January 29, 2020
This morning snow falls softly, so we take the long way to breakfast at the dining hall, marveling at how the large flakes cling to the bare tree branches. Today in our master naturalist class we travel through time all the way back to the Precambrian era where we learn that what is now Minnesota was once situated just south of the equator. From plate tectonics to Milankovitch cycles, we investigate events in our geologic history and discover that even though Minnesota’s glaciers are long gone, we are still in an ice age as long as there are glaciers anywhere on the planet. We learn, too, from a master naturalist how agates form (who knew there were so many kinds of agates?) along with some of the best places in Minnesota to search for these distinctive rocks.
After lunch our whole class heads into the woods, the trees and snowy drifts serenely beautiful in the overcast light. Kevin Sheppard, forest manager and American bird conservancy officer, helps us identify winter birds, including several chickadees and a downy woodpecker, and tells us about forest succession. We’re surprised to learn that tamarack, now mainly a wetland tree, was once Minnesota’s most abundant tree, growing in the uplands as well as wetter areas—a fact revealed by the original notes of surveyors in the 1800s.
Being flower chasers we can’t resist also identifying a wintry milkweed stalk with pods and a goldenrod gone to seed.
Geology, history, forestry, wildlife—there’s so much more to becoming a master naturalist than we had realized. And so much more to learn about this world we all inhabit.