It’s not like we haven’t had our fair share of rain. And here we were once again, though this recent rain was hardly a downpour. More of a steady rain a little beyond a drizzle. It was of long duration, though, and if it had been a blizzard, since an inch of rain calculates to 13 or so inches of snow, we would still be digging out from about 20 inches of the white stuff. Since this was midsummer, there were no worries.
About halfway through my reading of the online morning newspaper I noticed the rain clouding the window screens. Outside, diamond-like sparkles of drops were calling … clinging to the leaves of the prairie grasses. Not far away is the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, and within the huge prairie meadow of an “island” in the middle of the three-mile motor loop is an impressive bloom of countless native flowers including a recent full bloom of Purple Coneflowers. My thought of finding one adorned with rainy jewels was enough to get me up, out and through the door.
Having such anticipation is often a curse, for you visualize an image and in many instances set yourself up for disappointment. As a photojournalist you learn to go with the flow, looking closely for images and react accordingly to the circumstances. These thoughts actually crossed my mind as I drove toward the Refuge dressed as if I were going kayaking … since I thoroughly dislike actual rain gear. So, yes, a splash shirt, swimming shorts and sandals.
There was enough beauty in the meadow to cause me to pause several times along the way. The spiky yellow Mullein was in full bloom. The tall plants rose from the outcrops like hands raised in an attentive classroom. Rainwater clung to the blossoms defying gravity, adding a diamond-like luster to the beautiful blossoms. The plant is not native, brought across the ocean in the 1700s. Yet the Native Americans found early medicinal uses for the plant, making a tea that helped suppress coughing, reduced the affects of diarrhea, and when smoked, was a stimulant for the lungs. The soft leaves were used as lamp wicks, toilet paper and even placed inside shoes for warmth and softness. It’s said Romans dipped the dried stalks into tallow to use them for torches, giving light to the night. Legend has it that similar torches were also used to ward away witches in olden times. Me? Fodder for a rainy day photo subject.
Further along the trail the bloom in the island meadow was both wide and deep with a richnesses of colors. Yellows. Purples. Blues. No matter which way I looked there was something to catch the eye, glistening with sparkling wetness. Rain droplets trickled off prairie grasses and flowery petals. It seemed that every few feet I would stop, hop from the car and seek a new image. As an added bonus, towering above the flowers were the first “turkey-foot” shoots of Big Bluestem. August was near!
So much visual poetry is hidden deep in the grasses, sparkling as if a jeweler had slung a tray of diamonds over the prairiescape. I enjoy most using a long focal length lens and using it to nose around and through the most delicate nooks of nature. This was a day when sauntering through the prairie offered so much to the eye. Thankfully there was no need to lay in the soaking wetness to find imagery, although I did kneel numerous times for different angles. Regardless, I was soaked to the skin, and happily so.
All of this and I was still a mile or so away from my intended subject. This was one of those numerous times I praised the invent of digital photography, for if I were shooting and developing film I would have gone broke long before reaching the Coneflowers. And, for the record, they were a disappointment … well past the bloom.
In every direction the tips of the silken, spindly blossoms had browned, and many appeared completely dried and shriveled. So you make do, and in the dampness there was still beauty. The natural grayness from the rain seemed to add a solemness to the meadow, perhaps even suggesting a requiem to the end of a season … as another awaited. As the Coneflower season edged stage right toward the curtain, perhaps the stage was open for the Big Bluestem, where even the slightest breeze gives rise to a grassy ocean of waves, of fork-shaped dancers etching the skies like weightless ballerinas. Whatever season is entering makes so little difference, for the prairie is ever evolving and in constant change. Actors come, and actors go, from Pasque Flowers to the last of a milkweed fluff, clinging tenuously to a browning pod as in the yield of an autumn wind.
For this one morning, in this soft and gentle rain, the prairie was rich in greenness and vivid colors. Even if we’ve had our share of moisture, capturing all the senses of this particular rain made one feel prosperous and sated, from that classic smell of rain to the muted sounds of the droplets hitting the leaves all around you, and of course, the colors … all those colors in the spectrum of pastel softness.