Count me among those who can tell the difference between luck and serendipity. Just for the record, and without a drop of DNA proof, I’m not of Irish descent although I do know luck when I see it, or experience it. Luck is when a five dollar raffle wins you a kayak, or an incredibly beautiful quilt fashioned by state park manager Terri Dinesen for a $2 raffle ticket through the Pezuta Zizi Environmental Learning Center, Friends of Upper Sioux Agency State Park.

Then there was that “win” of a Final Four bracket thing back in the late 1990s at a local bar just before losing  most of the windfall through the custom of buying rounds of drinks afterwards. Luck? Because I didn’t know who two-thirds of the teams in the bracket.

Being serendipitous is an entirely different matter, for that is when unexpected fortune falls in your lap. As an example, take Wednesday afternoon of last week. I had been tagged to present my 18-minute “film” of  images, fashioned together beautifully by artist friend, Lee Kanten, for the newest class of Minnesota Master Naturalists at nearby Lac qui Parle State Park who were here for the 40-hour course on the Prairie Pothole Biome. 

Round three of my serendipitous afternoon overlooking Big Stone Lake and an incredible storm front.

This was an afternoon without humidity, which nowadays is counted as one of the blessings of a Minnesota summer. For which we were lucky! I left the farm with ample  time before the potluck mainly to make sure our technologies matched up correctly for the presentation, which gave me some leeway for possible fun in the field. For one, surrounding the state park’s office and headquarters is a beautiful native planting with gorgeous prairie flowers. So, yes, this happened to be in my thoughts. This was neither luck nor serendipity. This was knowledge.

A prairie meadow at the base of the turnoff from the state highway to the state park headquarters, however, wasn’t part of the plan. Last fall area prairie lovers lost one of the most beautiful prairie meadows in the river valley, located just a few miles further down the highway. Apparently the CRP had played out so the owners, who had the land for sale along with their beautiful house, had the prairie converted to cropland. Nearly 80 acres of perennial prairie turned upside down with soybeans supplanting coneflowers … meaning once harvested that former prairie will be exposed and vulnerable to the winter winds. So much for combating global warming.

The doe and fawn appeared suddenly on the turnoff, and she bolted to the apex of the hill, soon joined by one of the two fawns. Round 1!

Seeing this new meadow, now in full bloom, was a stopper. I knew I had time to spare so out came the camera and lenses to play with various compositions and textures. What fun! Unexpected fun! Yet, I wouldn’t quite label this as serendipitous. With an eye on the clock, it was soon off to the headquarters and the obligations. Once the technical issues were squared away, the prairie garden surrounding the office beckoned. More of the same. Playing with imagery through wind-blown grasses, which typically give me a sense of stilled softness along with color. 

My luck would continue with an incredible potluck by the naturalists, many from the Cities, that included fresh mozzarella bruschetta, dolmes and a two-grape “salad” that I couldn’t get enough of. Plus the main “course” was “pulled” roasted chicken with a dandy BBQ tangy sauce on the side. Not your typical church basement potluck.

Those “students” were very kind after the presentation, and two women provided wonderful comments even I was climbing into my car for the drive home. My afternoon, my actual serendipity, awaited down the road apiece. All those native wild flower images and an incredible potluck were simply a prelude.

At the base of the hill, I found the doe and one fawn in the creek, joined by another door. Round 2!

As I turned off the “lake road” a couple of miles from home it suddenly happened as a doe and two fawns turned suddenly in surprise as they were crossing the road. The fawns scattered as the doe bounded to the apex of a sharp bank cut by the Glacial River Warren back in “geological time” where she stood poised with concern before being quickly joined by one of the fawns. Perfect! I was able to capture three or four images while silently hoping the second fawn would join  its mother and sibling at the crest of the hill. Then, just as quickly, they disappeared over the top. 

Up the road about 100 meters while looking over the leeside of the crest I spotted the deer family in the small creek at the base of the steep incline. Oh, man! More pictures, with both the crested portrait and the creek images being rather special, for although deer are quite common around here, these two rather unique images was, well, serendipitous.

I could hardly wait to drive the two miles home to get into the card. Then further up the gravely road my eyes were diverted to a towering set of clouds to the west with the sunset looming. Turning off on one of the narrower country gravel roads, I began searching for one of my singular “lone tree” possibilities. Corn covered both sides of the road for a full mile, so at the first junction I turned north. More of the same, and the sky was becoming ever more interesting and dramatic. Knowing how quickly this all drama changes, I became more frantic.

