Snow, ice and cold blanket Minnesota now, but last June through October the woodlands bustled with life. From unfurling ferns, to hummingbirds and harebells, to the changing Snake River and autumn woods in Pine County, MN, here are a few of nature’s simple gifts in 2013 that I recall with gratitude — and look forward to seeing again in 2014. Happy New Year!
Aspen, hazelnut, oak — both red and white — add their glow to the autumn hardwood forest. Carotenoid pigments, which color pumpkins, yellow squash and corn, produce yellow, gold and orange leaf coloration. Anthocyanins produce red and purple colors in raspberries, grapes, cherries and some autumn leaves. The brown coloration found in some species of oak is produced by tannins, which also color tea, some kinds of wine, and some nuts, such as walnuts, pecans and acorns. On a recent day-trip to our cabin, I photographed changing leaves in the woods along the Snake River in east central Minnesota. Each tree has a unique beauty in the shape and color of its autumn leaves.
Late Sunday morning in early September. I walk along our unpaved road next to the Snake River. The sun is hot, grasshoppers whir and click, bees drone and American goldfinches call to each other in the aspen grove. Small stands of native sunflowers (Helianthus tuberosus L.) dot the roadside. In a single group of three plants, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, I spot four species of native bees, two species of wasps, several ladybird beetles, a goldenrod soldier beetle and a northern crescent butterfly. Here’s a sampling:
It’s a breezy, clear, mid-August morning at the Snake River in east central Minnesota. An old silver maple creeks in the wind and a pileated woodpecker’s call rings through the woods. Trees, thickets and river grasses show lush shades of green. I am so glad to see no hint of autumn in them yet. But, other plants tell a different story. The berries of false Solomon’s seal grow red, chokecherries and currants ripen to purple, and hawthorne fruit and wild rose hips begin to blush. Hickory and hazelnuts are plump and the fragrant basswood flowers of a few weeks ago are now little round nutlets.
Flowers are changing too. Turk’s-cap lilies, meadow rue and vetches have been replaced by woodland sunflowers and lesser purple fringed orchids. The first goldenrod buds are turning yellow, and harebells and heal-all continue to bloom.
The woods are much quieter than in July. Most birds have finished breeding and their babies have grown, putting an end to the feeding frenzy. I miss the morning and evening chorus — especially the ethereal vespers sung by the wood thrushes. Fortunately, the last few mornings, a family of five blue jays visited our hazelnut thicket. They call softly to each other as they pluck the nuts, hold them against a tree branch and peck open the husk. These jays are more elusive than the jays in our city yard. They retreat deeper into the woods when I sit outside and try to photograph them.
In the late afternoon, a lone cicada buzzes. Grasshoppers and crickets trill softly and are joined by snowy crickets and katydids in the evening. Their night music, though simpler than birdsong, complements the burble of river water over rocks and gently soothes as darkness falls.