January 28, 2020
It’s our first day of master naturalist classes at Long Lake Conservation Center, and after a morning of classroom exercises and learning we venture out into a beautiful Minnesota winter day. We’ve been out briefly to walk to the dining lodge for breakfast, then for lunch. But now, wearing snowshoes and warm gear, we head out and off trail to look for animal tracks, lichen, and other signs of winter life. We follow squirrel trails from tree to tree, puzzle over holes in the snow and animal scat, and admire the sculptural effect of a woodpecker-hammered dead tree. What sounds like a dog in the distance turns out to be a pileated woodpecker calling. In the quiet and snow-covered landscape we realize that even though winter locks down the land, life still goes on, following its own phenology of what happens when.
Our last task of the day is to take a twig and find the tree from which it came. No leaves, not even buds to help us, but eventually we make our way to a quaking aspen and an alder. We are learning to look closely, to pay attention to detail, to find other ways of identifying than we ones we are used to.
We are learning the language of winter.
John Latimer, host of “Phenology Show,” on KAXE-FM 91.7 public radio in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, defines phenology as “the study of the rhythmic nature of biological events as they relate to climate.”