High-water marks

More than three months of overflowing rivers around the Twin Cities finally ended this month, leaving debris, tree trunks stained by muddy water up to above my height, and a sprout and seedling explosion around the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington. I took a walk there yesterday to see if the mushrooms and slime molds were more active yet. The answer was yes. This system of wetlands goes hand in hand with flooding, even months of it, so life carries on.

I’m not kidding about the seedlings. Maples a few inches tall and other young plants were as thick as turf grass on much of the Minnesota River floodplain after millions or billions of seeds carried by the flooding settled down and germinated. They’re a record of the flood as much as the lines on the trees: Thicker bands and patches of sprouts echoed the water’s direction and speed. Down in the marshier area, creeping plants regrew to their former size.

To cap off the hike, one last peek in a little ravine near the trail revealed the biggest crown-tipped coral fungus I’ve yet seen. Almost always, somehow, there’s some kind of prize at the end.

Happy summer, and thanks for looking.

Dan

Fairy Falls close-up

It’s time for another photographic sermon on the worth and beauty of the small, this time delivered in the steep, lush Silver Creek valley below Fairy Falls. The falls anchor a nice little hiking spot just on this side of the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. The forest there is in full swing, and so are the small-scale inhabitants of the forest floor.

I haven’t been able to identify these little green starfish-looking plants, which unfurl just a few millimeters wide. If anyone can help me out, just let me know. I do know the next photo is a crown-tipped coral fungus — an old acquaintance from down South.

Observe the little nodules that sit in the middle of each segment of these liverworts like a nucleus in a cell. They’re so small that I didn’t notice them when I was taking this photo, only after. Now that’s the good stuff.

Take a hike in all of this good weather.

Thanks for looking!

Spring thaw

_MG_2492.JPGThis has been a winter unlike any I’ve experienced — a cold blast in the minus 20s before wind chill, several feet of snow, weeks below freezing. And all of a sudden it’s gone.

I know we could still get a snowstorm in the next month or so, but it’s hard to look around at all of the dripping and gushing and not conclude winter has lost its grip. We’ve had some moderate flooding around the Cities, including near where I work, and catastrophic flooding to the south in Nebraska and elsewhere that’s directly affecting old friends of mine and their families.

We could get some of the same, but for now, things are just soaked. This past weekend I went down to Minnehaha Creek to see the back and forth between freezing and thawing. It was a good bookend to my visit back in December when the freezing was really taking over. Streams of snowmelt have carved channels and miniature canyons in the snow and ice, and the creek is gushing.

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One of my favorite things with the thaw is watching water and bubbles flow under ice and take on a lava-lamp-like mode. I also found a kind of ice that’s new to my repertoire: etched with wiggling lines as if shattered but whole and smooth to the touch.

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_MG_2459.JPGI also went further along the creek than last time, all the way down to where it joins the Mississippi River. An orange bluff there seems to be made of the softest sandstone. People have carved names and designs all over it, of course, but I was more impressed with nature’s own contribution. The rock is covered in tree-like, branching tufts of sandstone powder that crumble to nothing at the slightest contact. Nature always one-ups us.

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_MG_2482.JPGHappy spring, everyone! I’m as glad as anyone to see it.

Dan

The depth of winter

_MG_2314.JPGThis is something like the Minnesota March version of that standard image of a bent-over palm tree. Instead of being on a white, sandy beach, this one’s hunched over something like 2 feet of snow. We’ve gotten significantly more than that in recent weeks here in the Twin Cities without much thawing; I’m thinking the weight of each new snow blanket is simply compressing the snow underneath. There’s just a lot.

I’m not thrilled with the “bold north’s” winter at this point, but I have been getting a feel for its details: the knocking of several woodpeckers at once on still days, the ice on my face and inside my nose, the bulldozers and dump trucks loaded with snow, the ever-deepening valleys of sidewalks. Somehow only short segments of the Mississippi River freeze even now, but those that do genuinely resemble the surface of the moon.

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A downy woodpecker surrounded by its handiwork.

I took these yesterday at Hidden Falls Regional Park in St. Paul. The falls are indeed hidden, frozen solid and covered in snow, but the rest of the park gave a nice opportunity to follow snowshoe trails, which are a little easier than raw snow to negotiate, down to the Mississippi and back.

Speaking of wintry details, I’d like to circle back to something I caught a glimpse of in this blog post back in November: odd root- or fractal-like patterns that appear in pond and river ice around here. I’ve since found a lot more of these shapes and actually wrote up a story for work about them here. There’s a few guesses out there, but they might form from warmer water trickling up from below or from water on top of the ice flowing back down through a hole or break.

Here’s some examples:

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IMG_1053.jpgThere are little treasures to find even when it seems like nothing but ice and snow outside.

Thanks for looking,

Dan