Journal archives for March 2017

March 01, 2017

Dream Observations

Today's photo observation, the bud of the invasive Common Buckthorn, comes from the banks of the Cannon River, but even before waking this morning I was busy with dream observations.

I don't know where the dream began but there was a game resembling badminton or chess. The rules weren't quite right and definitely not in my favor. I wasn't winning so I slipped across the street to take some photos of nature.

The place was a kind of bus stop, possibly. People waited around. And there were big blocks of stone. Looking up I photographed a stocky palm tree. Then a few curious weeds that resembled pressed plants. A legless lizard caught my attention as it slowly progressed toward the undulating green and white leaves of a plant that seemed to crawl off and cover the lizard. Tree roots metamorphosed into a snake with a head shaped like the head of a spiny soft shell turtle. I looked it in the eye and turned to go (thinking to myself that I'd remember their names when I woke up...that was a mistake!). As I moved away I felt something strike me on the back, not a push, or a bite, but more like a firm hand placed on the shoulder. And I opened my eyes.

O sir, you are old,
Nature in you stands on the very verge
Of his confine."
– Shakespeare, from King Lear
Posted on March 01, 2017 04:58 AM by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 02, 2017


The first day of March is more wintry than the last day of February due to an overnight snowfall. Snowbound, but only for a short while..

"And, when the second morning shone,
We looked upon a world unknown,
On nothing we could call our own.
Around the glistening wonder bent
The blue walls of the firmament,
No cloud above, no earth below,—
A universe of sky and snow!
The old familiar sights of ours
Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
Or garden-wall, or belt of wood"
– John Greenleaf Whittier, from Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl
Posted on March 02, 2017 04:48 AM by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 03, 2017

March Cold

A clear brisk early March day. The temperature, in the upper 20s, just a little under the average for the day. The wind solidly out of the west. As I entered the woods I could hear crows, a lot of crows. At one spot at least twenty were perched in the treetops overhead. There was little doubt they were up to something.

Underfoot, hard surfaces of snow and ice alternated with stretches of mud and softening dirt. The sun was beginning to melt the frost in the earth. March cold isn't like the cold that stings our soul in January. It's no longer sustainable. It's temporary. The warming that leads to spring has begun.

Flowers on the maple trees have begun to open despite the freezing temperatures. Sap has begun to rise and run. Tiny spears of green have begun to ascend through the dark.

Posted on March 03, 2017 05:12 AM by scottking scottking | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 04, 2017


Another cold March day with the high temperature not making it to 30 degrees. The warm spell prior to this cold spell started the sap flowing in the Sugar Maples. And because of the low temperatures, any leaks in the trees due to damaged bark or snapped branches froze into icicles of sap, sapcicles. I had the pleasure of sampling a few of these sweet, sticky icicles today.

Posted on March 04, 2017 03:54 AM by scottking scottking | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 05, 2017

A Late Winter Walk

Today I hiked to the oak savanna and fen at the Cannon River Wilderness Area. Curiously I've never visited this site in the winter when snow-covered. Now that it is March, the opportunity for winter walks will diminish quickly, especially with warmer weather in the immediate forecast.

While more of a swampwalker, in the spirit of David M. Carroll, I also have a long history of woods wandering, in the spirit of Walt McLaughlin. Best is when both occur on a single hike. Because of the remnant big woods, the floodplain forest, the small acreage of oak savanna and because of the spring fed seeps and fen, this hike has both and is one of my favorites.

The woods, as I started out, were snowy and quiet. The trail, neither slippery nor too deep to follow, was easy walking the whole way. It didn’t take long to reach the fen at the end of the trail. The water between tussocks of sedge was still frozen, making it easy to move around and explore. I walked out to the middle and stood among the red osier and willow shrub, bog birch and hazel thickets. The winter remains of last summer's Turtlehead blossoms caught my attention. A close look showed that the delicate white blooms had altered, leaving sepals and seed pods that resembled the open mouths of young robins held wide for food.

On the open slopes of the oak savanna above the fen I noticed large circles clear of snow. Each circle was positioned on the sunny side of standing Red Oaks. The leaf litter, on the sunny side of the trees—a deep, leather-brown color—must aid in melting the snow by capturing the radiant heat of the sun. Plus it’s this area that isn’t shadowed by the leaves remaining on the tree. It was comfortably warm inside these oak circles, while cool and crunchy snow remained outside them. Exploring one such circle, I found a small wolf spider on top of the leaves. Turning over a piece of wood I found a much larger spider, a Funnel Web Spider, surrounded by a loose web. This spider had long orange-and-black legs pulled in tightly to its body, the knee joints coming together above the cephalothorax in a ring, making it difficult to see the eyes of the spider. After being in the sun for a few minutes it loosened and scrambled off, disappearing into the surrounding leaf litter.

