three months ago, I had a visual field exam that tested my peripheral
vision. I scored 100 percent. I attribute my good peripheral vision
to roadside deer. They keep my eyes sharp trying to spot them before
they leap onto the highway in front of my car.
my return trip from Turtle River State Park on Thursday, I perked
up when I spotted tawny brown movement in the grass between the
field and highway. A doe was jumping through the tall grass at a
fast clip, coming toward the road. I know that when they're moving
that fast, they usually don't stop until they're across the road.
But for some reason, when this doe reached the leggy rushes and
cattails, she stopped, turned and bounded back into the open field.
doe may have been the same one that left tracks in the prairie I
had visited earlier that day. I went with students from the Dakota
Science Center to the prairie west of Grand Forks. The program is
for students from rural and reservation areas, and they are at UND
for a summer science program. They set up a home base in the beautiful
new Turtle River community building for a day of prairie exploration.
group walked the deep, grassy prairie with Richard Crawford, UND
biology professor; his wife, Glinda, environmentalist; and Francis
Country, Dakota spiritual leader. They were there to identify and
teach about prairie grasses and plants -Crawford, the botanical
names and uses; Country, the spiritual and medicinal sides.
we started, we followed deer tracks that disappeared into the matted
prairie. And only minutes into the prairie, the mosquitoes found
us. The little pests seemed to rise up from the prairie grasses
like fog on a late summer evening. Their arrival was followed by
slapping and spraying.
for us, a wind came up and the mosquitoes headed for cover, leaving
us to a more pleasant outing.
you look across open grasslands such as the ones we walked, it looks
as if the grass and vegetation might be shin deep. When you actually
get into the prairie, it's deeper - some grass reaches above the
knee. It is matted and uneven and there are holes from prairie critters.
In certain areas, the ground is soft, rubbery and watery.
to the road, we found a small patch of prairie smoke. It either
was just blossoming or near the end of its cycle, because when it
is full - as I have seen it at other prairies - it looks like a
prairie fire smoldering with a soft smoke rising.
the prairie smoke is an exceptional plant, it surely is overshadowed
by the yellow lady slipper. These flowers are a rich yellow with
a drooping head. They have a tiny opening in the flower head that
makes it look like a shoe or slipper. Insects entering that opening
usually don't get out.
students tried the slippers on by poking their little fingers into
the opening. They were hesitant at first; I think they thought the
flower might grab them and suck them into that tiny hole. They must
have watched "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings"
too many times.
caught the pungent fragrance of sweetgrass, but couldn't find the
plant. Students found the plant with the help of Wayne Fox - counselor
Fox, who is a teacher and is aware of the traditional uses of sweet
reached a ridge - one of the shorelines of Lake Agassiz, the lake
that once covered most of the Red River Valley. It is hard to imagine
that this whole area once was a lake and that I was standing on
one of the shorelines.
top of the ridge was dotted with white-leafed Canadian anemone.
They're a simple but pretty flower. They always remind me of a flower
my grandmother called buttercup.
sky was full of thunderheads that didn't form anything solid, and
we only got a sprinkle.
ended the day with drum songs from Country and a meal of fried bread,
stew and home-baked pies, served in the Turtle River community center.
of the goals of the Dakota Science Center is to whet the interest
of students in the areas of science. When it comes time for these
young people to make decisions about careers, I hope these trips
into the prairie will help produce scientists who study prairies,
prairie critters, mosquitoes and other fields. Hopefully, these
students can help make our world a better one.
Bird writes columns Tuesdays and Saturdays. Reach her by phone at
780-1228 or (800) 477-6572, extension 228, or by e-mail at email@example.com.