Seeing a park's past and future through the trees

 By Kate Havelin

The leaves are gone; the snow is here. Without the distraction of splashy wild flowers or dramatic foliage and grasses, what stands out is the steadiness of trees. My eye is drawn is the beauty of bare bark, trunks rooted in earth and the past, stretching to the sky and future.

Standing on the steps at Coldwater Spring, I look north to the oak grove, a graceful grouping of mature trees. They seem like the park’s grandparents, watching over the park and all who come here. I think of the many volunteers who donated hundreds of hours to clear invasive buckthorn that once shrouded the oaks. Thanks to their efforts, we can see and savor this grove. I scan east and south to the oak savanna prairie and the bluff top woodlands. The trees frame sun, sky, clouds and park.

A few hundred years ago, oak savannas made up ten percent of Minnesota’s landscape. Today, oak savannas are rare. My eyes sweep over the restored prairie and the trees, old and new. I get a sense of what was and will be. The trees that volunteers have planted in the past few years will grow to shade visitors not yet born.

Since the park opened in 2012, volunteers have planted six hundred trees, including elms, ironwoods, hackberries, and many oaks. I hope my children and future generations will one day walk along Coldwater as I do today. I hope they stop to gaze at an oak savanna prairie grown vigorous after decades of tending. Trees hint at decades and lifetimes.

For now, the mature trees define Coldwater’s landscape. Modest ash trees, supporting players on the park's stage, usher visitors on toward the spring house. Just south of the springhouse, an aging but still statuesque cottonwood bends like a dancer to her audience. Stoic evergreens stand as western sentries, holding the highway and train line at bay. Fallen trees show us yet another angle in trees' long lifelines.  The massive burly oak at the south end of the property anchors Coldwater, an entity unto himself.

Nearby stands a black maple, a supplicant with its many arms overhead forlornly. In a park full of trees, there’s just this one black maple, an uncommon tree this far north in Minnesota. Every tree has a story. Some trees are planted in honor of loved ones. But every tree is a gift -- for now and the future.

From spring's buds through summer's shade canopy and fall's foliage, trees give us gifts in every season. Winter may be trees' finest hour. It's now, when so much is dormant, that we can see trees as the beacons they are, beckoning us in a white-blanketed landscape. Come see Coldwater's trees.