All nature is beautiful in its time.
Winter in Minnesota is made up of distinctive wonders, scenes and experiences. There are the wonders of cheerful chickadees at our feeders, and incredibly intricate snowflakes in their six-sided crystal patterns. Animal sounds, too, seem closer and more intense in the cold air.
The scenes are plentiful: The morning sun on a row of sugar maples covered with layers of white frost, the “snowflowers” on evergreen boughs, the steam fog rising from open water on the Mississippi River.
Snowshoeing under a full moon makes the solitude of an ethereal landscape seem deeper. Standing under a strong red oak, you can often hear the still-attached leaves rustling in the wind. Also, I love to step out into our neighborhood just after a new snowfall has covered the imperfections and cleaned the air.
For much of our nonhibernating wildlife, winter is the season of hardship. Winter is not easily defeated. The red fox must always be on the alert for its prey and its enemies. It must conserve energy by walking in shallow snow, staying out of the wind, and taking in the sun’s warmth whenever possible. Gray squirrels are busy locating acorns and other food, each piece of which was separately buried.
Meanwhile, the true hibernators such as the garter snake, the painted turtle, leopard frog and the woodchuck slumber on.
As a naturalist, and working outdoors most winter days, I’m very aware that even in the cold, preparations for new life are taking place. Some fish spawn in winter. On mild nights in January and February, raccoons and striped skunks are active and looking for mates. During the daylight hours, downy and hairy woodpeckers are heard drumming. They hammer on resonant trees to announce their territories and attract mates.
Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.