“I love it when a plan comes together.” Col. John “Hannibal” Smith.
Last summer, my wife and I were exploring at the Niobrara Valley Preserve and found what we thought were pasque flower plants, though they were well past blooming. There were hundreds of plants on north-facing slopes in the mixed-grass prairie north of the river. The soils in that mixed-grass prairie are more loamy than the vegetated sand dunes south of the river, and they support a different prairie plant community. We don’t see pasque flower along the Platte River or at my family prairie, so I was really excited to see it. I hadn’t realized it grew at the Niobrara Valley Preserve, so it was a pleasant surprise.
As Kim and I walked around those hills last summer, I promised myself I’d figure out a way to photograph the pasque flowers in bloom during the spring of 2018. As spring finally staggered out of the gate this year, I kept a watchful eye on Facebook and Instagram posts and checked in periodically with friends – all in an effort to gauge the best time to head north for pasque flower photography. A couple weeks ago, our Hubbard Fellows made a trip up to the Preserve, and I had them scout the site for me. Olivia sent me a photograph of a blooming pasque flower, but said the majority of plants hadn’t flowered yet. Shortly after that, the area got over a foot of snow, which I figured would slow things down a little. For the next two weeks, I nervously watched the calendar, focusing on this week’s scheduled staff meeting at the Preserve, and hoping the timing would work out for pasque flowers too. I was sorely afraid I’d arrive only to find that I’d missed the peak bloom by just a few days.
Finally, this Monday, we drove up to the Niobrara Valley Preserve, arriving about 45 minutes before our noon meeting was scheduled to start. I immediately hopped on my ATV and rode out to the hills north of the river to find the pasque flowers. The sky was cloudy, but the clouds were thin enough to create beautiful diffused light, and winds were light. I tried not to get my hopes up as I climbed the last hill to one of the spots Kim and I had found the flowers last summer. As I crested the hill I grinned from ear to ear.
I spent the next 30 minutes frantically scampering about, trying to photograph as many flowers as I could before I absolutely had to head back for the meeting. Later, during a break before supper, I talked a few colleagues into coming out again with me, and I managed another hour or so of photography. I could have stayed for days. Everything had worked out just as I’d hoped. I was right on time for peak bloom, and the light and wind cooperated as well. Life was just perfect. I loved the world and the world loved me.
The very next day, I broke my ankle. No kidding.
My photography outings might be a little limited for the next few weeks, but I’ll have a whole raft of pasque flower photos to stare at in the meantime: