Friday, May 6, 2011


A myriad of sound fills the still young morning only a couple of hours after dawn. The distant gobbling of a tom turkey calling to the hens mixes with the continuous songs of meadowlarks as they perch on rocks or fly about in search of mates. The familiar beats and music of the sharptail grouse reverberate from the nearby lek where I have just been collecting images of this splendid ritual of spring.

Although refreshing at first, winter's silence does become somewhat monotonous after a time, making welcome the clatter that goes with spring. The seasons are about change, about things that are ever shifting. And our senses shift with them.

For these many months we have known the stark tones of winter along with its truly mystical light, but now our senses tire of the bare & brown landscapes beset with leafless trees, the snow and cold as winter makes another of its seemingly endless returns. Spring is about resurgence - of life, its presence, its sounds and its color. How our eyes long for color.

As I head down through the tall, withered grass of last summer, I scan across the grasslands for any sign of color beginning to emerge from beneath that sea of brown, a sea that appears infinitive as it stretches to the horizon. Usually by this time I've seen a couple of spider lilies or a pasqueflower, but all of the spring things have been late coming to the prairie this year, having been the same with the wildflowers. I feel like an ancient mariner or navigator searching an ocean for a land that he is not completely sure is really there.

Near giving up for the day, I continue on down the slope with my feet falling only on dried grassland. As I am about to plant my left foot, my eyes catch sight of a familiar pale lavender color just barely visible through the grass. The halts me in my tracks. "Can it be?" I wonder.

Dropping to my knees, I carefully open the grass to reveal its secret. And there it is - the blossom of a spreading pasqueflower. Another sure sign that spring will finally not be denied.

The spreading pasqueflower is indicative of the hearty perennials that flourish across this grasslands environment, being one of the earliest to appear and frequently before surrounding vegetation even begins to turn green. This ostensibly delicate little blossom pushes its way up through choking clumps of dead grass made even heavier by melting snows, giving the resurgence of color to an emerging spring. This is a moment by which to mark time.

Lying down in front of the pasqueflower, I gently push back the grass around it so as to get the best pictures. With blossoms of about an inch in diameter, it looked so lost fragile in all that expanse of old grass. It will grow no more than two inches tall, but yet its lovely lavender tones will come to dominate the prairie landscape over the next month or so, along with rich yellows, blues and purples as other perennials join the resurgence.

After clicking off several frames of the pasqueflower, I rise up and look about. Suddenly, my eyes are greeted with much more. I see small clumps of green grass now creeping from beneath last summer's remains. Green weeds here and a dandelion there. About five yards away is another pasqueflower.... and then another. As I continue on, I see even more. Funny how the discovery of one thing shows us how much more was really there.

Nature knows how to get the most for her buck.

"Nice To Be Here"

Nice to be here, hope you agree
Lying in the sun.
Lovely weather, must climb a tree
The show has just begun.

All the leaves start swaying
To the breeze that's playing
On a thousand violins
And the bees are humming
To a frog sat strumming
On a guitar with only one string.

I can see them, they can't see me
I feel out of sight.
I can see them, they can't see me
Much to my delight.

And it seems worth noting
Water rats were boating
As a lark began to sing
The sounds kept coming
With Jack Rabbit loudly drumming
On the side of a biscuit tin.

The Moody Blues

(above) The pale blossoms of the spreading pasqueflower actually bloom before surrounding vegetation turns green, appearing before most other prairie perennials. The state flower of South Dakota, pasqueflowers grow throughout the high plains.

(above) The starlily is another early season perennial that grows low to the ground from fleshy roots with leaves that are narrow and grasslike.

(left & below) Among the most colorful of the prairie's spring wildflower displays are the brilliant yellows of the hymenoxys with blossoms about the size of a dime. Below they are surrounded by the purple of the showy peavine.

(above & below) Varying in tones from pale pink to deep purple and blue, the bracted spiderwort is one of richest and most brilliant colored of the prairie perennials. The blossoms usually close during the heat of the day and reopen before morning.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

(above) Another of the May perennials, the pointed phlox has a short stem with fibrous bark. Its sharp pointed petals vary from white to rose colors.

(right) With stiff, evergreen and bayonet-shaped leaves, the yucca plant grows stout flower stalks that reach a height of 1-4 feet and blooms in early June. Many grazing animals enjoy yucca flowers.

(above) The tufted evening-primrose or gumbo lily grows along dry buttes and clay banks and is typically found in places like the Dakota Badlands. Native Americans created a liquid preparation for treatment of coughs and other respiratory ailments by boiling its stout taproots.

(left) The yellow blossoms of the Louisiana bladderpod grow on stems that attain a height of 12 inches or more. These plants are toxic to grazing animals.

(above & right) In the fading light of the day, the brilliant blossoms of the white penstemon(above) and the wild plum glow against the prairie sky.

(above) And while we wait for the spring color of the prairie to develop, we can still take joy in the tones of an incomparable prairie sunset.


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