These seemingly spot-lit circles were charming and transported visitors slightly ahead in time, providing a premonition of spring. Two steps and I was back to winter and the long, enjoyable walk back to my car.

Posted on March 05, 2017 04:59 AM by scottking scottking | 19 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 06, 2017


Imagine Thoreau doing a stint as greeter at Wallmart and you'll have a sound idea of my day. Not that I'm anywhere near the naturalist that Thoreau was nor my job as unfriendly as smiling for a big corporation but a six hour shift as door security at a sporting facility is a little out of character. Luckily my shift started early enough that I had a chance to take a short hike at a nearby park, Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve, after I was done.

Driving past Hanrehan Lake I could see wide traces of open water, and walking the trails of the park most of the smaller wetlands were partly open as well. If the prediction for rain and possibly thunderstorms holds the remaining ice will go quickly. The narrow gaps of open water between shore and the main body of lake ice reminded me of a few spring ice-fishing outings when I was young when makeshift bridges were thrown out across this gap while the main lake ice was still sound enough to fish. I'm not certain I would try that anymore, especially on these shallow southern Minnesota lakes.

A few people walked their dogs, a few people hiked, but mostly the park trails were empty and quiet and I enjoyed the comfortable weather and the moments of quiet. Before leaving I took photos of two kinds of phytopathogenic fungi—Aspen Bracket and Black Knot. Aspen Bracket are the fruiting bodies of Phellinus tremulae which causes Aspen trunk rot. The brackets have always reminded me of steps or the artificial climbing holds used on climbing walls and no doubt could be used to climb the trees if they were abundant enough or spread out along the trunk. Black Knot is a fungi that affects trees of the genus Prunus like Chokecherry and Wild Plum. According to one website, Black Knot resembles burnt marshmallows on a branch, which is a pretty good description.

Posted on March 06, 2017 03:35 AM by scottking scottking | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 07, 2017

Ink with Ice Crystals

This morning I opened an old translation of The Story of the Ere-Dwellers (also know as Eyrbyggja Saga). I can think of no prose more elemental than that of the Icelandic Sagas; it's as if they were penned in black ink with ice crystals. This language of barren fells, blood feuds, Viking ships and the lingering presence of the Norse gods drift into the sentences of today’s observation.

There was a bird, a Brown Creeper, that visited the great Ash this morning. Now the bird fell to climbing the trunk, and searched out food from the crevices found therein the bark. This bird betakes itself to climb head upwards always ascending, never down. So the Brown Creeper moves from tree to tree.

”But Thorod made a bargain that winter with Thorgrima Witch-face that she should bring a storm on Bjorn as he went over the heath; and on a day Bjorn fared to Frodis-water, and in the evening when he was ready to go home the weather waxed thick, and somewhat it rained, and he withal was rather late ready; but when he came upon the heath cold grew the weather, and the snow drave down, and so dark it was that he might not see the road before him. Then came on a storm, with such hail that he might scarce keep his feet, and his clothes, which before had got wet through, took to freezing on him, and he was so wildered withal that he knew not which way he turned.”
— from The Story of the Ere-Dwellers, done into English from the Icelandic by William Morris and Eirikr Magnusson (1892)
Posted on March 07, 2017 05:09 AM by scottking scottking | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Early Moths and Tornadoes

Yesterday evening, following a day of warm temperatures, the warmest day so far in 2017, a line of thunderstorms swept across the state. In some places the storms also brought the first hail and the first tornadoes. The tornado that touched down near Anna Lake, west of Zimmerman and near several natural areas I visit most summers, was, according to the news, the earliest tornado on record for Minnesota by about two weeks. I later learned that this same tornado, touching down a few miles further north, vacuumed the ice off a section of Little Elk Lake.

After the thunderstorms pushed through Northfield (thankfully no tornadoes here), I collected the first Spring Cankerworm Moth which had landed by the front door light. Always one of the first moths of the year, this is the earliest date I've recorded. Last year the first was observed one day later, on March 8th. In 2015, the first observation was on March 16th. And the year before that, when I was obviously less vigilant, the date I first saw the moth was April 12th (probably not an accurate early date). Only the males of this species have wings. The females are flightless and kind of look like midget walruses.

