Threading of the Prairie

Life didn’t go as planned one morning this week.

Too much running around, along with a neat and new “art fair” in town in the afternoon, made for a rather inefficient day. Plus, Rebecca had a meeting about two hours from here and pulled in near dark, so getting the gear up and ready for our annual butchering the chickens “day” simply didn’t happen. Oh, we were up early and eager, then looked at one another and made an almost unspoken consensus before Rebecca verbalized an obvious truth, “I don’t think we’re ready, or can be ready, in time to get much done.”

A fine reprieve, for from the moment I rolled from bed I had my eye on our prairie, for we awoke to a dense fog. On one of our last beautifully dense fogs I had a meeting in Redwood Falls and cursed myself on the entire drive down. I love fog, although not driving through them. One of my favorite fogs in my lifetime was in the Sand Hills of Nebraska, a day when the rolling dunes of fenced grass became a dreamy landscape. I’ve long lost my boxes of Kodachrome slides, though I can recall many of the images. One in particular was of a white horse by a willow, both in front of a distant red barn just visible in the mist, all dreamily captured in muted and mellow grayness.

Yes, we have a richness of color in our prairie this time around.

Yes, we have a richness of color in our prairie this time around.

By the time of our decision the sun had risen to give our prairie a glistening sheen. Partly from the remnant moisture from a brief shower from the night before, and party from a dense dew. With the scheduled pressure off, I took my camera to wade into the dampness where the grasses and forbs mostly towered over me. We have an amazing growth in our prairie.

We also have good color in our prairie this year. Last year we grew weary of the constant quilt of yellow. Oh there were occasional peeks of purple, and a persistent white prairie clover here and there, yet the dominant color was yellow.

Our shy spiders were deft and creative.

Our shy spiders were deft and creative.

This year, though, we have no complaints. Lavender bee balm pokes throughout, and so do many other colorful blossoms. While my focus has been on finding interesting individual plants, and in particular photogenic composition of parts of those plants, as well as the quality and color of light, these past few days my attention has been drawn to an overall colorful palate of our prairie.

The threading tied the prairie forbs together like a natural quilt.

The threading tied the prairie forbs together like a natural quilt.

This was where I was mentally on this morning when I began to notice the threading of our prairie. It all began innocently enough, for as I walked through the partially regrown path Rebecca had mowed through our grassy jungle I found gateway after gateway blocking my progress. I found that these creatively spun spider webs would collapse beautifully, opening just like a gate, if you pulled on a strand off to one side. This was no less amazing than the immense number of webs and threads spun throughout. Single strands were drawn between leaves of one plant to another, and in other places, more ingenious geometric forces were obviously at work. At one point I turned, and with the back light from the sun and the definition provided by the beads of dew, I realized I was literally surrounded by what must be millions of spiders, all hopeful of capturing an unaware gnat or mosquito.

While it is fun to watch the acrobatic flight of the many swallows we have flying over the prairie on any given summer evening, we were equally amazed one day late last summer when Rebecca noticed the thousands of dragonflies buzzing over the canopy of the prairie. Perhaps we should add those amazing spiders … all obviously much too shy to show themselves on this cool, damp summer morning.

Using the web strands in the composition was interesting and fun.

Using the web strands in the composition was interesting and fun.

Continuing down the path, I kept making photos here and there of various flowers, and as I did I realized I simply couldn’t take a picture that didn’t include some spiderous threading somewhere in the image. So I began to play with the light and dew, using the threads as parts of the composition. A little further along I came upon two of those iconic full spun webs, which with the dew and the light from the rising sun, sparkled like a jeweled necklace awaiting the adorning of the neck and bosom of a fortunate maiden!

Later I climbed our septic mound for the height and shot a few frames I hoped would more clearly define the immensity of the threading and webbing I had discovered on my foray.

A multi-jeweled necklace awaiting the neck and bosom of a maiden ...

A multi-jeweled necklace awaiting the neck and bosom of a maiden …

When I came into the house, I suggested that I had learned how grassy prairies were held together over the eons. It wasn’t the bison herds, nor the vast jungle of rooting from the prairie grasses and forbs, nor the lightning fires refurbished those matted slopes. No, for it was plainly obvious the entire biome from the High Plains to the towering and forested Appalachian Mountains, from Saskatchewan flats to the piney hills of Texas, had been sewn together by an incredible group of shy Arachnids.

While this captures a small portion of our prairie, on this morning our entire eight acres seemed threaded together by the hard working spiders throughout!

While this captures a small portion of our prairie, on this morning our entire eight acres seemed threaded together by the hard working spiders throughout!

Indeed, it had been my good fortune to have just witnessed the vast threading of the prairie, stitching together that vast quilt of grasses and native flowers beneath the deep, blue skies!


Moments like these give me cause to believe I may be a man of faith. So begins a writing that may see the light of day …  since its being published depends on the beaming up of our internet. I’m happy to report that yesterday we were connected most of the day, which was the first time we’ve enjoyed a full day of service in what seems like weeks. “Months” might be more accurate, but I write as a man of forgiving faith.

Despite becoming on a first name basis with our designated service rep, Chad, we awake each morning wondering if life on our farm will reach beyond our small prairie. We are at the mercy apparently of a universe beyond our blue planet, as explained by Chad. Sun spots. And this: “If you can see the Northern Lights, forget the internet.” I haven’t seen them here on the farm, yet we still lack a worldly connection. So sun spots and Northern Lights are among the culprits. So, too, are tree limbs, rain and fog, and the other day, the talkative young man suggested we keep the modem out of the sunlight. We moved it from the top of the printer where we had anxiously monitored the status lights, which blink like a Dallas disco … all except for the little designated light of wonder, which barely and rarely comes to a full summer green.

