Friday, December 31, 2010

Prairie Snow - After the thaw

We had unseasonably warm December weather yesterday - 61 degrees! How great is that in the dead of winter?  I watched snow melt, creating streams that ran off, mostly down storm sewers. Except in the prairie.

Snow in the prairie was deeper, held by prairie plants residue. The ground was sheltered and - I presume - the temperature in the prairie did not rise as high as it did in open areas.

Other than an interesting observation, does the speed of snow melt matter? It does, of course, as Iowan's saw these past years after heavy snow melted rapidly, filling streams and rivers to overflowing. Devastating floods followed.

Where prairie exists, nature has a hand in moderating the runoff.

One feature of prairie plants is an extensive root system. The roots go deep and wide, acting like a big sponge to soak up rain and keep it from running off. I assumed this was a feature that played out in the summer time. But we know that even a sponge can get so full it won't hold all the water. Now I see how it works even in the winter.

Plant residue above ground holds the snow and keeps it from melting so fast. It holds the snow until the roots have a chance to catch up. Above and below ground, the prairie is working together to manage the moisture.

The prairie snow is melting. Sixty-plus degrees will make that happen. But it's slower. I'll be watching the prairie snow as we move into spring.  I can see how the prairie process will be a good thing.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Standing tall - making roads safer

This is my first winter of prairie watching. I noticed how strong prairie plants were during summer wind storms. They bent but didn't break. That same quality is true in the winter.

Snow piles up in the prairie, caught by grasses and flower stalks that continue to stand strong. Because the plants stand up, they create a living snow fence, trapping snow rather than letting it blow through.

Recently I've been doing research for an article on planting native plants along Iowa's roadways. The Iowa Department of Transportation has been working at this for some 25 years. The Native Roadside Vegetation Center at UNI works with Iowa counties to do the same. You may have seen the results of their efforts - swaths of coneflowers and black-eyed Susans, asters and goldenrod along the Interstates and state and roads.  They're pretty flowers and much more.

The IDOT landscape architects tell me that because prairie plants stand tall in the wind, they trap blowing snow, prevent road glare and inhibit drifting. Prairie plants make winter driving safer.

We might wish the prairie was north of our drive instead of south!

Monday, December 27, 2010

A gift of joy

My granddaughter gave me the finest gift this Christmas - the gift of joy.  All I had to do was watch her and look through her two-year-old eyes to receive it.

The piano? Played with incredible joy.

A new Santa? Amazement. Happiness. Joy.

Helping grandma make the waffles. She stirred the flour with joy!

The teddy bear joined her to rock by the Christmas tree. Amazing joy!

 From the time she arrived with her parents to spend the afternoon with us until she left barely able to keep her eyes open, she wrapped her arms around everything - every experience, every minute, with boundless joy.  Joy did not include sitting still for a photo!

I often find myself caught up in the over rush, over tired, over done sides of 'the season,' worrying - obsessing sometimes - about what has to get done next and whether I'll get it all done - and wondering why I don't enjoy it. Spending time with Hannah brings me into the moment, reminds me that here and now, each moment is a moment for joy. Looking at it all as new - through the eyes of a two year old - I experience the joy.

Thank you, Hannah. What a gift!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I am not a witch

Richard Nixon made history in 1973 with his 'I am not a crook' statement.  Public relations people everywhere used 'I am not a crook' as an example of how not to make a statement. Do not repeat a negative. Stay positive. State what you are. 

I'd have thought people understood how strong messaging works, certainly people who can hire professionals to work with them to craft the messages. This year proves, however, that new people must still learn the same old lessons.

When Yale University Librarian Fred Shapiro released his fifth annual list of most notable quotations yesterday, 'I am not a witch' led the way. These famous words were spoken by Christine O'Donnell in an ad for her own campaign for a Delaware senate seat.

Why not say it? Several reasons.

Say it and everyone who didn't hear the accusations the first time, now has - issuing from the candidate herself.

