A couple weeks ago, I was out in the Nebraska panhandle for a few days with work colleagues. After our job duties were completed, I had the opportunity to wander around on my own at two different sites – The Nature Conservancy’s Cherry Ranch and Fort Robinson State Park. Here are some of the photos I took from those two gorgeous, expansive landscapes. I’ll start, predictably, with a mayfly.
As per usual, my stay in the Nebraska panhandle felt much too short, but I needed to get home. If you’ve never visited that part of the world, I hope you’ll find a way to remedy that. It’s a great place to go during the ‘official’ tourism season between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but if you’re like me and abhor crowds of people, it’s an even better place to go before and after that season!
Plus, if you go early in the year, you can enjoy huge patches of mountain lilies in the prairie, discover gumbo-lilies on high ridge tops, and use prairie buckbean as the foreground for your landscape photography. Just be wary of those Anicia checkerspot butterflies.
I wrote a blog post yesterday, but even as I was writing it, I didn’t like it. For some reason, I kept going anyway, and finished it. This morning, I re-read it and still didn’t like it, so I’m scrapping the whole thing. I’m sorry you’ll never get to read it, though not sorry enough to let you actually read it. I’ve deleted all the text, but kept the photos so you can look at those, I guess.
In my failed attempt at writing, I was trying to talk about a few different things. One was the joy of watching the same site over enough years that you start to recognize both long-term and short-term changes. I’d used the example of the Niobrara Valley Preserve, which I’ve been visiting for close to 30 years now. This year, there seems to be an unusually high number of penstemon plants blooming across the site, so I was trying to describe how cool it was to both see them and to recognize that the profusion was unusual.
That part of the post wasn’t awful. I would have felt ok about sharing that part with you, I think. But then I started wandering down a path the wasn’t really very coherent. I had some good ideas, but couldn’t seem to put them together in a compelling way.
I talked about why beardtongues (the common name for some penstemon species) got their name. One of its five stamens (male flower parts) is sterile and lies at the bottom of the flower’s opening like a large fuzzy tongue. As far as I understand, that sterile stamen (known as a ‘staminode’) serves no reproductive purpose other than to give us a reason for a fun plant nickname. I guess that part of yesterday’s writing was ok.
Also, I was trying to describe the color variation I see in narrowleaf beardtongue flowers, which can be anywhere from lavender to sky blue – often with a combination of both colors present. That variation makes the plants even more interesting, I think, but I couldn’t apparently come up with a very good way of writing about that.
I also speculated about whether or not the color variation had anything to do with topography or soil type. In the end, I decided that since plants representing multiple colors were often growing next to each other, it seemed unlikely that those factors were important. I could have just saved time and not speculated in the first place.
After that, I think I blathered on for a while about how much fun it was to photograph the penstemon plants across the prairie. I don’t remember exactly what I said because I’ve deleted it, but it must not have been all that enthralling if I trashed it, right? Either way, I did come back with a ton of penstemon photos, some of which I’m sharing here.
Where I really went off the tracks, I think, was when I started trying to tie a conversation we had during a recent staff call to the the penstemon bloom-boom. “Bloom-boom” is a term I just invented, by the way. You can tell I’m in a better writing space today because I’m coming up with words like that. When I tried to write a blog post yesterday, my brain wasn’t working nearly as well, which is why I’ve deleted everything I wrote then.
You’re welcome to borrow ‘bloom-boom’ if you like. Giving me credit would be nice, but it’s not necessary. You’re welcome.
Let’s see. Oh, right. I was mentioning that in my deleted post from yesterday, I’d tried to link the penstemon bloom-boom to a conversation we had about the value of expressing joy and gratitude for unexplained phenomena versus working to explain them.
You know, the more I use the term ‘bloom-boom’, the less I like it. Maybe you shouldn’t use it out in public. Or if you do, maybe don’t link it to me. We’ll see. If it gets popular, I’ll try to claim credit for it.
Anyway, I had some good ideas in yesterday’s post, but I got pretty sappy as I tried to describe them and that never works well for me. I’m usually at my best when I’m irreverent, or at least goofy. Trying to be sincere and earnest often turns out to be boring writing. That’s why you’ll never get to see what I wrote yesterday.
Basically, I was saying that trying to understand why things happen in prairies is important because it helps us adapt our prairie management. At the same time, I tried to argue that sometimes it’s enough (and maybe crucial) to just let ourselves celebrate what happens without trying to explain it. You can see how that slid quickly into gross territory, can’t you? Blech.
I ended yesterday’s disastrous post by talking about the importance of storytelling as a way to connect people to nature. That seemed pretty forced when I re-read the post. I mean, it’s a topic that really is important, but I think I shoehorned it into yesterday’s writing in an awkward way.
(A shoehorn, for you young people, is a small metal tool people used to own but never seemed to use to slide their feet in and out of shoes. There was always one floating around our house when I was growing up, but I don’t remember anyone actually using it for anything shoe-related.)
Anyway, there are a lot of penstemon plants blooming at the Niobrara Valley Preserve this year. The two beardtongues in flower now are pretty great, and it looks like shell-leaf penstemon, which will open soon, is having a good year, too. I took a lot of photos of the flowers, including some of the insects crawling around on them. Then I tried to write something dumb and schmaltzy about all of that and failed.
I apologize that you don’t get to read a blog post about penstemon this week. I guess you can just look at these photos and enjoy them. I’ll try to be better in the future.
Have a great holiday weekend if you’re in the U.S. If you’re not in the U.S., do the best you can with what you have, I guess?