Mother’s Day Spring Sampler

Prairie smoke in front of the Visitor Center

Prairie smoke in front of the Visitor Center

It was a beautifully overcast Mother’s Day as 29 of us began our Spring Sampler tour. Prairie smoke greeted us near the Visitor Center front door, and several shooting stars nodded as we walked past Curtis Prairie. Here I explained the original concepts behind the Arboretum and read parts of Leopold’s 1934 dedication speech to emphasize that “Our idea is to reconstruct a sample of original Wisconsin – a sample of what Dane County looked like when our ancestors arrived here during the 1840s.” We also talked about prairie fire and observed a bluebird as we made the transition to the oak savanna.

Getting closer to Teal Pond, we heard whispers from blue-gray gnatcatchers, catching a glimpse of one as it swooped down to grab insects from between oak branches. At the pond the youngest member of our group quickly spotted two painted turtles to the left, as well as a fishing spider and a small snail below the dock. I made mention of the fact that painted turtle moms simply dig a hole in the sand, lay their eggs, cover it up, and their mothering duties are largely over. Our lifelong parent-child relationships are incredible in comparison. We continued towards the cattail marsh and admired the lavender circles of blue phlox, a few remaining wild geraniums, and both prairie and white trilliums along the trail. On Icke Boardwalk, we noticed an empty crane nest but no cranes at first. A few moments later someone spotted one of the cranes far back, blending in with the cattails, and then the second. The pair was still for a long while and then quietly disappeared into the trees at the back of the marsh.

Baltimore oriole
Baltimore oriole

The last leg of our journey took us out into Longenecker Gardens near the birches. I explained the concept of a tree museum and pointed out that the tags on each tree tell both the species name and the date of acquisition. We snaked our way to the corky oaks, past the larches, and listened to the sweet whistling tones of Baltimore Orioles as we crossed over to the crabapples. Some of the crabs are finished already, but dozens are still aglow with white, cream, pink, and fuscia flowers, lighting up our overcast world. Ending our journey at the lilacs, we noticed that we were just a small portion of the visitors enjoying Mother’s Day flowers. Plenty of moms and grandmoms were taking in the rejuvenating floral aroma. Many of the lilacs smelled good enough to eat. A last treat was a robin in a nest, low in a magnolia tree near the garden entrance. This bird seemed a peculiar mom, setting up a home in a very busy area, but she was warming her eggs nevertheless, and added a beautiful closing scene to our walk.

—Tom Pearce

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