Say it and prolong the problem by giving it more air time.

Say it and give the opposition more - a really good soundbite, in fact - to work with.

Say it enough (as in an ad aired many, many times) and make even reasonable people begin to wonder. Taking a line from Shakespeare's Macbeth, 'The lady doth protest too much, methinks.'

Plenty of reasons to stay positive in the message. But new people have to learn the same lessons. And to prove the point, here comes Oprah - even Oprah - with 'I am not a lesbian.' 

Learn from the past or be doomed to repeat it.

Nixon image courtesy of

Monday, November 29, 2010

Raindrops on roses

A song is part of my granddaughter's going to bed ritual. My favorite song to sing when I tuck Hannah into bed is "My Favorite Things," the song Maria sings to quiet the fears of her young charges during a storm in The Sound of Music.

Though Maria lists her favorite things in the song, I think these are many of the same things she would say she is thankful for. Things that bring her joy whenever she encounters them.

In this month of Thanksgiving, I'd like to list a few things that bring me joy, the things for which I am thankful.

The prairie - It it is wild and wonderful and natural and beautiful. Full of lessons. Full of peace. The small patch in my yard brings me gifts every day.

My family - My sister, my nieces and their husbands and children, my aunts and uncles, my cousins. They are my roots, my connection to our family history past, present, future. We don't see each other as often as we'd like, but when we do, we pick up without losing a beat.

Readers - I am humbled by, and grateful for, all the people who have read my book Growing Up Country and who share it with others.  And then who share their own stories. The everyday stories of our everyday lives are the threads that come together to make us who we are.

Amazon - How can I not be grateful for the giant's cross-merchandising expertise!  If you liked this ... you'll also like ...  They keep my book chugging along with audiences who would never know about me any other way.

My writing buddy - Without Mary, I would not get near so many words on paper and the ones I did get there would not be nearly so well written.

My husband - Who takes care of our home, who manages our finances, who has whatever I need whenever I need it, who loves me.

My son and daughter in law - Who chose to live close enough that I could see them regularly, who presented us with a granddaughter and who have promised us another come April!

My granddaughter - Her smile is infectious, her hugs warm, her kisses delicious. She delights in hiding my hat, helping make pancakes, and pushing the camera buttons.

These are my favorite things. These are the things for which I'm grateful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Prairie Architecture

Walking through the prairie today, the word that came to mind was architecture. During the summer, I  never looked past the swathes of yellow, dots of pink, pinpoints of blue in the blooms that blanketed the prairie. But now, the bright colors of flower petals are gone. What's left is the bones of each plant - the architecture - the framework that held all that brilliant color.

I looked up architecture and found one definition - "the complex or carefully designed structure of something." That's the prairie all right. Complex. Carefully designed. Structure. 

With the color stripped away, the view is spare but no less dramatic in its own way. The Carmine Miranda flair of the Dotted Mint has given way to the skeleton of a skyscraper. Without the bright yellow, a black-eyed Susan is almost ghostly. When leaves of broadleaf plants give way after the frost, the more simple structure of the grasses stands out, with a structure to draw the eye and birds throughout the winter.

Subtle brown tones. Almost black seed heads that were once regal purple coneflowers. Without the fancy, bright clothes, we see the character of what's underneath.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall in the prairie

I have found it difficult to walk in my prairie these days. It is so dry and brown. Such a short time ago it was awash in brilliant yellows with surprising dots of pink, purple and blue. The asters bloomed in September and were gone almost before I could enjoy them. The Maxmilian sunflowers, so heavy laden with blossoms, they bent over in the wind, now stand tall again, the yellow blooms turned brown, petals crumbling to dust.

Do I sound a little depressed? Maybe so. I know it will be months before green shoots and flashy flowers entice me to come everyday to see what 's new. Winter is on its way. Since I cannot look at flowers, I find myself drawn to other sights.