Among the culprits of our outlandish internet issues is the sun ... on the modem, spots out in the universe, and the cosmic rays producing Northern Lights!

Among the culprits of our outlandish internet issues is the sun … on the modem, spots out in the universe, and the cosmic rays producing Northern Lights!

Chad and I took a walk through the lawn that morning when he was here, and it was still early enough we collected a drenching dew on the toes of our boots. He studied the angle of the technological arrow protruding from the corner of our solarium and the distant tower, then eyed the tree line that had previously been deemed perfectly fine. “Leaves. Look at those leaves,” he said, pointing toward the tower. “I see interference.”

When the system was installed the sight-line was deemed as perfect. Back in the day he and another tech rep both considered the signal so strong they somehow toned it down, fearing perhaps that my iMac might explode from the overwhelming wealth of beamed, wireless data. A few weeks ago, on a rather frustrating Sunday morning just after returning from the BWCA … where the lack of technology was a blessing, I might add … the crisis line fellow took me through all sorts of technological guts to measure something he called “pings.” Making it simple for such a technological moron, he painted a picture for me of watering my garden when 53 percent of the water had  leaked from the hose before reaching the nozzle. “I’ll make a report to the office,” he generously offered.

Apparently his report was lost in the email … provided the company’s crisis center uses its own internet service to communicate between their offices. Since I’m a man of faith, this seems a logical possibility … sans sun spots, the Aurora Borealis, errant tree branches, a non-shaded modem, or that our nearest neighbor a mile and a half to the south baking a cherry pie.

So far, the bee balm in the prairie have escaped scrutiny.

So far, the bee balm in the prairie have escaped scrutiny.

I told Chad I would saw off those wayward limbs from three of the trees. “Don’t do the evergreen,” he interrupted. “I love evergreens.”

Ash, elm and basswood must offer more interference than spruce, which pleases me, for like Chad, I also love evergreens.

Meanwhile we “limp” along with our “smart” phones. We could probably survive our social media addictions and email with the phones, although they’re a bugger when you’re trying to read the morning papers. Yes, I do subscribe to the papers, so when the internet isn’t up, those cyber dollars reek of a bad investment. Rebecca does the majority of her office work here on the farm, and how she can manage her anger so well is beyond my limited faith.

For me it seems I’m always doing some sort of research. For example, yesterday I spent a good portion of my day trying to repair our rider mower by making Google searches for such things as owner manuals, mechanical repair sites and You Tube repair videos. Time was also spent seeking information on making stainless steel table tops for Rebecca’s commercial kitchen, and in looking for greeting card stands and other ideas of photographic marketing. Every day seems to bring new ideas ripe for necessary research, and since I lived in a small Minnesota town with a state-of-the-art fiber optic internet system, perhaps I arrived here on our little spot of prairie hopelessly spoiled. Like most who lived in the drive-past berg, the town’s system was certainly taken for granted.

Yes, fog is suspected!

Yes, fog is suspected!

Indeed, when we bought and moved to our farm here in the Minnesota Bump we didn’t even think to inquire about internet services. While I can’t speak for Rebecca, my assumption was that the entire state was equally blessed with broadband speed. We both were given an abrupt wakeup call, and in our first full year here we tried three services before we found one that was functional. It was owned locally by a middle aged fellow with severe physical limitations due to his many falls from his towers, and who basically relied on his sweet mother for the business side. His last tumble was rather seriously disabling, and more than he could handle pain-wise, and he simply wrote a letter to his customers saying that by the end of whatever month it was, he was shutting the system down.

Who could have guessed that his service was the best of the rest. This time we did a more thorough search. It came down to one area phone co-op with a rock-solid reputation and the Dish Network. Since we could “bundle” with Dish, we went that way. Their system was installed on a Tuesday, with the technician patting the iconic gray disc with pride while telling us our internet issues were certainly a thing of the past. On Thursday, less than two days from his paternal patting, the router began blinking. On Friday the lights went out all together. Calls were made to the company. On Tuesday, exactly one week later, that tech still had not returned to take care of the problem, so we called again and canceled the service.

The next day we contacted the local co-op, which is actually a multi-county co-op, to sign up for their wireless service, since they had not hardwired this portion of the county. We celebrated that night with a fine wine and a delicious dinner. Our internet issues were supposedly behind us. Oh, how my faith has been tested since. We were advised that they were one of the rural internet services being considered for a huge broadband grant within the state, and amazingly, a year later they were chosen. After another delicious dinner with celebratory wine, we began our latest wait for connecting with the world beyond our plat lines.

In the BWCA, technology wasn't even a thought.

In the BWCA, technology wasn’t even a thought.

Then a letter arrived from the co-op admitting that their wireless system was severely inadequate. They offered to lower our monthly fee against a blindfold allowance out of the three-year contract we had signed. With great adherence to faith, we stuck with them and have since become ever closer to dear, talkative Chad.

And, come each early morning as the sun rises above the bluestem, I’ll turn on the system to watch the blinking beacons of communication. I’ve still not seen the Northern Lights, so I comfort my soul by watching our modem blink instead. Chad excitedly says the hard wiring in our half of the county has begun, starting in a small town six miles northeast of our farm. Instead of heading this way, however, the crews are spider-webbing across the former prairie toward the northwest ­— that top half of the Bump.

“You’ll get it,” he promises. “It might be late next summer or fall, and certainly by the following spring of ‘17. Once you have it, it’ll be beautiful.”

So, if you happen to have seen this writing, realize that for one blessed moment that single status light was beaming bright and beautifully green. And, that my friends, is the essence of my faith … a single tiny green light about the circumference of the cross section of a broken-in-half round toothpick.

Later this week I’ll saw off those errant limbs before kneeling on the prayer rug.