For many people, fall in the Arb is considered one of the most beautiful times of the year. The leaves are changing, the heat of summer has passed and the prairie is a wonderful place to soak up the remaining autumn sunshine, but have you ever considered what the Arb is like after the sun goes down? Night time is one of the most beautiful and peaceful times in the Arb, and yet few people are aware of what the Arb has to offer at night.
A typical night in the Arb starts off with a spectacular sunset. The large open prairies just north of Highway 19 are a great place to watch the sun slowly dip behind the hills of St. Olaf College as the sunlight hitting the prairie seems to set it on fire. Once the cool and stillness of the night settles in, the whole Arb seems to be filled with a sense of peace and rest, storing up the energy to play out the game of life again tomorrow.
Although much of the Arb is asleep, there are some areas that are anything but. If you walk down to Kettle Hole Marsh in the Lower Arb you’ll be amazed by the variety of sounds arising from the barely visible water. More frogs and toads than you can count adorn the marsh and fill it with constant music. Some of the main musicians are the Chorus Frog, which has a high, loud call that positively fills the air, and the Leopard Frog, whose deep-throated “snore” lends some bass to the marsh’s symphony. In the Audio Archive section of Christopher Baur’s Arboretum sound-scape website, arbsonics.com, there are some amazing recordings of Chorus Frogs, along with the haunting wails of the coyotes, and the distinctive calls of the Barred Owl. His recordings are incredible, but if you’d like to hear them for yourself, there’s no better place than the Arb at night.
Finally, no description of a night would be complete without mentioning the stars. Due to the fact that there is relatively little light pollution in the Arb, and the enormous field of vision that comes with being in a prairie, the Arb is my favorite place on this earth to watch stars. On moonless nights you can even see the Milky Way!
So go ahead and enjoy those fall colors, but don’t forget that sometimes the Arb looks its best when the only light comes from the dim shimmer of stars.
-Forrest Williams ’16, for the Cole Student Naturalists