Prairie Rising

May 24, 2015

The last of the irises are shedding their purplical finery, and prairie wildflowers are just starting to show off. Wild daisies and purple and yellow Indian paintbrush are abloom along the river and coneflowers are poking up, and rattlesnake master and lobelia.

Indians thought that ingesting lobelia roots and flowers made suitors more attractive and prevented divorces among unhappy wedded couples. Other terms for lobelia include vomit-wort and gagroot. Though I certainly would be in favor of being more attractive, I don’t wish to gag to get there. Ditto for rattlesnake master: an antidote for poison but bitter and gagish.

The skinks, blue-tailed and their larger cousins, the redheaded, their sleek bodies having no scales, are out of hibernation and running amok. They have snake-like heads and they tend to jump out of hiding places, and the more skittish among us might claim to have seen a snake when in fact it was a native Illinois lizard. Last summer, my neighbor Irene had a skink in her house. It scuttled around her dog and hid in a sofa.

Scotch Jimmy Island’s shores are filling up with snowy and great egrets and blue herons. In late June, the babies will have hatched and will run after their mothers and squawk for mashed fish food. The egret and heron rookeries are on an island just out from Elsah and are quite a sight: four-foot-high birds perched on large nests in the tops of trees.

I hiked ten miles yesterday, dodging skinks and buffalo gnats and noseeums. It was good to see scantily-clad women once again walking along the trail—tonic for old men’s hearts and imaginations.

Hundreds of motorcycles wended along the Great River Road, headed west for the Grafton flea market, their engines ear-splitting and their radios turned up to counter their own noise. There were sailboats in Alton Lake, and one speedboat pulling a woman on skis, one hand holding the tow rope and one hand firmly clutching her bikini bottom.

Hummingbirds are out in force. Hummingbird Man’s nine feeders had a steady lineup of customers. He stands next to the feeders and the tiny rubythroats land on his shoulders. He says he goes through thirty pounds of sugar a summer.

The talk at the café was about the seventeen-year cicadas—will they or won’t they hit our woods. I am more interested in the regular katydids that start their music in July. My pessimistic grandmother Olive used to say, “First katydid means cold coming.”

This is the price we pay for prairie rising.

Spring sheds its robes and dons its summer greenery, and the air thickens with ragweed pollen and I cough my way along my route. But the fiercest spring wind is preferable to the raw, west winter wind that cracks your face and eats your ears and burns your eyes and shoves needles up your nose and turns your fingers into blue icicles.

Coming soon.

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