The prairie is harboring unexpected creatures. Two cats - one black and one white - stationed themselves along one of the paths this afternoon. I imagine they were waiting for the mice that make winter homes in the underbrush.

One large area in the prairie is completely flat. I'm not knowledgeable in reading animal signs, but this area looks very much as though a deer - maybe more than one - spent the night. Big Blue Stem and Indian grasses, dry as they are, provided shelter from prying eyes.

As always, the prairie encourages me to look closer. Under all the brown, new leaves of Black-eyed Susan, Aster, and Purple Coneflowers plants remain green. Are these new seedlings getting set to take off in spring? I am reminded that much happens underground in a prairie. Perhaps the winter is for putting down roots.

This may be the lesson to take from this prairie season. In fall and winter - prepare and rest, put down roots, get ready for the wild activity of spring and summer.

Spring will come again. With winter rest, I will be ready.

Monday, November 8, 2010

E-books for low vision

One of the benefits of e-readers is the ability to change font type and size on any book you download. I had not considered the real advantage this could be to anyone with low vision.

My mother had low vision caused by macular degeneration. Perhaps the greatest loss from macular degeneration for her was losing the ability to read. Even large print books had type too small for her to read.  The Department for the Blind with its talking books program was a life saver for her. And I was delighted when they asked me to read my book on tape for their program.

After I published Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl, I heard from many people asking if it was available in large print. Because of my mother's experience, it pained me to have to tell them no.  It had not occurred to me that I could offer them a large print version of my book by converting it to e-book format.  Recently, I remedied that problem and converted my book to an e-book - it's available in all e-book formats - from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at

I found a review of the Kindle e-reader written by a man with low vision. Click on the link to see what he has to say.  

If you have a friend or relative with low vision who loves to read and hasn't realized the advantages of an e-book, I hope you'll share the news. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Time to vote!

My folks didn't engage in political discussions when I was growing up on the farm. They kept their thoughts to themselves or talked with each other out of range of hearing by us kids or they talked with their friends.

In fact, there are only three events related to political figures I can recall from my years on the farm. President Eisenhower came to Iowa once and my folks went to see him. We kids stayed at home. When mom returned, her only comment was that the President was much shorter than she had imagined. When John F. Kennedy was running for President, there was some discussion about whether the Pope would be running the White House should Kennedy be elected. We were Lutheran, so this was a concern. Finally, when President Kennedy was assassinated, we all were horrified and we joined the nation, glued to our television sets for the funeral ceremonies.

But even though my folks didn't talk politics and even though they missed some obvious opportunities to engage us kids in political discussions, they always voted. And they took us with them to vote. They made sure we knew voting was what a good citizen did.

The voting booths held considerable mystery for me. When a voter stepped into a curtained booth, she pulled a lever that closed the curtain behind her. Closing the curtain activated the ballot. Each candidate was selected by pushing a lever to one side or the other. The vote was counted when the voter pulled the lever to open the curtain.

Mom took us kids right into the voting booth with her.  I stood leaning against Mom's side and watched in silence as she made her selections. It didn't take long. She was a straight ticket voter her whole life. Still, the mystery and the importance of voting were impressed upon my mind from the earliest years of my life.

I miss the curtained booths. Our voting booths are little tables with plastic walls to shield my decisions from others' eyes. I slide my completed ballot into a machine that tells me how many people voted before me. It's a simple thing to do - voting. Voting is my right. It's my responsibility. And it's time to do it again. Today. Vote.

* Image courtesy of Comstock Photos

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

High-tech - An ebook at last

The smallest things entertain me. But I suppose it can be argued publishing my book in a new format is not really small. So, come celebrate with me!  I just published my memoir: Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl as an ebook.

I lagged on this for many reasons, but not the least of them because there seems - to me at least - to be something slightly off about offering a book based on the nostalgia of the 1950s in the latest high-tech form.

But when I think about it, my dad adopted the latest technology available - converting our dairy from a stanchion barn to a parlor before anyone else in the county. 

