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April 27th, 2003

planting lupine

Here in Texas, the state flower is the bluebonnet. The bluebonnet is a variety of , lupine flower, which grows in great fields, all over the eastern half of the state. During this impressive Spring, fields of bluebonnets are at the height of their bloom everywhere. We "do flowers right" here in Texas, and we all enjoy the ones we see.

In the Great Lakes region, a different lupine flower grows.
On those lupies, a special butterfly dwells. It's the karner blue butterfly, an endangered species. Its caterpillars thrive on only a few things, principal among which is the lupine flower.

So many times in the farmland counties, native prairie or meadow is converted to invasive grasses or farmland. The restulting habitat destruction affects birds and butterflies which depend on the native plants to make their way in life.

Some birds, like the dickcissel, only thrive in tall grass prairie, among the wild flowers like lupine and the wild, native grasses. A few stretches of the original prairie remain, usually places in which a farmer did not till a field in order to reap hay from the tallgrass.

Prairie does not capture the imagination in the way that mountains and virgin forests and geysers do. I'm not sure that people realize that rural land is not always natural land. As farm efficiency increases, more land could be returned to native grassland prairie. Ultimately, the prairie could again be the wild paradise that it was when the people first arrived.

My part of north Texas can be termed "prairie transition", because prairie is admixed with little forests of scraggly woods. A little over an hour away, the Park Hill Prairie offers true unspoiled tallgrass prairie. There's not many things there, but flowers, herons, meadowlarks, dickcissels, the two best sunfish ponds I've ever fished, non-poisonous snakes and tall, lovely prairie grasses. Once a prairie habitat is converted to farmland, it's very hard to "convert it back". But the prairie birds don't really like the farmlands nearly as much as the original prairie, and the karner blue butterfly can't eat the plants that grow there.

Butterflies are so important to me, whether they are rare or commonplace. City and suburban dwellers can create habitat for them, merely by planting the things in front yards or in pots on apartment balconies that butterflies drink and caterpillars eat. Although the "butterfly bush" is the most famous such thing, one can find worlds of other plant ideas at the butterfly gardeners quarterly. Usually, it does not take any genius--most flowers can help do the trick, and in particular, native flowers can help native species thrive.

So many things in environmental life are beyond one's control, but butterfly habitat? That's a small way to make a big difference.

A small way to share Spring

Today my wife and I drove up US 75 to the Goode Unit of the Hagerman National Wildlife Preserve. The preserve is a few miles south of the Oklahoma border, in Grayson County's charming rolling hills. On the way, we stopped to see my wife's former co-worker D. and his wife C. They have ancestral family land up in that neck of the woods, from which D. commuted all the way down to the DFW metroplex. They showed us their 9th grade daughter's two baby chicks, which are going to be part of an egg-laying project, and we discussed the problems she had in raising competitive pigs without using steroids. They were tired, so that they could not join us for the hike. But we headed on to the reserve, where we had the trails to ourselves.

The wildlife preserve is on massive Lake Texoma, which spans two states. They grow grains and millet there for thousands upon thousands of migratory birds--ducks, geese, cormorants, and herons. We hiked on little used trails for an hour and a half, seeing three great blue herons, one white heron fighting nobly to fish in a strong wind, numerous crows, scissortail flycatchers, and worlds of butterflies. I saw sunfish in shallows, and a snapping turtle duck underwater. We saw many wildflowers, and tons of small, leafy trees. I had to pause for a moment, when mating bumblebees appropriated the nearby airspace.

I took pictures of all sorts of things, with a 39 picture throwaway camera. I could post them here, but lately I think about how nice snail mail can be. I like to staple actual snaps to little corruplast postcards or to card stock. None of the snaps are particularly revelatory--they are little little slices of our hike and drive--a snippet of tree here, a dash of water there (I am assuming, of course, that Walgreen's will develop them capably). Rather than post them in my journal, I thought it might be fun to make this into a kind of mail art project; a "reverse call", if you will, in which photos, like mathoms, are mailed by the celebrant. I may have to replenish my corruplast card stock, but I'll figure out a way to make do with something else if I run out of plastic. I may even resort to the old-fashioned envelope.

If you'd like a dash of remote rural north Texas, please give me your address in the following space. I think it's nice sometimes to get mail, even if the mail is but a curious photo on a cheap camera, taken in the wilds of Texas. I know that I have some of your addresses already, but it's a bit more convenient if you write them here, in this space which only I see, so that I can print out the addressees with one magic command.

Poll #128794 I think that the best way to share my day with you is to provide you with a small portion of what I saw.

If you would like me to mail you a card to which I've attached a picture taken at the Hagerman Wildlife Reserve, please set your address here. Feel free to use work addresses or the like, as I'm not concerned with where you live, but instead with showing your eyes what ours have seen.