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!"