Farmers today are at the cutting edge of technology with GPS systems in their tractors and combines. I'm told the equipment virtually operates itself in the field. Farmers could potentially nap as the combine works itself down the row, tells itself when to turn, ostensibly waking the operator when its bins are full. I have a hard time visualizing this!

So in offering my book to e-readers, I may simply be doing what agriculture has done all along - take advantage of the latest technology. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Get on the blog wagon

Today is Blog Action Day 2010. Bloggers are encouraged to blog today for clean water. If you're a blogger and haven't joined in, Get on the Blog Wagon!  It's not too late.|Start Petition

Clean water for everyone

I take it for granted. Each morning before I walk, I turn on the kitchen tap and drink two tall glasses of water. I assume the water will flow. I assume it will be clean. We in the United States can make these assumptions. Around the world, people are not so lucky.

Access to clean water is a growing concern and my blog today is joining a worldwide blog effort - Blog Action Day - dedicated to raising awareness of the need to make good water available to everyone.

I urge you to take a few minutes today to check out charity:water  Charity:water is a non-profit organization bringing clean, safe water to developing nations.  100% of public donations directly fund water projects.  Amazingly, they report that just $20 can give one person clean water for 20 years.

If you want to help, here's an easy way.  Charity:water is the designated recipient of all proceeds from sales of Age of Conversation 3.  Those of us who were contributing writers of AOC3 are urging everyone to buy a copy - or several! - today to raise awareness and money to promote the cause of clean water for everyone. 

An average water project costs $5,000 and can serve 250 people with clean, safe water - so purchasing a copy of Age of Conversation 3 really can make a difference to someone's life.

This blog is blatant promotion on several levels: for Blog Action Day, for Age of Conversation 3, and for clean water. Most of all for clean water. Thanks for reading. Thanks even more for taking action for clean water.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Insects: spiders, and BIG worms

Fall brings colored leaves and cool breezes, bright blue skies and flashy yellow goldenrod.  It also brings spiders and worms - insects of all kinds. Quite often into the house. Staying ahead of the spider webs forming along the ceiling and window sills is a daily battle.  Let it be said, I'm not a fan.

But morning sun reflecting through the dew drops clinging to a spider web in the garden is sure to cause me to marvel. And this big guy crawling up our steps - how could I not think this is one of the coolest things I've seen this year?

Longer than my index finger and bigger around, this caterpillar crawled all the way up the steps, then turned and crawled down. I don't know what he will become. Maybe a massive Luna moth? If any one reading this knows, please tell me!

The October issue of Smithsonian magazine reports that even though caterpillars appear to walk in a wavelike way that starts at the back and moves forward, in fact research shows that caterpillars actually move by thrusting their innards forward, then the rest of the body catches up. "Gut sliding," they call it.

There you have it. Always something new to learn about and marvel at.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Getting a foot in the farming door

I'm used to traditional agriculture. Though the farm I grew up on was a small family farm, we milked cows, raised pigs, grew corn. The traditional crops and livestock you think of when you think of Iowa agriculture.  When organic farming came on the scene, I viewed it as serving a niche, targeting a small group of people with a lot of disposable income. I wasn't thinking broadly enough I learned as I worked on an article on sustainability for the latest issue of The Iowan.

Dr. Linda Barnes who teaches biology at Marshalltown Community College has spearheaded a new program that includes organic farming, but is much more. Called COMIDA, the program is a way into farming for people who don't have a family already in farming or the money to make the massive investment in land and equipment required to get into farming the traditional way.

COMIDA is based on and teaches sustainable agriculture. As Barnes says, "Good sustainable agriculture views the farm as an ecosystem. All components contribute to the health of the whole system, including the economic success of the farmer."

Developed in cooperation with the ISU Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, COMIDA stands for County of Marshall Investing in Diversified Agriculture. COMIDA also means 'meal' in Spanish.

