It’s sure nice to hear the summer songs of the crickets again. Just last week there was not a single cricket song to be heard and now they let me know where they are hiding with each musical chirp. The weather forecast is calling for some much-needed rain and temperatures near ninety degrees, which will bring even more insect music to valley. For me, there is nothing like the serenade of a chorus of insects every night; it’s a big part of living in the Kickapoo Valley in the summer.
There will be lots of food for all the wild birds and other animals that eat insects. The truth is, insects are an important food source for nearly all the birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes. From the dragon-fly, who catches mosquitos out of midair, to the red fox who stalks grasshoppers in the meadow grass. From the deer mouse that catches June bugs in the garden, to the screech-owl who has been feasting on fat crickets. All are provided for by insects, one of the most important links in the great circle of life. Today, I watched a yellow-shafted flicker as she snapped up ants with her long beak. She had found an ant hill in the short grass and just stood there for ten minutes and caught the ants as they came to the entrance to the ant hill. The crane family is taking advantage of the presence of more grasshoppers and crickets. I watched them as they stalked their way through the hayfield. This year’s youngster is nearly as large as the parents and he has already taken some short flights to try out his new wing feathers. I got a picture of them as they were all lined up, the juvenile crane is on the bottom.
There were more butterflies visiting the flower beds this week. It’s good to see at least a few monarchs and I also saw two viceroys, who look very much like their larger cousins the regal monarchs. A few large, red-spotted purples have visited the phlox along with a couple of cabbage butterflies. The very large tiger swallowtail also seems to have a taste for the sweet nectar of the purple and pink summer phlox. There is something about the way they flap their big yellow wings as they flutter slowly over the colorful floors. I guess I like the slower speed at which butterflies live their lives. There were a couple of new butterflies in the yard this week, including a fancy orange question mark and a pretty little skipper who sunned himself on the gravel driveway. Several pretty fritillaries have found their favorite flower in the garden: the zinnia. When all the other butterflies seem scarce, there are always a few fritillaries, which also have a liking for purple cone flowers. It’s also a big year for the pretty and tall yellow cone flowers. The bumble bees seem to be this prairie flower’s most frequent visitor. It should be a good year to collect cone flower seed that will be planted in places that need a beautiful splash of yellow and purple each august.
I took a walk through a peaceful pasture meadow late Thursday afternoon. It’s a perfect setting for the heifers who make this grassy place their summer home. They have truly got it made in the shade with plenty of fresh green grass and a stream with cool clean water that babbles along under the willow trees. It’s a place where the dark purple iron weed grows and the great-horned owl also visited after the sun went down, and he left his calling card.
Sometimes I wonder what the first students who went to school in this house would think if they could see it now. First of all, they would probably be amazed that it’s even still here after 150 years. Then they would be happy to see so many flowers growing all around it and say it was a fitting tribute to a place where they had spent much of their youthful time. Then they would be grateful that it’s pretty much the same inside and out as when they left it, although, like me, it has turned gray with time.
The old Hopewell school was a classroom for country kids for eighty years yet it hasn’t been used as a school since 1940. The country was divided in a great civil war and Abraham Lincoln was the union president, Jefferson Davis led the confederacy, and the first transcontinental railroad was finished in 1864, the year they built the Hopewell school. We can’t even imagine how different the world was then or what it took to make a living in the Kickapoo Valley. Or, what it must have been like to walk several miles to school in the rain or cold and snow. I have deep respect for this old building that has survived for so many decades and I’m glad it’s been my home for the past 15 years. It’s never had any wiring or plumbing in it and I hope it never will, yet I feel good that I have taken care of it as it has taken care of me.