Sunday, March 11, 2018

March of Change

I haven't been into the woods much this winter, but for an occasional 30°+ chainsaw operation. Now, the growing day length, the day's work done, it was time to spread a bag of collected, mixed seed somewhere the sun may shine in the green season. 

The melt and evaporation is near constant, even on days well below freezing, but with this colder winter, refreshing snows were common. Now, with March's warm sun, the snow loses ground and the ground gains moisture. The thaw begins above, sinking into the earth, and its moisture mixed with mineral soil is a cold way to speak of mud. Mud is an element; we protect ourselves from it. In March, mud season begins in earnest, so a crisp mat of snow is a welcome traveling companion.

En route to the seeding region, snow delivered a graphic of animal traffic. The crossroads, the indecision, the quick and the casual are all written in the snow. I cannot fathom it, but isn't there a similar, but scented, pattern here only recognizable to those more dependent on the nose?

The wavy trail of, probably, a deer mouse on a journey of late winter courage as the red tail hawks and bald eagles glide high and the barred owls lurk mid canopy. 

By early March, ankle deep in snow, deer browse the dry, fibrous stems of the garlic mustard that they refuse to consider in the green season. Food of last resort, in winter, but never, not at all, when the buffet is so grand in May.

I did not understand how comfortable our mammal friends are with human paths before this place. I will take their cue as trails are altered by fallen timber, such as here. The trail used to pass to the right of this basswood, until it began to fall apart, completely blocking the old trail. The deer have made their decision; they now travel under the arch of a sibling basswood, the Arc de Ruminant.

In the late winter we take stock of the dead, the ill, the weak. The tops torn from hollowed basswood by time or wind, the snags of elder oak, rotted, but standing, the insect kill green ash and drowned every species in times of high water, are most evident in winter. Snags are important ecological components of the forest, whether killed by native or exotic means. For us, snags are question of safety, of food and shelter for wildlife, of timber taking out healthy neighbors. Few nearby young come out unscathed when elder trees fall and fall they do.

Of the remaining oak giants, red and bur of about a dozen on the drier, south facing slopes, we feel concern. These trees are one hundred forty, one hundred sixty, or more years old based on the rings of smaller felled oaks. They may outlast me, or not, but the point is not to count on a static nature, that is not what nature is.

As spring approaches I ready myself for the multitude of upcoming tasks and adventures. Many house and landscape projects remain, including seeding thousands of native woodland plants and harvesting two plots of Hudson Clove garlic, but also new opportunities. I have several upcoming photography courses at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum that are filling up with those eager for something new from somebody new. I am also going to be working with scientists over the coming year, as artist in residence, at the highly regarded research landscape known as Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. I plan to blog from Cedar Creek, nine square miles of otherwise inaccessible nature at the junction of the prairie, eastern deciduous and boreal forest. Stay tuned.

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If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...