Capturing this image of a prairie rain was my final image of my special afternoon. Round 4!

Nothing but corn, which is now nearing 10 to 12 feet in height. Tall enough you can’t see tree bases, let alone a horizon. I made it to the “colony road” and headed west. At the “T” up ahead about three miles beyond the colony were meadows and a possibility of something interesting in the great, low valley panorama of an oak savanna. The light was wrong, so I sped down the hill back to the “lake road.” The cloud bank was ever changing and  becoming ever more dramatic. The sun had moved behind the heavenly high curvature of what was shaping up as a huge storm cloud with sunset mere moments away.

Speeding up the hill from Mallard Point I thought of the Bonanza Educational Center shorelines, although at the crest of the hill I realized the drama, including the setting sun, wouldn’t last that long. When the picnic turnoff appeared, I pulled in quickly and jumped from the car, camera in hand. Suddenly the cloud broke into two different rain events across Big Stone Lake over the South Dakota Coteau. The drama of the skies was amazing. A handful of images were captured just as the deluge hit on this side of the lake, rain so thick that distant vision was impossible. 

And, it all began with the wildflowers earlier in the afternoon!

Was this the same quiet, beautiful Minnesota summer afternoon I had experienced just an hour earlier? Of shooting pictures of a pristine and picturesque prairie meadow? Or of the doe and fawn on the crest of a hill, and just seconds later as they waded in a shaded stream?

As quickly as it hit, though, the rain stopped, so it was off toward home on the “Clinton road.” As I drove a  tremendously heavy rain was descending from the towering grayness off to the north. Yes, more “drama in the  prairie sky  —  now a wall of grayness and a down-pouring of rain, and I captured my final image of an incredible afternoon and evening of unexpected imagery.

No doubt there is a thrill in being lucky, though the difference lies in your involvement. Experiencing serendipity is different for this is when things magically open up in front of you with no expectation whatsoever. Having just flowery meadow appear would have been enough. The deer? Such a dramatic sky, and the gift of the heavens that just kept on giving? As actor Charlton Heston was quoted as saying: “Sometimes life drops blessings in your lap without your lifting a finger. Serendipity, they call it.” Indeed!

A Prairie Wonder

It could have been worse. For one, the afternoon had the look and feel of one of those stressfully hot and humid days that have become more common with climate change, and it felt as though this was in store as I mowed my lawn Saturday morning. 

On our trip that afternoon toward Canby for a promised prairie walk, sprinkles dotted Don Sherman’s windshield and we were without rain gear. While neither of us Minnesota Master Naturalists knew much about the trail at Stone Hill Regional Park nestled along winding Canby Creek, there might be a likelihood of a mosquito invasion if we were hiking through a shaded, woody area. Nope, mosquito masks weren’t packed either. We were to meander unprotected through whatever elements we might face.

Fortunately there were no mosquitoes. No rain. No heat and humidity. Just one of those fine July Minnesota summer afternoons for the dozen or so of us venturing on a saunter Canby area Master Naturalist Todd Mitchell organized and led along the winding Canby Creek, the feeder of the Del Clark Reservoir. He welcomed the help of another one of us Master Naturalists, Dave Craigmile, who lives in nearby Boyd. Cragmile is noted for his knowledge of the natural geological history of the area. None of us on the saunter suffered external stress and perhaps not even any internal stress since the trail was level and was cut through a dense, and mostly shaded riverine ecosystem.

Damselflies offered joy on the trail in Stone Hill Regional Park alongside Canby Creek.

It was a day of colorful milkweed and purplish-blue iron weed, both now in full bloom. It was a day of berries, including a somewhat hidden gooseberry plant found by Sherman and which promptly got the attention of Mitchell. Sherman is known in our Ortonville area for his gooseberry sorbet, and Mitchell laid claim to gooseberries being among his favorites. Various vines crawled up and left shoots dangling off into the prairie air. It was a day of blooming wild morninglory and purple prairie clover. Stalks of big bluestem were beginning to head out, and the sideoat grama appeared through the sedges and other grassy species, minature red seeds clinging a single side of the spindly stalks. Damselflies scurried about adding magical flight and sweet poses. Bees were about, too, buzzing in busyness. Above us dogwood blossoms laid contrast to native burr oaks that seemed to offer staunch guard to the small, meandering creek.

