Aug. 9th, 2016

pameladean: (Libellula julia)
The pattern of the weather has been remarkably consistent for several weeks now: heat and humidity during the week, often with severe thunderstorm warnings and torrential downpours; then a cool front comes in and Friday and the weekend are much cooler and drier. Sometimes the heat pounces on Monday and sometimes Monday is just a bit less pleasant and then the heat sidles up on Tuesday and the window air conditioner suddenly starts leaking water all over the floor, to the great alarm of Cassie.

So we keep having to go hiking on Friday. Then on Saturday and sometimes Sunday as well there are social events, and I also generally have a date with Eric over the weekend. This means that, since there is no way I am doing any major work in the yard in the kind of heat we've been having, and anyway with all the rain the grass is too wet to mow, I am not getting any yard work done. I think there are no social events this weekend (the last one had a MinnStf meeting, which was very pleasant indeed; and then a smaller party on Sunday evening, which was also lovely), so with luck on Sunday evening I might be able to do very basic maintenance before heading off to Worldcon.

In the meantime, last Friday Raphael and I were not really feeling a strong enthusiasm for going hiking -- or, well, if someone else had done the necessary laundry, made us some sandwiches, and teleported us to a nice spot, we'd have been fine with it, but the preparation did not thrill us. However, Friday was a gorgeous Minnesota summer day of a sort that I often fear is on its way out as the hell of climate change sweeps over us. So Raphael, after consideration, remarked to me that while we have visited the Minnesota part of the Carpenter Nature Center several times, there's a Wisconsin annex that is almost entirely comprised of prairie walks. The Minnesota side is a good mix of woods, wetland, and prairie, but it is too woodsy for the level that the mosquito population has reached this year, with so much rain in a month that is often dry if not actually drought-stricken. So a preponderance of prairie walks seemed like a good idea. The drive was also not terribly long. So I did the laundry, and in the morning I made the sandwiches, and we set out, late, because I usually prep lettuce and tomatoes and make salmon salad the evening before, but we did manage to get out of the house.

There was construction on 94 and a terrific amount of slow-moving traffic until we were well past St. Paul, but eventually we crossed over the St. Croix River into Wisconsin, took Exit 2 for Carmichael, and drove on increasingly smaller roads until a short gravel one led us to a clearing with a house, some small outbuildings, a large flower and vegetable garden, and a gigantic Porta-Potty. We weren't sure it was the right place, but one of the outbuildings had a supply of maps and a notice that Henslow's Sparrow, which nests on the ground, was doing so in the area. A pleasant man introduced himself and asked if we'd been there before, and recommended a particular trail when I said we hadn't. We ungratefully went a different way, on the reasoning that the trail he recommended was higher up than most of the prairie walks and would be nice near sunset.

Since we were in Wisconsin, we were up on a ridge; there was a trail called the Ridgeline Trail with views of a valley with a farm in it and the next ridge over. We went along this until we came to the first prairie, and eventually crossed the road to another one. Each prairie had bluestem and other native and, probably, non-native grasses, intermingled with wild bergamot, gray- and green-headed coneflowers, rudbeckia, daisy fleabane, prairie primrose, a little butterfly weed, hyssop, vervain, a bit of liatris (most of it being visited by monarch butterflies). The paths were mown grass and white clover. The distribution of the flowers and grasses was different in each section of prairie we walked through, though most of the plants were the same. The texture and color variations were different, and the sound of the wind in the grasses. We passed a little grove of aspen seedlings, their leaves rustling. We saw the monarchs, and a butterfly that turned out to be a common buckeye. There were sparrows in the grass and in a clump of trees, but they didn't look like the picture of the Henslow's Sparrow. We saw two birds with white tail feathers flying away fast; they might have been meadowlarks, but we couldn't really identify them. And we saw smallish browny-golden dragonflies, flying fast, tilting like turkey vultures on the wind and flapping more than familiar dragonflies usually do. Raphael thought they might be wandering gliders, and a look at the dragonfly book when we got back to the car confirmed that they were. The wandering glider is the most widely distributed dragonfly in the world, migrates thousands of miles, and has been spotted by ships at sea. But this was the best sighting of them that I'd ever had.

We went back to the car and around one more short prairie loop, reluctantly deciding to leave the rest of the Ridgeline Trail to another time, possibly in the fall when there would not be any mosquitoes. The little prairie we walked around last was different from all the others. Next time I should try to take some pictures.



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