by Karin Murray-Bergquist
It is a hot, sweltering day, approaching the height of summer, and the air is filled with snow.
At first, I had assumed it would be a brief shower, a flower or shrub sending out seeds. This fall has turned into a flurry, and each day has left a little skim of white along the ground. The cottonwood that are scattered through FortWhyte’s forests propagate through the dispersal of this gently drifting fluff; more, certainly, than can possibly be expected to grow to maturity, but enough to ensure the survival of several. They ride the breeze in the manner of milkweed, or dandelion seeds, ideally adapted to the windy Manitoba weather.
Cottonwood, poplar, aspen — these are the trees of the prairies, their space once broad enough to make the distribution of seeds on the wind the most practical of methods, with little between themselves and the ground but prairie grass. In the wind-struck north, too, the balsam poplar flourishes. Curious to think of the acorn, in contrast, dropping to the ground with a firm finality. The difference is remarkable, particularly in forests such as this, where both oak and poplar are present. In a thicker forest, of old growth and dense underbrush, perhaps the weight of the acorn worked to its benefit in letting it sink all the way to the ground. Being cached by squirrels and other creatures of the forest might have worked to its advantage, too, where floating lightly would risk its catching on the branches of trees or bracken.
The errant swirl of white amid the green at FortWhyte brings a surreal element to an otherwise standard summer day, and without coldness in themselves, they are refreshing. I have scuffed through the gathered drifts of them, watching them skim over the ground at the slightest updraft, and wondering about their evolution. Looking up, I’ve had to restrain myself from trying to catch one of the fluff-wisps on my tongue, and asked how far these seeds might ride the currents.
These are the questions of idle curiosity, without the experience or knowledge to lend them greater depth. But idle curiosity seems fitting for a day of drifting snow, a place of unbelievably blue skies, and a gentle breath of wind. Sometimes the simplest questions can fill an entire day.
As FortWhyte Alive’s seasonal interpreter, Karin will share her observations and musings on the trail this summer.