At a U-bend of the creek, Mitchell took a moment with a small etch board to describe the dynamics of the creation of an oxbow lake, and Craigmile told of how brown trout are released into the creek each spring, of how fishers and great blue herons competed for the salmonoid species that were initially brought into the country during European migration back in the late 1800s. That briefly caused me wonder of how they managed to keep these delicate fish alive on such a journey back in the days of ship, train and possibly even covered wagon travel. Or, for that matter, how they even survive in such a shallow prairie stream, for trout are inherently a cold water species. Perhaps the runoff from higher elevation of Buffalo Ridge and spring water is enough, although the warming climate is undoubtedly a concern. 

Craigmile spoke of ancient newspaper accounts of parties catching hundreds of trout back in earlier times. “That wouldn’t go over today,” he joked. Next to portions of the Redwood River, and specifically in nearby Camden State Park, this is about the extent of trout in SW Minnesota.

At upper left, Dave Craigmile, and below him, Todd Mitchell. Bottom right, Jody Olson. Two Master Naturalists, and Olson, a Master Gardener. She provided the greeting table complete with native prairie species from her garden

Before the saunter, though, the group was met at the trail head by Jody Olson, a Master Gardner longer than most of those on the tour had been alive, with a collected display of native prairie species she nurtured in her Canby garden. It was through Olson, actually, that Sherman learned about the trail hike. Olson was one of his “students” the previous weekend when he was in Canby for one of his paper making workshops. She’s perhaps the oldest person to ever take one of his workshops and is now in her ninth decade. 

Olson told him about the prairie park and its adjacent neighbor, Del Clark Reservoir, and invited him down for the hike. This combination of a “controlled” 30 ft. deep flood control reservoir, camper haven and playground along with this interesting nature trail were all created in the 1980s as part of an integrated and ambitious plan to  protect the nearby small town of Canby from floodwaters off the nearby Buffalo Ridge moraine. The reservoir is about four miles from the outskirts of the prairie town and offers a pristine and picturesque jewel to the prairie. It is also, as was alluded to numerous times, the only swimmable lake in Southwestern Minnesota due to the absence of runoff of agricultural chemicals. There is a reason why ­ —  all found upstream.

All along the trail various species of milkweed were in bloom.

Nearly 20 years in the making, these efforts began after a five inch rain once again caused immense flooding in the community in 1963. The town historically suffered major damage from flooding every five years or so as the overflowing waters of Canby Creek rushed across the prairie. Enough was just that: enough. Following that flood a local committee was formed to address the issue. In 1972 the project was turned over to the Lac qui Parle-Yellow Bank Watershed District, which worked jointly with farmers and landowners and the Yellow Medicine and Lac qui Parle soil and water conservation districts to create the installation of water control projects both above Canby and for miles upstream. 

When the ambitious Del Clark Lake project was completed in 1986 it received a “Seven Wonders of Engineering Award” from the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers (MSPE). Perhaps an even greater wonder, though, was in convincing cooperating agencies, farmers and others in three Minnesota and three South Dakota counties to work in concert to create grassed waterways, grade stabilization structures, crop residue management, contour farming, strip-cropping, terraces, field windbreaks, and pastures in the upland watershed. Yes, a thorough water conservation concept was sold to those upstream of what is now the reservoir and town of Canby to provide clean, chemically free water to Canby Creek and eventually the reservoir. 

Toward the end of the saunter, a hole in the canopy gave us a glimpse of the natural stream bed of Canby Creek, complete with a small rapids. Yes, perhaps this does appear to be a trout stream.

Remaining in the “wake” of this marvelous group effort was this meandering creek, park and adjacent trail, where odd masks and humorous figurines can bring a smile. At one juncture, a Vietnam veteran named a portion of the trail as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. That peaceful jaunt crosses what is now a hay field and is a shortcut from the far end of the Canby Creek trail and is a far cry from the noted supply route where communist-led North Vietnam sent weapons, manpower, ammunition and other supplies to their supporters in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Mitchell said the veteran, Ron Fjerkenstad, manager of the park, named the trail as a respectful homage to his enemy.