The COMIDA cooperative links farmers to consumers, distributing products produced by the cooperative through restaurants and schools, at farmers' markets and through an online farmers market.

Talking with Linda and Norman McCoy (COMIDA program director, left) gave me a whole new appreciation for 'organic' and 'sustainable' and what those can mean to new farmers and all of us consumers.

To read more about this program, see the entire article in the Sept/Oct issue of The Iowan.

Monday, September 20, 2010

See where the artists work

Creating art is  a solitary venture. But creating comes full circle when artists share their work with the public. That sharing often inspires another surge of creativity.

Art fairs give us a chance to meet and talk with artists, but they don't let us see how and where the artists do what they do.  If you'd like to see where art gets made, northeast Iowa artists give you a unique opportunity in early October.

Forty-two Decorah-area artists open their studios during the Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio tour October 1-3.  All of the artists live within 35 miles of Decorah. Their studios are plotted on three loops.  You could see them all over three days. But then you might get engrossed in how one artist works and spend the day talking. You'll be inspired. And so will they.

This photo is courtesy of Nate Evans, the artist. For more information check out the Oct/Sept issue of The Iowan and

Thursday, September 16, 2010

All about perspective

Politics, issues, life - how we think about things depends on our perspective. Even 'truth' often depends on perspective.  As I wrote several pieces for the latest issue of The Iowan magazine, I realized they were all about changing perspective.

One item focused on two of Iowa's kaleidoscope makers who've taken what I viewed as a fun childhood toy to the level of fine art.  Both of these artists appreciate the ability of kaleidoscopes to help viewers change perspectives. Says Leonard Olson of Pomeroy who took up kaleidoscope making after he had a heart attack, "Kaleidoscopes provide a valuable metaphor for art. Just when you think you've encountered the most beautiful image possible, a slight shift changes everything."

Peggy Kittelson, who creates kaleidoscopes near Decorah with her husband Steve, adds, "Kaleidoscopes are great for relieving stress." She advises looking through one at the end of the day because you can't help but see things differently.

The kaleidoscope above called "Genesis" was created by the Kittelsons. The photo is courtesy of Terri Downing.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A believer at last

I enjoyed my first Blizzard this past week.  Yep, that's right. Twenty-five years after Dairy Queen introduced the candy-laced ice cream treats so thick they can serve them upside down, I finally had one.

Since ice cream is my all-time favorite desert, it's a little surprising I never gave in to the Blizzard. But even a small Blizzard looked like too much to me. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of these world-favorites, DQ introduced a limited-time mini Blizzard. Finally, finally, I couldn't resist. I stepped up, puzzled over the long list of flavor options and ordered raspberry truffle.

As I savored it, I had to laugh at myself. As a marketer, I'm well aware of the challenge for companies introducing new products and trying to lure people to use them. They face the Adoption-Diffusion challenge.

The theory of Adoption-Diffusion addresses the speed with which people will adopt innovation. People fall into several general categories: Innovators (think about people who couldn't wait to get their hands on a Kindle), Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, Laggards.  Plotted out, people in these categories form a bell curve. Roughly 16% constitute the Laggards - those who will resist an innovation to the bitter end.

Truthfully, I've never considered myself a laggard. Certainly not when it comes to ice cream! But there you are. Twenty-five years later, there are still brand new customers out there. Personally, I'm glad DQ didn't give up on me. Proves the value of persistence in communication, doesn't it?

My second DQ mini Blizzard was banana cream pie. What's next?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

No buffalo in my prairie

Whenever we visit the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City, Iowa, we look for the buffalo. We have not been disappointed this year. The herd now numbers around 100 and it's a real treat to see these impressive animals - sometimes very close up.

At the Refuge, you can drive through an area where buffalo and elk roam freely. It's advisable to drive slowly because you may top a hill and find a buffalo crossing the road.

The elk are more difficult to spot. But on a recent trip, they were out and about, too.  If you go, the best time to see these native animals is near dusk.