In the afternoon, I attended a volunteer appreciation meeting for the Wasp Watchers Program, a biosurveillance program for the detection of the invasive Emerald Ash Borer. While not an official volunteer to the program, I had submitted an observation after finding a Cerceris fummipennis nest in Northfield which was enough to make the invitation list since it's the wasp being watched. The meeting was held at Hodson Hall on the University of Minnesota St Paul Campus. To start things off, three entomology graduate students shared their 'outreach arthropods' with us—Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, Death-feigning Beetles, Darkling Beetles and larvae, giant millipedes, and a Rose Tarantula, providing lively accompaniment to cookies and coffee. Jennifer Schultz, director of the Wasp Watchers program, led the meeting, summarizing the previous year's results.

After Jennifer's presentation, we visited the U of MN insect collection and met the curator, Robin Thomson. This is a large collection, rows and rows of metal cabinets, nearly floor to ceiling. Each metal cabinet contained many wooden drawers filled with pinned insects. How satisfying to finally visit this collection. Many friends and odonatologists had spent time working here and I had missed several chances to help them. The wonder of looking at the insects in the collection intertwined with nostalgia for those long-ago student days when I spent many many hours in the nearby Entomology Library, around thirty years ago now..

From the U of MN, I drove south to give a slide presentation on wasps and bees and dragonflies to the Red Wing Master Gardeners. Curiously, many of the people were up-in-arms, out-of-sorts, and bent-out-of-shape about the recent discovery of the Emerald Ash Borer in a tree on Barn Bluff. Several people complained about the stupidity and irresponsibility of local residents who must have broken the firewood quarantine and introduced the beetle locally. Of course this was a possibility, but they seemed to forget that these beetles can fly and might have arrived there on their own.

Posted on March 07, 2017 03:46 PM by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 09, 2017

Ossi di Seppia

The ice is nearly out at the big pond at the St Olaf Natural Lands when I visit in the afternoon. I look closely for ducks in the dark patches of open water amidst the remnant ice but find none. I walk to the woods at the west end of the pond. The Quaking Aspen do more than tremble and quake in the cold, gale-force winds. Some of the top branches have actually snapped off and lay scattered on the trail.

Over twenty years ago I discovered the work of the Italian poet Eugenio Montale, a poet whose rugged elemental landscapes mixed complexly with human emotions. I especially remember pouring over the volumes translated and annotated by William Arrowsmith, for many many months. Looking at poems from the early collection Ossi di Seppia today, after many years, I recognize more easily the force that so overpowered me when I first encountered them.

Something about today's howling wind and the bare branches of the tree tops whipping together until they sounded like the antlers of battling deer and the cold waves cutting a wedge into the last of the ice on the pond nudges me in the direction of Montale's poems this afternoon. One of the first poems I look at includes a few lines about poplar trees. A few poems later I encounter the Italian transmontane wind, a cold forceful wind gusting out of the north, which is even more apropos of today's weather. The poet reminds us that there are days when it's a blessing to be rooted in place.

"What looks like leaves or birds fly through
the sky dome and are lost.
And you, all shaken by the whips
of the unleashing wingd,
you who clutch to yourself
arms that are swelling with flowers yet unborn,
how hostile are the spirits
that overflow the convulsed earth in swarms,
my tender life, and how beloved are
your roots today."

- Eugenio Montale, from 'North Wind' (trans. by Ned Condini)

Posted on March 09, 2017 05:26 AM by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 10, 2017

"Brightsun Love"

I drove to the local pond where the ice was going off yesterday only to find that it had frozen over anew. So for the second day in a row there were no migrant ducks or shorebirds to see. One of these days. Before leaving I took a photograph of the dried fruit of the Wild Cucumber, resembling to some degree a small pufferfish. One end blown open, it's four large seeds shot and fallen to the earth.

A very pleasant gift arrived in today's mail, a book by Floyce Alexander entitled Sundown, over two hundred pages of selected and new poems. Browsing it I encounter many old favorites and sample several new poems. There can be few poets more human, more personable, more erotic, or more honest than this poet. Especially now, after the cold celibacy of winter, after months of snow fall and thickening ice, these poems are welcome as would be a little of that "brightsun love" he mentions in the poem 'Blood Rivers.'

"Lakes of blood rising high as watertable,
overflowing in early spring, becoming rivers.
Your fingers, your twining legs, your lips and their salt
against the eyes of my closed lids, your brightsun love."
— Floyce Alexander, from the poem 'Blood Rivers'
Posted on March 10, 2017 03:20 AM by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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