Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Artificial Environments: January 19th, 2013

Ah, January in Minnesota.  It's getting lighter outside, but it's still frakking cold out there.  We had one wicked cold snap in which the nighttime mercury dropped to about -30F for several days in a row.  I felt no shame when I wore snow pants to walk the dog in the morning.  I considered wearing them to work.

So, on January 19th, Joe and I investigated three different artificial environments here in cold, wintry Minnesota.  The first environment was that which exists inside his car.  We took a nice little drive down the Great River Road, from St. Cloud to Minneapolis.  We'd taken other parts of the Great River Road in the past - most notably when we drove to Missouri to take in some baseball in 2011.  We had yet to do the stretch between his house and my time like a freezing cold day!  We enjoyed the ride, and chatted about how much we miss driving around and listening to the Twins on the radio.  (Thirteen days until Pitchers and Catchers report!!)

We did not see any paddleboats :(

We took a short detour off the Great River Road to check out the second artificial environment of the day.  There is a section of the Mississippi in Monticello that does not freeze over in the winter...due to the warm water coming down from the nuclear power plant upstream.  In the mid-80's, a few Trumpeter Swans decided to stay on the shores of the river instead of completing their journey to warmer climates for the winter.  A riverside homeowner named Sheila Lawrence began to feed the swans.  The DNR encouraged her to do this because the swans were a threatened long as they didn't become tame.  The swans returned to "winter" in Monticello the next year, and the next, and the next...each time bringing more friends with them.  They would disperse in the spring and return in the fall.  Her husband continues to feed the flock of Swans and their friends the Canada Geese and Mallards.  It's a pretty sweet deal for the birds, but quite a labor of love for the Lawrences.

Swan man with the swans.  Good grief, they're huge!!

There's a part of me that kind of wrinkles my nose at the thought of the swans being diverted from their natural migration by the warm waters of a nuclear power plant, and being dependent upon humans for food.  However, the Trumpeter Swan population IS growing and they have yet to become tame.  And people seem to love them.  I do wonder how the neighbors feel about the sound though...take a listen:

After being deafened by the birds, we continued on the Great River Road to the Cities.  We headed on over to St. Paul, where we visited one of my favorite places: the Como Conservatory.  Joe took a few pictures, but we discovered (sadly) that the lens on his phone is broken so the pictures didn't turn out.  However, we went last we will treat you to pictures from out trip to Como a year ago.

There are ponds full of fish for everyone to watch.

When I was in grad school, I would bring my homework to the Conservatory on cold days.  I'd set myself up on a bench and get some reading done.  It was great to be amongst the flowers and plants and green and the lucky birds that winter in the rafters.

There are little interpretive signs by some of the plants.

The Conservatory is always packed in the winter.  I would love to just sit and watch people walk in the front doors: once the warm and humid air hits them, their shoulders drop a few inches and deep breaths are taken.   Coats are removed, smiles return to the weather-hardened faces of those who have been dealing with snow and ice for months, and people remember what it is like to be warm and surrounded by green.

AND THERE IS A SLOTH!!!  Her name is Chloe and I wish I could take her home.

Sloth!!!  I think she was in the same branch this year as she was last year.  

So, it was a good day full of artificial environments.  Coming up: natural environments!  Stay tuned.

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