Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring as I've never done spring before

I now understand why so much poetry and so many songs refer to Spring as an awakening, of new things and of such great beauty. Before spring was a bittersweet season - I knew that summer was quick to come, and that my favored winter would be a long time coming back. Plus, it always bothered me that so many things were mating, and I was not. Not to say that I'm in the market for making offspring, but being here in Iowa, spring has a totally different feeling and meaning and I really like it.

When the snow melts, everything is dead and dormant. Things won't grow because the ground is frozen, the trees are skeletons of their former selves, and everything is arrested and cold. But the spring rains come, and the grass looks a little greener. And then the air gets warmer, and the grass a little greener, and then all of a sudden - in the span of just a few days - everything is green. Not only has all the dead grass been replaced, but bulbs are popping up, bushes are greening out, and flowers are blooming. People, excited for the warmth and change, are outside. People gather on porches and backyards to BBQ and sit around drinking beer. Children run around yards and ride bikes everywhere, soaking in the sun. Birds are twittering about, squirrels are teasing dogs, and I've seen quite a few bunnies. Spring has sprung.

In the middle of remnant prairie, surrounded by corn.
One of the exciting things about spring is wildflowers. On Saturday, I went early in the morning to see if some prairie crocus could be found in the oldest and best kept remnant prairie in Iowa, Hayden prairie. This prairie is named after what should be a personal hero of any woman-botanist I know, Ada Hayden. This woman was not only the first woman to receive a PhD in Biology from Iowa State University in 1918, but she spent her life attempting to preserve tall grass prairies of Iowa. What's more, because of her gender status she wasn't able to become a full professor, and her many accomplishments were never acknowledged. Despite the major disrespect, she continued to work for what she believed in, collecting over 30,000 plant specimens and writing several papers. Inspiring.

Beautiful, loamy prairie soil on the right. Corn soil on left.
The remnant prairie is surrounded by cornfields, as expected. This has been the weirdest thing to accept about nature in Iowa - it's in very close proximity to corn fields at every turn. It's strange to me to be standing in the middle of this amazing prairie and see corn fields at every edge. You can't do postage-stamp ecological restoration, this can't really be enough. But for the state of Iowa, it's all like this. Corn really is king.

I did get to explore an abandoned farm house on the way back to Decorah. I was surprised as to how much was left in it - we could figure out who had lived there before, and when the last occupants where there based on documents scattered through the house. The attic had fallen in and raccoons had made it home, but otherwise it was exciting.

However, abandoned farm houses are not what we're here to discuss.

Malanaphy springs. Awesome, right?
After checking out the still sleeping prairie (with plans to return each month to document changes), I went to Malanaphy Springs outside of town. The woods border the Upper Iowa River, and a beautiful spring lets off right at the waters edge. After wandering along a path hugged by wildflowers, you get to the springs. It's easy to climb across and down to the bottom, and it was really lovely to sit on the rocks at the rivers edge, enjoying both the river and the waterfall created by the springs. My botanist friend new the names of all the flowers and didn't mind frequent stops for pictures, closer looks, and general raptures at the beauty of it all. While relaxing by the river, every once and again a trout would spring up. It was really impressive.

While there was a week of summer like weather of 80 degree days, we're back to typical March weather - colder weather, rain, frosty mornings, and erratic, unpredictable changes. I'm coming to really like it - it's as if it takes a bit of shaking off for the earth to settle into summer, and the erratic changes reminds us dwellers to not expect too much, appreciate what is, and wait patiently for what is to come.

... and a few more pictures, because I want more pictures of pretty flowers up here.

Dutchman's britches. 

Look at all the wildflowers!

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