Acres of cattails glow golden in the steep slant of the November sun. Standing on the boardwalk at Cardinal Creek Conservation Area, I reach up to touch the velvety brown flower of the cattail. This time of year, the flowers are frizzing out from their tightly packed brown cylinders into the fuzzy fluff that inspired their name. I tug at the shedding seeds, and the fluff expands and expands, cottony foam releasing sails of seeds.
Cattails, a marsh plant, thrive along the edges of lakes and rivers and across wetlands providing food and shelter to muskrats, deer, ducks and more. The sturdy stalks and broad, long leaves grow up to nine feet. Cattails stabilize shorelines and reduce wave erosion. Within this patch of cattails, a swath of them is flattened, likely where deer around here bed down for the night.
Along this nature trail, I stop often to take a picture or to float my hand along the leaves of cattails. Cardinals, chickadees, and juncos chirp in the trees. I hear the field of swaying cattails rustle, the crinkly sound layers over the low rumble of semi-trucks and cars on nearby I-494. There’s no minimum speed limit on this unpaved path, so I linger, saunter, positively mosey along, soaking in the warm bronze and beige colors, the brisk air reminding me I have cheeks and ear lobes.
The presence of cattails shakes loose memories of childhood. Cattails were one of the first plants I knew as a little kid living in a trailer house by a lake. Their delightful name, how they towered over me, how they hid the chorus of croaking bullfrogs and leopard frogs I searched for along the shore. I remember swishing cattail spears about like swords, setting free enormous amounts of fluff.
On the back half of the trail, I continue to ponder the cattails on my left. Sensing movement on my right, I turn. About five yards away, an eight-point whitetail buck stands looking at me. I’m startled but manage to stay still as I return his gaze. I marvel at his big ears, his dark eyes, those antlers. After several long moments, he turns and walks away. I watch him go, then I carry on along the path.
Nature nearby is a monthly column by Eden Prairie resident Amber D. Stoner.
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