Yet, this saunter along the meandering creek wasn’t about politics nor the huge earthen dam and the reservoir behind it. Both Mitchell and Craigmile offered a relaxed and educational saunter along a possibly unique prairie trail, one that seemed quite distant from the broad-sky views just a few miles distant. Toward the end of the jaunt a hole in this seemingly rare “prairie jungle” offered a glimpse of the natural stream bed of Canby Creek, complete with a small rapids, which brought the thought that, yes, this could make a home for a beautiful trout. Yes, even here in the heart of the prairie! It could be worse.

My Gnarly Old Friend

A few weeks ago a dear friend commented on an old maple tree I had photographed by wondering, “Oh, the things that old tree has seen …” 

This is indeed an old tree, gnarly, weathered and minus a core that had long since rotted away, and perhaps dates itself to most of our family’s time on the Missouri farm. Both the tree and the farm are now safely existing into their third century. The old maple was fully mature when I was a child. Off one staunch limb my father had fashioned a rope swing. I was ten when we moved to what had been my grandparents’ home, so our move up the road was in 1953. Sixty-nine years ago. My guess is that the tree was planted by my grandfather, Mark White, and that it is now perhaps 150 years old. Maybe older. Its age will forever remain a mystery.

In my yard here on Listening Stones Farm I now glance at a maple I planted this spring, now bent a bit by winds that have since followed its planting. The trunk is maybe as round as my thumb, and I doubt if I’ll live to see it large enough for a manly hug let alone matured with a leafy shadow to shade the adjacent concrete patio that was poured and stamped last fall. The old maple at the Missouri farm was well beyond the hugging stage even when I was a child. Maybe two or three adults could clasp hands and cover the circumference.

Perhaps over 150 years of age, the old maple keeps chugging along in life and is now safely living into its third century.

With its inner core … that heartwood … rotted away it’s highly doubtful that anyone will ever know how old the old maple might be. It’s has been that for most of my lifetime. Maybe even longer. With a full canopy of fully alive branches and shimmering, summer leaves, the life-sustaining cambiam layer is charging ahead with ever more food, moisture and energy necessary for the old maple to continue its journey through life.

I love old trees and feel pain when I see one come down because of someone’s inconvenience. On the river road below Sacred Heart two picturesque and staunch cottonwoods were taken down last fall because they were “inconvenient.” They had stood more than 100 feet tall with wide and beautiful limbs and branches. Their stumps were as wide as a 600 gallon circular steel livestock watering tank before fire and an excavator came to rid dear earth of any clue of their prior existence. Like the old maple, their cambiam layers were still churning nutrients up to the very tops of the cottonwoods from the root system. They were beautiful trees. Landmarks, really; trees you were familiar with much like an old friend you met when ambling along on a curvy country river road. 

Other beautiful cottonwoods have met a similar fate. One was the “Milan tree” a mile south of the village that proclaims itself as the Goose Hunting Capital of the World. Among the activists fighting the eventual removal was one who threatened to chain herself to the tree to keep it from being taken down. MnDOT did the honors despite the threats and protests, although I’d suggest that her threats, efforts and words were simply blowing in the wind. My guess is that the farmer whose cropland was shaded from the afternoon sun no doubt petitioned to be rid of what he and other of his brothern claim are “dirty trees” — trees with limbs and other debris that come crashing down from the canopy onto their precious patch of Mother Earth. 

In November without the leaves the old maple looks old and weather-beaten.

Another instance was perhaps a stately ash tree on the last bend of US 75 going into Canby, a lone tree sentinel, an iconic landmark, staunch and proud, standing on a point along the highway. It’s gone. So many are gone, old trees … trees many years older than their land keepers. In these times when trees are severely needed in our grasp of planet health from the effects of global warming, few seem to care. Chainsaws are employed as much as heavy construction machines — front-end loaders and bulldozers hone in to remove any evidence and memory of those shadowy carbon eaters.

So, yes, I love old trees, and our old maple that remains in the “courtyard” of our family farm, itself awarded Century Farm status many years ago. Nowadays the cavity of the old maple yawns openly toward early morning sunrises and was once home to a huge beehive. As children we would lay our forearm against the bark opposite the hive to effectively hide our eyes as we counted our way to 100 in games of hide-n-sneak. Years ago two cherry trees were just to the west of the old maple. They’re long gone. Age caught up to them and they were eventually removed, by then woody skeletons of their former promise of tart pies. Still the old maple kept chugging on.

