Wildflowers and lightning bugs

There are times in life when you experience something that is sure to remain with you forever. You think back on it and smile and long for the next time you can make a lasting memory.

Blue Vervain is starting to bloom in the back pasture.

That happened for me last Saturday night when, on a whim, I drove out to the farm after 9 p.m. in hopes of getting just a little glimpse of the northern lights. Newscasters were predicting the aurora borealis would be seen as far south as southern Iowa and, let’s face it, that opportunity rarely comes along.

What made this little excursion fun were the four-year-old and six-year-old nieces who were staying at the farm for the weekend. I quickly talked them into joining me on a “grand adventure.”

(Using the phrase “grand adventure” with the nieces and nephews usually elicits wide eyes, ear-to-ear smiles and giddy excitement.) It’s just the kind of response I like to see in the kids when, honestly, I just want a little company for something I otherwise would probably not do by myself.

Sitting on the four-wheeler well after sunset, parked on a hill in the back pasture overlooking Peterson Slough, is exactly one of those activities that bears having someone else along — if for no other reason than to have three-against-one if Bigfoot came roaring toward us.

An unidentified prairie plant. If you know what it is, please post a comment!

(Oh, believe me, there was no mention of Bigfoot on this grand adventure — the nieces are far less accepting of my grand tales than the nephews. Besides, the last thing I wanted to deal with was fraidy cat girls while I looked across the night sky for signs of magnificent color!)

Alayna, at four, had the most questions after I’d parked the ATV and shut off the engine. She was worried about not being able to find her way back to Gramma’s house in the dark.

To get her mind off the darkness, we started walking around in the pasture to look for prairie flowers. There is one in particular that I’ve been watching for the past month, mostly because I haven’t been able to match it to any photos in my prairie flower guide. (I’ve included a picture of it here. If you can identify it, please post a comment.)

Anyway, the girls were quickly picking “flowers” to put in a vase for Gramma, while I enjoyed the sheer beauty of a Saturday night after sunset on the farm. The lightning bugs were both crazy and magnificent — there were hundreds of them flittering about, dancing over the Ocheyedan Creek and glowing just above the prairie grasses. It was one of those evenings when capturing the scene on camera couldn’t possibly have done it justice.

Niece Katie (left) and Alayna show off the prairie flowers they picked for Gramma.

Eventually the mosquitoes found us and chased us back up to the house, but not for long. We climbed into my car and drove back out toward the Back 40.  There, as the girls pushed the seat back as far as they could and looked for stars through the moon-roof, I waited anxiously for the colors to appear in the sky.

Either I didn’t wait long enough, or the northern lights simply couldn’t be seen from Worthington. I wasn’t disappointed though. Our grand adventure surrounded us with nature, beauty, excitement and even a little education, and I know the girls had just as much fun as I did.

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