How quickly things can change when the rain comes. When itís very hot and dry, there are still things that have to get done outside. So Wednesday evening I found myself weeding the prairie at Organic Valleyís headquarters. It was a warm but pleasant late afternoon, and I was kind of enjoying my work. I could see dark clouds coming in from the west, and I could smell cool rain in the air. I was hoping that I would (at last) feel some rain on my face. I got my wish. It started with only a few fat rain drops, but a flash of lightning and a huge clap of thunder directly over me made me stand straight up. A few seconds later, the dark clouds dropped a deluge of sweet rain on me, and I was soaked from head to toe in only a minute. It was like stepping into a shower.
I had no intention of missing the chance to get wet, so I kept right on pulling weeds. It rained pretty hard for about a half hour, but I didnít complain a bit. So far, it has been the highlight of my summer. We got somewhere around an inch of much needed rain. I thought of how nice it will be not to have to carry pails of water to the garden for a few days.
It was getting dark when I got home and I just plopped down on the back porch steps and took in the twilight. For the first time in many weeks, the valley seemed to have new life. Little brown bats fluttered around the yard, and a towhee sang from across the road. What really caught my attention were crickets. I hadnít heard any in weeks. I ended up just sitting there for a half hour, listening in peaceful bliss.
Thursday morning the valley was wet and heavy with fog. The green foliage that had been wilting and thin looked fat and healthy once again. Leaves and grasses had swelled in the night. Even the corn and soybean fields looked rejuvenated by the welcome and much needed moisture.
It was as though the garden phlox had been waiting for the rain. By Friday night, there were several beds of fragrant lavender-colored flower heads, and small sphinx moths appeared from nowhere to harvest the sweet nectar. They are these flowersí most frequent visitor. I counted about thirty of the hummingbird-like moths in the phlox beds on Friday night. While trying to get a closer look at one particular moth, I noticed that one of the flower stems kept moving erratically underneath. When I parted the leaves, I spotted a gray tree frog clinging to a stem. He, too, was taking advantage of the insects that came to the sweet blooms. I had been hearing him singing his bird-like churrups each evening, but I hadnít seen him until now. It pays to pay attention.
There hasnít been much in the pastures for the cattle to eat, so hopefully the rain will help turn that around. With little to eat and no place to escape the relentless heat, the cattle spend some of their time standing in the pasture stream. They do the same as anyone when itís hot: they go for a swim.
In the tall grass at the edge of a marsh backwater, a male kingbird is busy catching bugs to take back to his nest of baby kingbirds. Kingbirds are rather large flycatchers that have the brave habit of chasing and harassing anybody in his territory, including crows, hawks, cows and people.
Friday evening I visited friends who live on the West Branch of the Kickapoo River. Itís a special place with several acres of prairie meadow and lovely wildflowers everywhere. Itís a true testament to what hard work combined with a love of Nature can accomplish. Tall sunflowers are blooming early this year, including the beautiful yellow flowers of the compass plant. One in particular was a favorite perch for an English sparrow that held a grasshopper in his beak. To see so many pretty yellow flowers in one place is always a treat. These special prairie flowers that once were a common sight along the river valley are being preserved for future generations by compassionate people like my friends. Other prairie flowers blooming on this wonderful piece of land include Culverís root, hoary vervain and purple cone flower.
Hopefully, the rain will come again soon and everything will be back on track. Iím starting to get used to temperatures in the 80s and 90s, but the weather man says it may be even warmer in the next few days. As long as thereís a little rain now and then I guess all will be fine and the wildlife will benefit from a prosperous summer that will carry them to autumn and through the winter. Whatever happens from here on, this summer will always be one to remember and to learn from.
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