My little prairie will never support wildlife like these, but it's fun to imagine - and to fuel my imagination with glimpses of the real thing so close to home.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Always something new

It's fall in the prairie, but that doesn't mean we're done looking at new flowers. In fact, we appear to just be starting with many. Yes, the grasses are holding sway, but fresh blooms are opening everywhere.

Goldenrod is new. From reading my seed list, I know I can look for three different kinds. Curiously, the Goldenrod I found does not match the images of any of those on my list. This one is Tall Goldenrod. I'll keep looking for the ones I seeded into the prairie and enjoy this native plant that came on its own.

Almost everyone who sees Goldenrod comments that now we'll have allergies. Poor Goldenrod. It gets a bad rap. From what I've read, seasonal allergies are caused by ragweed.

Blue Vervain is also new. The plant is only about two feet tall. But the book says it will grow to six feet. Next year.

Cup Plant. I've been seeing these plants develop and mistakenly identified them as Compass Plants. But it's definitely a Cup Plant. I'm told the Native Americans used the leaves as a cup to drink water - hence the name.

Unlike domestic garden plants that flower during a relatively narrow window each year, not all prairie plants appear to bloom on such a rigid schedule. Cup Plants, for instance, bloom summer through fall. This plant only emerged in mid-summer and began blooming a couple of weeks ago.

I joined some friends for a walk at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge prairie this past weekend. Based on what I saw there, I can tell we're not done yet. My prairie will be giving me something new to look at for weeks to come.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Amber waves sweep the prairie

Iowa is remarkably green for this time of year. An over abundance of rain has ensured we're still cutting grass more frequently than the end of August normally dictates. My hostas look so fresh, you might imagine it is still early summer. The prairie, on the other hand, knows we're approaching fall.

Grasses are taking over, pushing up seed heads and waving their brown/gold/lime colors over the prairie. Of the four grasses I seeded into the prairie, I've identified three so far - Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, and Sideoats Grama. Big Bluestem and Indian Grass are magnificent at six or seven feet and even taller. Sideoats Grama is more delicate and hidden in the lower levels of foliage.

I understand that as a prairie matures, the grasses take over, pushing the flowers out or forcing them to the prairie edges. My prairie is still some years from that stage.

If you were reading my prairie stories last year, you will remember my battle to eradicate the crab grass.  My efforts were futile as evidenced by the crab grass happily seeding itself across the prairie again this year. But I am not disturbed.

With a year's experience under my belt, I know the prairie will persevere. And instead of looking down at crabgrass surrounding my ankles, this year I look up to enjoy the fronds of prairie grasses waving above my head.

Charlie Brown once commented that you can't be sad if you're looking up. I believe Charlie Brown is right.

Friday, August 20, 2010

'The hills are alive ...'

Julie Andrews singing 'The hills are alive ...' runs through my mind when I walk in the prairie. My prairie is alive - not so much with the sound of music, but with a myriad of butterflies and dragon flies (or damsel flies, if I knew the difference!) and bees and flies.

I am not fast enough with my camera to catch them all, but here are a few.

Maybe someday I'll know their names, but for now I just enjoy these flitting visitors. From flies ...

... to grasshoppers.

The prairie brings them in.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Taller than expected

I don't know that I gave much thought to how tall prairie plants would be.  Tall enough that I could see them easily from my office window, I hoped. The prairie has delivered that and more. In fact, the height of the prairie is one of the things that surprises visitors most.

This past weekend, my granddaughter (and her parents) came to visit. We couldn't resist a picture next to one of the prairie giants. Though it has not flowered yet, I am guessing that this 9-ft. plant is a Maximilian sunflower. Big Bluestem grass is also starting to set seed heads. Many Big Bluestem stalks are at least 6 ft. tall.

One person noted that the height of the prairie would have provided cover for buffalo and elk. Quite right.

During late-summer visits to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, there have been times when we have not seen any of the more than 100 buffalo that roam there. It had not occurred to me that they could be right in front of us but completely invisible - hidden by the prairie grasses.

