And June has to be the best time of the year on the prairie as it bursts into color. Sometimes it's so brilliant it's startling, like the almost fluorescent orange of butterfly milkweed. Other times it is soft and subtle, like the pink of wild prairie rose or evening primrose.
My walks are always exciting because I discover that, literally overnight, another wildflower has been added to the palette. I did start listing them for this post, but the list became endless.
Over the past week I've been tucking my camera (Nikon Coolpix L2) into a pocket, but it doesn't stay there long. Just when I think I've taken enough photos, I see another flower I have to shoot. I'm loading the pictures from my camera into iPhoto as I write this, but it's going to be so hard to select just a few to post here!
I am not an early morning riser and have always envied those who are by nature. Lately the birds have been waking me with their song, beginning their day and calling to me to start mine. I'm able to beat the heat of the day this way.
A few days ago, having finished reading a very interesting book (Deepak Chopra's Lords of Light) with my first mug of coffee, I decided I would go to the garden to pick lettuce while it was cool. Did that, marveling at the abundance. Checked the other plants in the garden, pulled a few weeds and some radishes. Listened to the frogs croaking in the lagoon.
As I started inside with my bounty, I decided it was just too nice a morning to waste in the house. So I put the vegetables into a big bowl of cold water, grabbed my denim hat, and called Quest, my black lab, to join me.
The sun overhead was quite warm, promising a hot day, but the breeze was still cool. It did bring the odor of a skunk's apparent overnight foray along the creek, though, as we crossed over the water. We continued down the road (really, "up," as there's a long, slight hill at this point), and I began seeing the native prairie wildflowers I so love.
Suddenly Quest—off in the grass—sounded a warning bark. I looked over to see the four jakes (young male turkeys) we have been seeing around here for several months. The Four Muskateers. It's been fun at times to see them strutting their stuff for a few disinterested hens! Off the jakes ran toward the creek. Now the hens are staying close to their nests, so the jakes are left to find their own fun.
On the way back I noticed Quest was not with me and thought he'd probably taken off after the turkeys. I whistled, and suddenly about 10 feet from me, just across the ditch, two deer jumped up and took off. I'm not sure who was more startled, me or them. One ran across the road just behind me and the other started to follow, but in mid-road, turned and ran in the opposite direction.
My whistle must also have set off the gobblers, by now down along the creek, and they set up a gobbling frenzy.
My favorite time still is early evening, just before sunset. The light then is what I've heard called "the Jesus Light" by some photographers. If it's reasonably cool and the breeze is light (Kansas is a very windy place usually), it can seem as if all is perfect in the universe. Sometimes when I reach that little hill, I look out over the prairie, seeing only nature and sometimes a few cattle, feel the breeze on my face, and breathe in the sweet fragrance of the milkweed. A coyote might call off in the distance. All cares of the day just disappear and I sense a kind of freedom and lightness and well-being that no drug can equal. All's right in my world.
Over the weekend a friend, Jeff Hansen (check out his website here), came for a visit. He's president of the Kansas Native Plant Society and was at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve to conduct a class in making paper from native plants. You can't imagine how neat the papers are—maybe I'll get something done with the samples he left with me and post some pictures.
He gets unimaginable colors from the varieties: dogbane hemp, cattails, milkweed (several kinds), sage—this list goes on and on. Depending on the time of harvest (and stage of development) of the plant, the same fibers can produce different looking paper. Some is very coarse, with lots of texture from the seeds and stem parts; some is smooth; some is quite wrinkled.
We took a long drive down little traveled roads (in some cases, it's a stretch to call them "roads"). You can see things driving 10 mph that escape you going at more normal speeds. Not quite as good as walking, but it was very hot and muggy when we started, and we wanted to cover more ground than possible on foot. Charlie, my husband, knows these roads so well and we explored some areas I had not seen. As the drive progressed, the clouds dissipated, along with the humidity, and it became one of those days Kansas can be famous for: blue sky with wispy clouds as a backdrop to the lush green grasses, accentuated with colorful wildflowers.
Despite my almost daily walks, I still saw some flowers for the first time this year. You'd think I'd tire of them or lose my excitement, but each time I see a catclaw sensitive brier or prairie coneflower for the first time that year, I'm thrilled all over.
The butterflies were thick, especially the monarchs which are deep orange right now, many having just "hatched." Lots of swallowtails and many I do not know their names. They especially love the intoxicating common milkweed. Butterfly milkweed is just opening this now, and its blossoms will be covered with wings this week. All around us was birdsong. Jeff can identify most by their calls, so it was fun learning about the "dickcissle."
Saw lots of scissortail flycatchers, one of my favorites, and nighthawks. Meadowlarks, cardinals, thrashers—again, a long list.
Have a great week and go out and smell the flowers!