My father was a carpenter and a cabinetmaker. He could distinguish different species of wood just from the smell and texture of sawdust in the shop or on the jobsite. The most abundant sawdust in his shop (and there was a lot of it) was from white pine. My father carried the resinous scent of … Continue reading Thinking about white pine
Every spring, when the apples are flowering and the warblers are nesting, several thousand New England violets (Viola novae–angliae) bloom in northern Minnesota. New England violet is strikingly beautiful, one of the so–called stemless blue violets, the largest subgroup of over 70 species of violets in eastern North America. In the stemless violets, the leaves … Continue reading New England Violets and the Evolution of Species
Extreme population cycles are some of the most interesting aspects of life in the north. One year, a species may be quite sparse, and then a year or two later it is hard to avoid it. Charles Elton, who virtually founded modern population ecology with his study of vole, mice, hare, and lemming cycles in … Continue reading The Ups and Downs of Wild Rice
On February 20, 1835, eight days after his 26th birthday, a young Englishman was resting in a woodland near Valdivia, Chile, when the ground began to heave, making him “almost giddy: it was something like…a person skating over thin ice, which bends under the weight of his body.” What he felt was a devastating earthquake, … Continue reading When did Darwin become a scientist?
It had been a good trip to and from the Twin Cities, ornithologically speaking. We saw seven bald eagles and a dozen turkeys, along with many dozen great blue herons at their rookery on the bank of the Snake River near Pine City. But the best came last as we were returning home and nearing … Continue reading North with the Spring and the Swans
The Hudson River begins its journey to the Atlantic at Lake Tear of the Clouds, a small glacial lake in the North Woods of the Adirondack Mountains. Approximately 70 miles south, the river emerges from the Adirondacks near the small village of Greenfield. It was here, on July 10, 1823, that Sanford Gifford was born. … Continue reading Thoreau, Marsh, Pinchot, and the North Woods
In early August this year, beneath the deep shade of old growth sugar maples, white pines, and northern red oaks in the teaching forest on my campus, Indian pipes were standing as translucently white as the finest candles. With their flowers nodding toward the forest floor, they looked like the clay pipes smoked by 17th century … Continue reading Cheaters in the soil: The ecology and evolution of Indian pipes
I suspect that many of you woke up last Wednesday after the election with a sinking feeling that the nation rejected rational thought, the bedrock of science that we all cherish and love. I wanted to say something to my students later that morning, but I didn’t want to sink into the despair and anger … Continue reading What to do after last week?
I am in the Tweed Museum of Art on my campus, standing before a photograph by the Minnesota artist Vance Gellert, labeled Petroglyphs, Spirit Island, Nett Lake. Nett Lake is on the Bois Fort Reservation of the Lake Superior Ojibwe. Spirit Island is not the largest island in Nett Lake, but it is the most … Continue reading Petroglyphs on a Whaleback
Taxonomic descriptions have gotten a bad rap: “dry”, “desiccated”, “mere description”, “stamp collecting”. But a taste for the precise and spare poetry of these nuggets of natural history is worth acquiring. In the past several decades, the Flora of North America Project has been compiling what is hoped to be the standard taxonomic accounts of, … Continue reading White Spruce: A taxonomic description set to verse