April 11, 2020
From a distance Grey Cloud Dunes Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) rises high above the Mississippi River flowing below. Up close, these sand dunes that are products of glaciers forming and thawing are home to prairie grasses, flowers, and several rare species that we have yet to see. On a 60-degree sunny day we head to Grey Cloud Dunes to see how the prairie smoke and violets we saw there last year are coming along. We are careful to stay on the paths so as not to disturb this fragile community.
We find plenty of prairie smoke leaves and lots of pink buds but no blooms yet. In the blowout where last year we saw an explosion of violets we identity the leaves of both bird’s foot violet and also prairie violet, which makes us happy—we are slowly learning how to know plants even when they are not blooming. On a tucked away slope we find an Easter surprise: pasqueflowers blooming!
What surprises us most, though, is the number of people out at an SNA: we see more people today than in all the times we’ve come here before, perhaps in almost all the SNAs we’ve ever visited. We’re deliriously happy ourselves to be outside surrounded by open space, birdsong, bullfrogs calling, woodpeckers hammering, and native plants finding their way into flower.
A quick stop at another site reveals a wealth of snow trilliums where before we found only a few small buds. Hepatica, too, is in bloom, and Dutchman’s breeches are beginning to unlock their buds while the grey green leaves of wild ginger are unfolding from thick roots. Springtime flowers are busy at their brief and beautiful appearance.
The day is too nice to go home yet, so we make one more stop at McKnight Prairie, where pasqueflowers, from bud to full-blown blossom, dot the hills. Here, too, we find prairie smoke in bud along with both kinds of violet leaves and know that when we return in a few weeks, more of the prairie will be awake.
Thursday it snowed, more snow is forecast, but on the Saturday before Easter we are grateful for the gift of open spaces and wild places, especially in these days of corona virus quarantine. We are mindful, too, when we go out to maintain social distancing, take masks to wear if we can’t stay six feet from others, stay on paths, and avoid any places or state parks where keeping our distance from others might mean stepping off a boardwalk or trail onto delicate native plants. (A full parking lot is a good indication to us that the park is at capacity or beyond for maintaining social distance, so we drive on.) We’re grateful for all the people who are being cautious and considerate, and if we see you soaking in the beauty and joy of sunshine and springtime, we’ll wave—from a distance.