How often do you discover something surprising, something fascinating, in nature and wonder, Why didn't I notice that before? Maybe it's a tiny blossom, an unusual berry, an eye-catching critter track, a distinctive call. Suddenly you are newly attuned to this facet of the world because you were receptive to it at that moment?you were in a state of heightened observation that opened your senses. And the great thing is that this attunement will continue: You are now more likely to notice this new object of attention whenever you encounter it. It will become part of your ever-widening understanding of nature.
On my family's 3½-acre property, where we have lived for five years, I'm constantly bombarded by new observations from our woods, wetlands, and open areas. I take note when the turkey toms start strutting, when the Jack-in-the-pulpit berries turn bright red, when the turtles try to lay eggs in the gravel driveway, when the local buck starts rubbing and scraping at the edge of the woods.
An eastern wood pewee lived in our midst two years in a row, and I'll never forget, even if I wanted to, the shrill upnote of that bird's incessant call. The same goes for the squawky Cooper's hawks that nested in a white pine last summer. I can now pick out separate frog and toad calls in the lusty spring cacophony that emanates from the wetland. I've stopped trying to predict when and where a few morel mushrooms might turn up each spring; they are one reminder that some things in nature remain wildly unpredictable.
Readers of this magazine are particularly keen observers. Natural Curiosities, in which DNR experts answer reader queries about wild phenomena, is perpetually one of the most popular parts of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. People are drawn to it because here real scientists answer real questions from real people using plain language. It feels more like a conversation than a lecture, and it allows all of us to learn from what others have noticed.
Preparing this magazine for publication, I too benefit from the collective knowledge in every issue. I read the first draft of Tom Carpenter's story about wild plums back in the spring, at the time when bright white blossoms can signal the location of wild plum trees. Because I had just learned about them, these bloom-festooned trees seemed to jump off the landscape nearly everywhere I went. A similar thing occurred after I read Mary Hoff's article about "Weird and Wonderful Plants." Once Indian pipe was at the top of my mind, I began seeing this odd white plant in woodlands around the state.
DNR game managers know the value of in-the-field observations. As writer Joe Albert points out in his story "The Big Picture on Deer," area wildlife managers stay in touch with trusted "bellwether hunters" to round out their annual picture of the deer herd and help set regulations in their permit areas. These in-the-know hunters notice nuances that numbers alone may not reveal.
Some things are simply harder to spot than others. I'm continually scanning puddles and lake shallows for horsehair worms, the freaky invertebrates profiled in our last issue. Though I'm a dedicated mushroom forager, I have yet to turn up the elusive and delicious black trumpet anywhere in Minnesota. And I simply haven't seen a bear or a moose in too long, which I take as a sign that I'm overdue for a remote northern wilderness trek. Along the way, I'm sure I'll discover something else entirely.
Keith Goetzman, acting editor