Friday, August 13, 2010

In case you forgot

The humidity is so thick today I can see it. The heat index has been over 100 degrees for weeks. Even my husband who seriously loves summer has stopped saying, 'This is what we waited all winter for.'
Perhaps now is a good time to remember this past winter's snow.  It was deep.  And then it got deeper. 

I can't help it. I'd like to throw myself naked in a snow drift right this minute.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bent but not broken

Gale-force winds and torrential rains swept through central Iowa last night. Awakened by crashing thunder, I watched as lightening flashes illuminated a scene reminiscent of Gulf Coast hurricanes.  As I watched, two questions came to mind: Are we getting water in the basement? and What is happening to the prairie?

Since I could do nothing about either, I went back to bed. This morning on my walk, I saw that a portion of our neighbor's yard can now double for a swimming pool; ditches along the road ran bank full.

The prairie is showing the effects of repeated storms.  From the earliest days this spring, plants along the edge of the prairie were more inclined to lean, even topple completely over. But as the prairie filled out and filled in, the plants throughout the prairie formed a supporting network for each other.  The persistent winds and rain of this season have pushed against and across the prairie but they haven't knocked it down.

Last night's storm did its best.  The tallest plants in the prairie now reach almost nine feet tall. Standing alone, those really tall, slender plants would have gone down in the storm. But in the company of the crowded prairie, they only leaned over a bit.

Plants in the prairie remind me of people in a community. Friends who step in to support each other during the tough times. No matter how independent and in control we think we are day to day, when we're buffeted by the strong winds and driving rains of crisis, it's our friends who hold us up.

The prairie is bent but not broken.  And, we only got a little water in the basement.

Monday, August 2, 2010

This takes the cake

My mom used to say, "That takes the cake!" when she saw or heard something that surprised or dismayed her. An event that was beyond anything like it that she'd heard or seen before.

I think she might pull out her old adage if she could see the Dotted Mint flowers blooming in my prairie.

I referred to the Dotted Mint in a previous post as a Carmen Miranda-type bloom. That was when I'd only seen blooms that had three levels.

Now that I'm seeing blooms like these that have four or five levels, I think they look more like wedding cakes. Wedding cakes that incorporate delicate pink frosting, speckled spider-like legs, and pineapple tops. When I study the Dotted Mint, I think Mom might have to change her saying.

It may be more accurate to say, "This one is the cake!"

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Don't blink

People who travel the rural Iowa roads are fond of saying about small towns, "Don't blink or you'll miss it."  A recent walk in the prairie was a lot like that.

Yellow dominates in terms of flower color, that's for sure. But a closer look reveals dots of blue and pink. And it's these smaller, delicate touches that are showing this week. These looked so different from the pictures in my prairie flower books that I sought help from Polk County Master Gardener Eileen Robb with identification. A BIG thanks to her for her rapid and helpful response.

This purple/blue spike is Anise Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum.  Pick a leaf and smell it - the scent of licorice is clear. Put the leaf in your mouth and the taste of licorice is unmistakable. It's clear where this plant got its name.

Another blue spike was not far away, Hoary Vervain, Verbena stricta. This plant only has one flower spike, but I gather from looking at pictures of mature plants that it will have several flower spikes at some point.

And then there is this delicate pink bloom.  Showy tick trefoil, Desmodium canadense. The pink color is beautiful against all that yellow, but the flowers are so small it was one I almost missed.

It's easy to overlook these smaller plants in the masses of larger yellow blooms, but it's even easier to miss seeing new types of flowers that also happen to be yellow.  Luckily, this Oxeye Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides, bloomed right next to one of my paths. I may never have seen it otherwise.

And finally, there was this colorful specimen. You may have looked twice, as I did, to see that this is a butterfly camouflaged in the colors of a fading Blackeyed Susan.

When I walk in the prairie, I must be sure not to blink!