moe Drive

At 1,032 feet above sea-level, the elevation at the Tashjian Bee & Pollinator Discovery Center has a clear view of the landscape of the Arboretum. Let’s start from here, at the edge of a moraine.

View from the edge of the moraine at the Arboretum’s bee center

A series of glaciers shaped and defined Minnesota’s landscape. You are standing on glacial till soil, a hodgepodge of clay, sand, rocks and boulders left in place by receding glaciers.  This hill is called a moraine. Geology shapes the habitat. Look around at the many habitats you can see from here; the late December landscape reveals – woodland, savanna, wetland, meadow, hill prairie.

Perfect spot to sit and observe and photograph birds

Walk back through the native garden habitat, quietly, and look for the flit of the birds that rely on the seed pods left from summer. Many benches in the pollinator garden give you the perfect space to sit and practice taking photos of birds. Bundle up and the birds will come to you. I carry a little bag of shelled sunflower seed in my camera bag as a gift.

Half-eaten grey-headed coneflower seedheads and junco tracks

Ride or walk downhill on the moraine via Peter C. Moe Drive and the habitat shifts from woodland to savanna-edge, all grasses and trees tussling for a place to grow.

A row of trees catch the longest suns’ rays before the bleak mid-winter on Dec. 21

You will find increased diversity with multiple habitats carved out of the landscape.

A distant wetland, a woodland, a sedge meadow, wet and dry prairie along the start of Peter Moe C. Drive

Keep going downhill, there’s more. Proceed past the Ordway Picnic Shelter and Green Heron Pond. Slow down near Three-Mile Drive entrance on the left (elevation 969 feet). Look down the road, at the far horizon, and see what is hidden by the tree canopy spring, summer and fall,  Lake Minnewashta and the wetlands that ebb right into the Arboretum parking lot. The Dakota name Minnewashta means: minne meaning water and washta meaning good.

Lake Minnewashta, ‘Goodwater,” made from a giant, melted glacial ice cube

Canjpopapi Wi in the Dakota language means “tree-popping moon” when the air is so cold that tree bark noisily splits at night. But things are about to change. It’s all downhill from here, after the longest, cold night of the Winter Solstice, the days will get longer by two and then three minutes per day until the Summer Equinox.

Descend toward the far edge of the parking lot. We are downhill at 926 feet.

As you exit the Arboretum, look west toward Victoria and you will see the two-lane Highway 5, a causeway above valuable, ancient wetlands that connects the Arboretum and Lake Minnewashta. Geology creates many habitats from the edge of the lake to the top of a Minnesota moraine.

View of the shared wetlands from Lake Minnewashta

Zan Tomko is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

1 comment on “It’s All Downhill from Here

  1. Debra Kvamme

    Awesome and inspiring words. Thanks Zan.

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