The Urban Wilderness, Minneapolis
On my way North-West I drove for most of a day to reach Minneapolis, where I was going to spend some time with Sean, a friend ecologist from University of Minnesota. I arrived on the first warm spring day and the city was shedding off the long winter. Leaves have just popped out and one can still see through the foliage. Flowers are everywhere, the air is sweet and fresh. Birds are out and so are the people, walking, running, biking, canoeing, kayaking and fishing. At 4 pm back-from-work traffic is pretty bad.
There are a many parks in the city limits, they are very well maintained, but not over-manicured, giving a sense of a local forest. In the morning we went to Theodore Wirth Park to explore the spring plants, and hunt for morels. Apparently morels can be found in a vicinity of ferns and Jack in the Pulpit, both of which we found easily, but it was probably still too early in the season for the morels. Armed with a Wildflowers of the Midwest book we explored the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, which is truly a gem. I found the bogs, which are characteristic to the area, their plants and soil especially interesting.
The city parks side with a system of lakes connected by canals. We took a canoe out and paddled through several lakes. My favorite was the Lake of the Isles, which has two small forest-covered islands in its center. These mini-wildernesses, seem to be completely left alone by the people. We saw two beautiful Great Blue Herons on the fallen trees by the water.
Later, Sean showed me how he collects samples of crustacean living in the lake water. He researches Daphnia, also called the “water fleas”. Their unhatched embryos can be preserved for extended periods of time at a bottom of a lake. Different layers of the lake-bottom sediments correspond to different points in time, thus comparing genomes of the crustacean embryos taken from different depths can tell interesting stories about the creature’s evolution in reaction to changing environments.
Later in the evening (having slightly recovered from the hot day on the lake), we went on a bike ride around the city, passing by the impressive Mill City and on the Stone Arch Bridge, and to the uptown. I was impressed with the biking trails: mostly they are completely separate from the roads and one can get around the entire city by bike safely and pleasantly. Finished this great long day with tacos, beers, and more interesting conversations about ecology, naturalism, and the future of life on earth. More about these in the next post.