When we look at the Minnesota winter landscapes, it's the snow and evergreens that contribute much to the natural beauty.

In fact, a snow-covered evergreen is one of the most splendid sights of nature. In the metro area, we expect to see snow on the boughs of evergreen trees and shrubs for about 30 days or so each year. Winds and thaws remove the snow during the rest of the time.

Anyone who has been to the University of Minnesota's Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen to see the snow-covered species and varieties of pines, spruces, firs, junipers and yews know they are seeing impressive plantings.

They are strikingly beautiful trees and shrubs to plant for our northern winters, and they do many things for us.

In our yards and neighborhoods, they fill in for deciduous trees that drop their leaves and look bare and cold in the winter. When sugar maples, basswoods, bur oaks and others lose their leaves, evergreens give us bulk. They protect us from cold winds, give us privacy and make us feel sheltered as they add their shades of green to our winter environment. Evergreens provide shelter, night roosting places, and some food for many birds and other wildlife.

Some other observations:

A good share of us are now leaving for work in the dark and returning home in the dark. In the Twin Cities on Friday, sunrise is at 7:33 a.m. and sunset 4:33 p.m., giving us nine hours of daylight. According to meteorologists and climatologists, Dec. 1 was the first day of winter here in the Upper Midwest because statistically, it's the kickoff for the coldest 90 days of the year. Astronomers have us wait until Dec. 21, the winter solstice, for winter to begin in the Northern Hemisphere.

  • A majority of raccoons have retreated to their winter quarters. They will be slumbering in sheltered places such as hollow trees and abandoned buildings until well into January or February. Raccoons are not true hibernators because their body temperatures do not decrease.
  • Bald eagles hunt fish where open water prevails.
  • Flocks of cedar waxwings feed on the fruit of junipers, mountain ashes and crabapple trees.
  • On this day in 2019, Lake Bemidji in Beltrami County and Grindstone Lake near Sandstone froze over. The day before, Dec. 2, became the official freeze-up date for Lake of the Woods, Leech Lake and Lake Minnetonka.

Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for more than 50 years.