Listen, Reflect, and Try to Understand

It’s really hard to know what to say right now. I had a list of potential topics for today’s blog post, ranging from whimsical to technical, but I don’t think this is the time for any of them.

Look, I’m just a guy who thinks it’s fun to lay down in prairies to study and photograph flowers and bugs. That doesn’t give me any kind of qualification to help address major societal issues. Regardless, I do have one plea to anyone who reads this. Please – listen, reflect, and try to understand.

It can sometimes be hard to fathom the reasons people act as they do. That’s especially true when their actions are completely contrary to what you think are sensible or appropriate. But people don’t act randomly. Those who protest against pandemic-related restrictions and those who protest against systemic racism, for example, are both motivated by earnestly-felt emotions; fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, frustration, and others. That they are responding based on honest emotions doesn’t make their actions right or wrong – it just means they have reasons for their actions.

For what it’s worth, here’s an approach I’m taking in response to the world’s current craziness. I’m trying to listen to those with views different from mine. I’m trying to reflect on what motivates them to think and act in the way they do, and in that way understand them better. My hope is that if enough of us do this, we can start conversations about difficult issues that begin by acknowledging how each other feels, and why. That seems more productive than simply dismissing those who think differently from ourselves and trying to shout our views in a louder voice than theirs.

Again, this is not an area of expertise for me; I’m just sharing what I’m trying to do.

Even if my approach doesn’t change society, it’s helpful to me. Watching people act in seemingly illogical ways scares the hell out of me. It makes me feel helpless in an out-of-control world. How do you resolve chaos? Gaining an understanding why people are acting in a certain way gives me hope that an issue can be resolved. Even that small bit of perspective makes me feel better.

During times like this, nature is a kind of anchor for me. I can seek out beauty there, and watch prairie organisms interact with each other in ways that are unrelated to the raging debates of people all around them. In that way, a visit to a prairie is an escape from human society. At the same time, it also gives me a chance to reflect and process events and perspectives – sometimes semi-consciously – in a way that helps me when I resurface into the human world.

I’ll leave you with a series of recent photos that reflect what is happening in the world of prairies right now. I hope they provide you with a little sense of peace; a temporary escape from all that’s happening. Please be safe and well. And if you can, listen, reflect, and try to understand.

Lambert’s crazyweed (Oxytropis lambertii) at Gjerloff Prairie.
A tiny grasshopper nymph in our backyard prairie garden.
Western wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.
A true bug (Hemiptera) on hairy puccoon (Lithospermum caroliniense).
Native eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) congregate on chokecherry at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) in a sand blowout. Niobrara Valley Preserve.
A katydid nymph on hairy puccoon. Niobrara Valley Preserve.
Bladderpod (Physaria ludoviciana). Niobrara Valley Preserve
A rain drop perched on a cup-shaped leaf of coralberry (Symphoricarpus orbiculatus). Niobrara Valley Preserve
Grasshopper nymph and hairy puccoon. Niobrara Valley Preserve.
A non-native seven-spotted ladybird beetle. Helzer family prairie.
Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), backlit by evening light. Niobrara Valley Preserve.
Sandhills prairie, trail road, and sky. Niobrara Valley Preserve.

Photos of the Week – May 28, 2020

Quick update – thanks to all of you who joined the webinar I gave this week on the topic of building resilience in prairies through restoration and management. I’m sorry again about the short notice I gave in my last post. If you missed the webinar, I have good news. It was recorded and you have two options for watching it. If you have a Zoom account, you should be able to just click HERE and watch it via that app. If you don’t have a Zoom account, you should be able to click HERE and get a downloadable MP4 file (it’s big…).

If you’re interested in a short tutorial on photography techniques, I’ll be giving a talk on that subject at 12:30 PM Central Time on June 3 and you can learn more/register for that HERE. The presentation is designed to be helpful no matter what camera you use. Quite a few people commented that they’d enjoy other webinars if I can put them together. If you have thoughts on that, including potential subject matter, please add your comments to this post or the previous one. Thanks!

Early this week, I drove up and back to the Niobrara Valley Preserve in an effort to collect data for an important collaborative research project. It was a really long day, made longer by the fact that the weather forecast greatly underestimated how long it was going to rain. I had planned to arrive after the rain had ended, do some vegetation clipping/collecting, and bring those samples home to dry and weigh. When I actually arrived, however, rain was still steadily falling. That was bad news since I needed to wait until the vegetation was dry to do my work.

Making lemonade, as they say, I took the opportunity to go look at my favorite pasqueflower hillside, curious to see if any flowers were still blooming. They weren’t, but the seed heads of pasqueflower are also very attractive, so as the clouds started to finally thin and break a little, I spent a little time photographing pasqueflower seedheads.

As I laid down on the steep rocky slopes to get close to the plants, I noticed two things. First, rocks are sharp. Second, there were a lot of crab spiders hanging out in the seedheads. The second overruled the first and I sacrificed bodily comfort to capture some images of spiders amongst the fuzzy seeds.

Here are some of those photos.

One of the seedheads, sans spider.
Based on the size of some of the green crab spiders I saw, I wonder if they spent the winter as adults.
There were also a lot of these smaller, more tan-colored crab spiders hanging about. This one is displaying the ambush posture typical of crab spiders, which have extra long front legs to grab prey that gets to close. Maybe they should be called ‘grab spiders’…
I didn’t see any pollinators or other insects visiting the seed heads (there being no pollen or nectar available) so I wonder if the spiders ever got anything to eat.
This one didn’t have a spider on it, but was starting to lose its seeds. Very pretty. You can also see that the sun had started to peek through the clouds here, so this was one of the last photos I took before heading back toward my research plots.

Eventually, the sun came out, the grass dried out, and I was able to do my work and start the long trip back home. It was a much longer day than I’d anticipated, but the unexpected delay turned out ok after all.