Queen of the Prairie will brighten up anyone's day

Queen of the Prairie will brighten up anyone’s day

The cool weather this past week wasn’t what we were expecting from the second week of July. There were a lot of people wearing sweaters and jackets and I was one of them. I even started a small fire in the wood stove to take the morning chill out; after all, it did get down to forty-seven degrees in the night. After a few days of high sixties and low seventies for daytime highs, some folks began to grumble al little bit, but everyone agreed that the inch and a half of rain was a good thing.

The corn and beans look good and the farmers have more than plenty to keep them busy. Nice weather means lots of work, and the phrase “making hay while the sun shines” is one of the farmer’s laws of life.

At the edge of the hayfield stood a few tall poison parsnip plants, the large yellow flower tops just starting to go to seed. Nestled in the branches, half way up the stalk was the grass nest of a red-winged blackbird. The young blackbirds fledged only a couple of days before and the hay-field was mowed just today. The mower couldn’t reach the parsnip close to the fence so the nest was spared. The red-wings like to build their nests in the parsnip, even though it is a very dangerous plant to touch when it is bloom. Wild poison parsnip is running rampant across the countryside. Its spread is going to cause a lot of problems for landowners and native plant species, but the red-winged blackbirds benefit.

Turk's cap lilies are lovely enough to symbolize the whole, gorgeous month of July

Turk’s cap lilies are lovely enough to symbolize the whole, gorgeous month of July

Each morning I drive past a half-acre of grassy wetland that is usually just a little too wet for the farmer who works the bottomland. There are several native wild flowers mixed in with a few native grasses and sedges trying to compete with a variety of non-native species. One of my favorites is the marsh milkweed with its pink and purple flowers that attract butterflies. One of my favorite tall sunflowers is the tall cup, which is now in bloom—there are about 40 of them on the half acre. The beautiful gems on this small piece of undisturbed land are the few hundred orange Turk’s cap lilies. It’s rare to see so many of these showy, native prairie flowers growing in one place. I always look forward to seeing them in July. I spent about 10 minutes enjoying the flowers and an hour pulling poison parsnip on the half-acre. It made me kind of sick to see that pretty piece of land overtaken by such a dominant invasive plant.

The pigeons are thriving in my "coop"

The pigeons are thriving in my “coop”

I’ve kept about a dozen pigeons in one end of the old machine shed since last fall. They are not really “kept” pigeons because they can come and go as they please. I give them their daily ration of cracked corn and fresh water and they seem happy. So much so that they are starting to prosper and the proof is in my hand.

It was good to feel the sun break through the clouds Wednesday morning. I enjoyed my morning barefoot walk down to the spring for water. I nearly stepped on a garter snake that was also enjoying some time in the sunshine. I realized we weren’t the only ones who were soaking up the warm rays; an American toad was also spread out on the grass and didn’t want to be disturbed, so I let him enjoy his sun bath and went around him—after I took his picture, of course. I guess that’s what I like about that trip to the spring, I always run into old friends and acquaintances.

Thie beautiful, misty fog is known as, "Indian Smoke"

This beautiful, misty fog is known as, “Indian Smoke”

“Indian Smoke.” That’s what the locals call the smoke-like vapor that often rises up out of the woods on a wet and humid day. The foggy mist lingers over the tree tops like the smoke from someone’s campfire. It is just one of the many subtle yet beautiful things I love about the Kickapoo Valley.

The tall bellflower is one of my favorite wild flowers this time of year. It peeks up in legion over the green forest understory to present a lovely show of bright blue flowers. Although its flowers are not really shaped like bells, but the hummingbirds don’t seem to mind a bit. In fact, the little hummers don’t seem to mind what color the flower is; they’ve also taken a liking to the white cleomes. The garden flowers are beautiful this summer and have not only added beauty to the valley, they nourish a host of wildlife, from bees to butterflies, to beetles, spiders and many other little bugs. The birds, deer and a single woodchuck have also eaten more than their fair share of the flowers. I always enjoy the view from the house but it’s very special in mid-July. In fact, the view from pretty much anywhere around here is very special during the lushness of summer.

The countryside seems to be alive with young birds that are just trying their wings for the first time. Blackbirds, robins, thrushes and thrashers, finches, pheasants, chickadees and cardinals, grosbeaks and orioles. Not to mention the many different kinds of sparrows who are now emerging from their nests. Sadly, many of them aren’t street-wise and become roadside casualties, like this little field sparrow.

Don’t worry, be happy. Go outside and enjoy your life in the sunshine.

Naturally yours,

Dan