Photo of the Week – February 22, 2019

Earlier this week, instead of writing a pithy blog post (obviously), I made a couple short trips outside with my camera. The sun defied the forecast and provided some nice light and I decided I’d better take advantage of that. These are the kinds of decisions I have to wrestle with on a day to day basis. Do I write a blog post? Enter data? Or go wander around a prairie in the snow? It really is a tough job.

Anyway, here are some photos from the week.

Grass with frost and snow
Heath aster
Maximilian sunflower through a tiny window in the snow.
Sunflower head
Heath aster through a window in the snow.
Canada wild rye

The topic of the day

Regular readers of this blog know that I usually publish posts twice a week.  One of those posts is the Photo of the Week, which typically comes out on Thursday or Friday.  The other post is much more variable in topic and format and usually comes out during the first half of the week – often Monday or Tuesday.  Some might assume that when that first post of the week doesn’t emerge until Wednesday it is because I’m having a hard time coming up with something to write about.  That, of course, is ridiculous.  I absolutely keep a long and scrupulously organized list of future topics to prevent that problem from occurring.  It would be terrible to wake up in a panic on a Wednesday morning realizing that I haven’t yet written anything and that I don’t have a clue what to write about.

Today, for example, I’m going to share my thoughts on a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time.  It’s something I feel very strongly about, and by the end of this post, I think both you and I may be surprised by its relevance to prairie ecology and/or management.  The opportunity to write about topics like this one is something I’m very grateful for, and I definitely don’t take my responsibilities for granted.

Let me start by sharing a little about what’s been happening around here this week.  After a fairly dry winter, we have finally been getting enough snow to shovel.  In fact, it has already snowed twice this week, and we have a fairly significant snow storm predicted for this coming weekend as well.  Snow, of course, is how we get most of our moisture during the winter.  Perhaps more importantly, snow is what breaks up the monotony of brown grass that otherwise dominates dormant-season prairies.  As a photographer, I appreciate snow, frost, and ice because they make it a lot more fun to hike around with my camera.

I took this picture after one of the snows this week.

So, that’s an update on the weather.  Talking about the weather, as I’m sure you know, is the time-honored way to start a conversation with someone when you don’t really know what else to say to them.  I’m not saying that’s what I’m doing here, of course, just that it’s a thing that happens.  All of us are affected by weather, so we all have opinions – either about recent weather events or future ones.  “How much rain did you get?” must be among the most common phrases heard around rural Nebraska during the summer.  My dad regularly sends me emails to share rain or snowfall amounts.  In fact, that’s often the sole content of his emails.  It’s nice to stay in touch.

Here in Nebraska, the other topic of near-universal interest is college football.  During the fall, especially, there is always a game that has recently been played and another game coming up.  The phrase, “How about them Huskers?” will almost always generate a nice vigorous discussion.  I’m not a rabid fan of Nebraska football, but I follow the team closely enough that I can hold up my end of conversations about quarterback play, coaching decisions, or conference standings.  Talking football has helped me start hundreds of conversations with neighbors, landowners, and others around the state.  Since talking to the public is an important part of my job, I should probably be getting paid to watch football!  I’m just going to make a note of that, so I remember to mention it to my boss when I next see him…

Speaking of my job, both weather and football are far easier ice breaker topics than the third option: the dreaded question, “So, what do you do?”  You’d think that after almost 22 years, I’d have figured out how to briefly describe my job to someone outside my field of work.  No such luck.  If you give me 15 minutes and the chance to use photographs as visual aids, I can usually get just about anyone interested in prairies and explain why my job is relevant to society.  If I can get them to accompany me to an actual prairie, I can do it in less than 5 minutes.  But trying to explain why prairies matter and why it’s important to study them and sustain their plant and animal diversity is a tough task when the other person is expecting a three or four word description of my job.  You know, something like, “I’m a dentist”  – or accountant, lawyer or teacher. 

I’m hoping today’s post will help ensure that this and all other prairies are better appreciated and protected.

Anyway, by now, I’m sure you can see why it has taken me much of the week to organize my thoughts around today’s important topic.  I very easily could have had this blog post done and ready to go by Monday afternoon, but I wanted to be sure I handled this in a way that matches its significance.  I hope you appreciate that. 

One of the most satisfying aspects of writing a blog is knowing that every post will live (potentially) forever on the internet.  That means that anyone searching for information about might stumble upon a blog post I’ve written about the topic they’re interested in.  Today’s post is no exception.  It makes me feel good that people all over the world could just type the appropriate key terms into their search engine and this post might pop up.  I sincerely hope it will be helpful to them, and more importantly, contribute meaningfully to conservation.  And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cross this topic off that list I mentioned earlier.