Like my friend suggested, the old maple has witnessed much through the years including five long stretches of family generations and counting. From my grandfather’s youth and marriage, to the birth and maturity of my father, to my generation of brothers and a sister, to modern times when my nephew and his wife began farming the land, and now their children, the oldest who this fall will be a junior in high school. So, yes, the tree has survived for many years and generations of my family. 

My little maple, planted this spring.

Each of those generations have parked either horse teams or tractors in that shade. As a teenager I changed the oil on tractors under its shaded canopy. After a big dinner my mother had laid out for a haying crew back in the day, and before we headed back to the oven-ish hayloft or field, we would amble outside to lay in the tree’s shade. With no air conditioning, all of us appreciated the shade especially on those hot and humid summer afternoons. Those “90 90 days” when the temperature and humidity met too close to the century marks. We especially loved the shade when the leaves above were shimmering with a cooling breeze.

Recently I sat in a comfortable patio chair on the porch of the farmhouse my parents moved us into back in ‘53, where I looked out across the lawn and adjacent fields. My nephew’s soybeans were breaking through the browned cover crop across the highway. The old elm with the “upside down dancer” limbs had long ago died and removed years ago. My brother and nephew have landscaped around the porch with new shrubs and flowering plants where in my youth there were bushes and a lone conifer tree. The redbud’s at the front of the lawn were removed and replaced with magnolias in difference to my nephew’s wife who grew up in the deep south. Climate change, he said, might make this possible.

Two beautiful old cottonwoods down the road stood for years after they were long dead and finally were grounded by a stanch prairie wind. Their fate was different than the old maple.

My father’s prized white board fences have long been dismantled as were all of the out buildings from his style of farming … the cattle pens, his old fashioned scale, granaries where my brothers and I chanced our hearing with the hammer mill grain grinders, and his tall white landmark barn. Gone, too, is the pole barn machine shed he built over my mother’s last great garden. A huge, modern machine shed was built this past spring for my nephew’s machinery.

All that remains from my childhood besides the old farm house where I sat was that old maple. The ageless maple is now more of an old friend and family member than a mere tree. My friend, the old maple, has weathered significantly in its aging, and those large poetic gaps gracefully reveals its inner soul. Leaves still flutter in the wind, shimmering as if a “latent” haying crew … ol’ Ed Troeger, the Norton boys, maybe an Amish lad or two awaiting their bearded stage … laid in momentary rest on the grassy carpet beneath.

My old friend, the maple, will outlast me, and maybe with luck, even my middle-aged nephew. Who’s to say it won’t? If there is a given to be gained from our family’s farm place is that you can never count out that old maple. Not back then. Not now. And perhaps, not ever.

Dreams of a Roadside Dreamer

Something interesting happened in the midst of my tunnel vision of non-stop driving. That “vision” had become  somewhat narrowed thanks to driving some 560 miles from Minnesota through the East River landscape of South Dakota and most of western Iowa before cutting cross state to Des Moines, where we cut south toward my home country of Missouri. For whatever reason my eyes were suddenly caught by the colors along the highway road banks ­– colors that covered much of an artist’s smeared palette.

At the first narrow field approach we pulled over for a closer look. As distant as I could see on either side and direction of the highway I was met with an impressive array of wildflowers. Daisies. A coneflower or two. Some yellow, others pink. Orange tiger lillies and tall stalks of mullein, the latter of which was said to be dipped in beeswax and turned into nighttime torches by the Biblical Romans. There were way too many blossoms to count, with a wide variation of colors. Blues. Yellows. Oranges. Reds. A few whites adding to the mix.

All of which took me back to a much earlier time, back when I had finished an assigned story for the National Woolgrowers Association on a San Angelo, TX, sheepman, which led to an unexpected set of pictures and an interview with a neighboring rancher who specialized in javelina guiding and hunting in his dense mesquite brush. I was then off across the state to Nacogdoches for an assigned story for a corporate account. I don’t recall the highway(s), although I do remember the flowers. On both sides of the four lane highway and within the median strip. Curated in beds, neat and tidy, especially in the median. More kemp, much more blue, and totally unlike the wild and “organic” Iowa roadside prairie nestled within the steep banks.

Typical of the native plantings found along the highways and byways of Iowa, a cost-savings program started in the 1970s as a step toward highway beautification.

