Happy Mother’s Day, Mother Nature

Love, Sue

Last week I visited the Lowry Nature Center here in Victoria and walked the trails with interpretive naturalist Mary Vanderford.  It was about 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 23rd,.

As I drove through the entrance gate at County Road 11, just a mile or so north of the Dairy Queen, I immediately saw an osprey nesting high on top of a platform pole near the gate.

A minute later I was strolling in the sunshine of a 75-degree morning, aware of wrens and redwinged blackbirds and yellow finches, all of them flitting within a few feet of me.  The know from whence comes their protected habitat, not to mention the feed in the nearby birdfeeders.

We mostly ignored the four-legged little critters running around the Nature Center.

Mary Vanderford said that the elderberry tree produces the first fruit of spring in Minnesota, and back in the old days pioneer women made elderberry jam and elderberry pie for their families.  This particular elderberry tree is locatd less than a  dozen feet from the front door of the Nature Center.

One of the sidewalks near the Nature Center appeared to be covered with woolly caterpillars, but they weren’t crawling, nor did they get mushy or slimy under our shoes.  One glance toward the sky revealed their source and identity.  Explained Mary, “They are the flowers of the aspen tree, and they’re called catkins.”  My American Heritage Dictionary said the name is due to their resemblance to a cat’s tail.  True enough, if you cat is the size of a parakeet.

Red-winged blackbirds made joyful sounds throughout the woods.

Across the way, against a backdrop of brush and branches not yet green, arose a moment of majesty when an egret suddenly took flight.  Don’t know why it takes my breath away — but so did the sudden appearance of a slithering snake in the dry leaves at our feet.

Did you want a closer look at the egret?

“I know hepatica is up,” said Mary.  “I’ve seen it.  It’s always the first thing up.”  And there they were along the edge of the woodchip path — tiny white six-petaled blooms, growing in some places as singletons, in other areas as pairs …

… and also in larger groups, just like with people.  Their diameter is about the size of a nickel, and you see them poking through the bed of dry leaves that was made last fall and also the moisture of moss.

Patches of moss on the woodland floor didn’t seem particularly noteworthy to me, until Mary pointed out that even moss is a spring blooming plant.  Sure enough, upon closer inspection, I saw their densely populated forest of flowers. 

Spring moss is comprised of tall spindly necks with a head and beak on the end and together they resemble a penned-in zoo of flamingos, only they’re green and not pink.

Not a ripple nor a chorus frog disturbed shade and shadow in this pool of water.  Do you see the shelf mushrooms growing on the felled limb?  Their position on the limb tells me they were not on the tree before it fell.  I’ve never seen those artist conks grow vertically on a standing up tree (have you?), but only as shown in my photograph, with their soft underbelly always under their hard shelf.

Stiff upper lip, you say?  It looked to me like the tree was trying to take a bit out of the retaining wall, and that its upper lip got glued to the board.  Of course, we understand that the tree continued to grow while the wall stood still.

Or did Mother Nature recognize the grain of a long lost relative and come in for a little smooch?  In any case, long live the Ents!

“I don’t think we’ll see any bloodroot today.  It’s a little early,” said Mary.  No sooner spoken than bloodroot appeared before her very eyes.  “Bloodroot!” exclaimed the close personal friend of Mother Nature, as though she just found gold in the foothills of South Dakota.

Mary pointed out to me how the fragile red stem of the bloodroot plant is enveloped and protected by the leaf near its base.  Together the pointy eight-petaled blooms are about the size of a quarter.

We didn’t hear any owls on our nature walk, and this one surely didn’t give a hoot.  The Nature Center was expecting a busload of kids that afternoon, and one of the games they play centers on finding the hidden animals.

Homeowners throughout the Midwest are, most likely, not terribly fond of boxelder bugs, especially when their armies swarm the south side of our homes and garages, basking in the sun and making more of their kind.  Their most favorite fruit in the whole wide world, according to Mary Vanderford, is the seed pods on female boxelder trees, a close cousin of maple trees.  Boxelder bugs are also fond of maple seeds, unfortunately.

Carver Park Honkers, also known as Canadian Honkers, are common visitors in this neck of the woods, as most of you know.

Can you spot who else is enjoying this beautiful spring day?

They’re  also commonly photographed, as you also know, probably because they sit or stand still long enough to get in focus.

You cannot say the same for bluebirds.  They flit away almost sooner than you see them.

Yes, it’s really a blue bird.

I think this is one the many red winged blackbirds we heard that day.

See the yellow finch?

He’s especially pretty against the blue sky.

Thank you, Mary Vanderford, for teaching me more about Mother Nature on this beautiful spring day at the Lowry Nature Center.  We sit on the lap of her luxury, especially here in Victoria, Minnesota, and sometimes we take her generosity for granted.