January 31, 2020
Thursday is field trip day in our master naturalist class at Long Lake Conservation Center, and our whole group carpools to Jay Cooke State Park to learn more about the geology of the Saint Louis River and its watershed. Not only do we learn about slate and graywacke, the two predominant rocks that make up the park, we also learn their origins and how to remember them, since even the rocks under our feet change over time. Mud becomes shale becomes slate, and sand becomes sandstone becomes graywacke. (Shale and slate both have five letters, while sandstone and graywacke both have nine—what’s not to love about memory tricks?) The Saint Louis River itself is partly frozen and runs in and out of ice formations as we cross the swinging bridge, rebuilt since the flood of 2012 destroyed the previous structure.
An added bonus: among the informational displays at the park lodge we discover pictures of two native flowers we have yet to see, moschatel and wild chive (which grows only at Jay Cooke) and make plans to return during wild flower season to search for them.
After lunch we’re left to explore on our own, and we head a mile down the road to find Hemlock Ravine Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), where a quarter of all the eastern hemlock trees left in Minnesota grow—a grand total of 26 trees at the far western edge of their range. We walk along the trail at the edge of the SNA surrounded by pine trees, snow, silence, and sunshine. The shadows of trees roll peacefully over the undulating drifts, and we are both very happy.
Back at Long Lake we gather up the data from our tracking project and discover that we have not managed to capture any images of animals on our trail cameras. But we’ve seen tracks we identify as fox, coyote, weasel, and (possibly) mink. We are taking home a new appreciation for those who can read the tracks of animals in the snow, along with an understanding that there’s still so much to learn about our natural world.
At the end of the day our whole class plays a lively pub trivia game (minus the pub) about facts we’ve learned throughout the week. Luckily our team includes Jim, who knows all the answers, and we’re pretty sure that when the results are tallied, our team will be leaving with the grand prize of winter hats with built in lights. Thanks, Jim.
Today (Friday) we present our completed projects, assess what we’ve learned, say good-bye to all the amazing folks we’ve met, and head out into the world as master naturalists. A week well spent.