Much like my moment in Iowa, in what should have been a boring trip across Texas became one that was both unforgettable and enchanting. Completely mood altering. Later when I mentioned this beauty to the farm wife outside of Nacogdoches, she said, “Oh, that’s Lady Bird’s doing. Her highway beautification project.”

Lady Bird was the wife of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, and was a champion for conservation efforts including the beautifications of the highways, particularly in their home state. Some 57 years ago Johnson, with the urgings of his wife, pushed through a law known as the Highway Beautification Act. It was an effort to limit billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising, as well as junkyards and other unsightly roadside messes along America’s interstate highways. Yes, flowers were intended. It was a move that has since spread beyond the interstates as evidenced by the number of junk yards sporting tall, oblique fencing to hide the hideous, and highways like those in Iowa.

Lady Bird’s reasoning was that such legislation would make the nation a better place not only to look at but to live. “The subject of beautification is like a tangled skein of wool,” she reportedly wrote in her diary. “All the threads are interwoven — recreation and pollution and mental health and the crime rate and rapid transit and highway beautification and the war on poverty and parks … everything leads to something else.”

Yellows were prominent along the highway, although nearly all the basic colors were evident.

Welcome to Iowa, and to a part of the state secluded from the hum and haw of the interstates that crisscross further northwest in Des Moines. Highway 63, between Ottumwa and Bloomfield, with uphill passing lanes and wildflowers paving the way, was just a small sample of statewide policy. In all, more than 50,000 acres of federal, state, county and city roadways that have been planted in a native ecosystem across the state since the 1970s. Later, on the way home I paid much more attention to the shoulders of the interstates, and yes, wildflowers, shrubs and picturesque trees greeted the travelers. 

To help in the beautification effort the state’s Department of Transportation published a beautiful, four-color, 134 page booklet called the “Iowa’s Living Roadway … Ecological Transportation.” The booklet provides tips on creating workable roadside habitat for beauty, birds and bees. Besides the tips on planting, the guide has specific sections on native wildflowers, shrubs and trees and is perhaps the “bible” for Iowa’s Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management (IRVM).

Oh, yes, there were blues and purples …

According to their website, the goal of IRVM is to provide an alternative to conventional roadside management practices, which were common before IRVM was adopted. These conventional practices, including the extensive use of mowing and herbicides, were often too costly to implement on a regular basis, were frequently ineffective, and contributed to an increased potential for surface water contamination.

“Having native plantings not only controls some of the erosion that is happening, but also having those deep root systems to be able to not only hold the soil in place, but not require as intensive herbicide application as would normally happen with a warm season grass planting that takes a different type of maintenance — a little more intensely mowed, and in some cases fertilizers too,” said Rebecca Kauten, who helped manage the program back in the early stages.

After the experience in Iowa I began noticing the shoulders of the highways and roadways on our recent trip to hang with family over the Fourth of July weekend. Much of Missouri roadways seemed to have followed suit, particularly on the state and federal highways. Not so true in Minnesota. I can name a few areas where wildflowers flourish on a couple of state highways — a small section of unmowable sections of both Highway 7 near the Watson Sag, and portions of Highway 34 between Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids. A few county roads have proven too risky for mowers and maintenance in places along the Minnesota River Valley, although the burly try. 

And on a hilltop, an entire halo of orange tiger lillies!

Near the Sag is a marshy stretch that boasts the rare white lady’s slippers, among other perhaps unique if not rare prairie plants, and in spots along 34 too boggy to maintain numerous wildflowers survive gleefully, including the state’s iconic showy lady’s slipper. While it seems the federal interstates host native plantings within much of Minnesota’s borders, it’s perhaps an archaic policy for the state and county highway systems that seems content if not intent to continue with the mow and spray cycles. Perhaps a change is warranted, especially now when pollinators are threatened, when deeply rooted perennials can aid in the fight against global warming and when our tax dollars could be put to much better use.

Although my trip was long and arduous at times, being surrounded for at least part of the journey with an ever changing bouquet of native flora was an unexpected joy. Even if I added to my highway hours by pulling off into a couple of field accesses to grab my camera. In the end I guess I’m a dreamer, and my dream is of walking down my little county graveled road seeing an “Iowa-scape” full of prairie grasses and seasonal native flowers, lush and colorful, scented and humming with bees, and perhaps even dancing with the prairie winds.