Yesterday I drove south from the Twin Cities with a photographer friend in search of pasque flowers.  The weather was unusually warm, the sunshine was bright, and it was good to catch up with my friend.  We arrived at this gravel prairie area and were at first disappointed thinking the flowers were not in bloom yet.  But as we looked more closely we could see peeks of flowers amidst the dry prairie grasses.  The pasque flowers are only three to four inches tall, so they can easily hide.  They start out as little fuzz balls (of which we saw many) and gradually open their petals to the warmth of the sun.  Although there will be a larger and showier display with more flowers blooming in the days ahead, it was a delightful evening and a reminder of all the good things that come with spring.

Winter sunset on the prairie_StaatsWe headed out late one afternoon for some snowshoeing.  The Twin Cities are filled with wonderful parks that allow you to get “away” from the city, even though it’s all around.  I had been to this park before on my bicycle and knew that it had a paved walking trail through it.  I was surprised that the trail had actually been plowed, so we carried our snowshoes for awhile.  In the center of the park is a wonderful prairie area, with a grove of trees sitting up on a hill.  It was the perfect place to don our snowshoes and head off into the knee-deep snow.  There was a wonderful quiet to the afternoon – a stillness that occurs when the snow absorbs all the sounds around it.  We were out as the sun travelled low in the horizon, lighting the clouds in the western sky.  What a treasure it is to have the beauty (and quiet) of nature so near to enjoy.

Last weekend I reached a goal I set for myself earlier this year – I completed 1,500 miles on my bike for the year.  From back in mid-March when the temperatures were cool and our legs weren’t ready, we’ve biked and journeyed through Minnesota and even across the state of Kansas.  We’ve seen prairies and wheat fields, lakes and flatlands, rain and wind, hills down and up.  Sadly some of my final miles this year have been ridden alone as my riding partner hasn’t been able to be on the bike.  But he was helping me along in all the important ways with his encouragement and support.  So last Sunday with a SSE wind of 14 mph+, I headed northeast on the Gateway Trail, then meandered on county roads with that tailwind behind me.  The final miles were north on the Sunrise Prairie Trail.  My wingman met me in the town of Stacy where I watched my bike odometer turn to 5,000 miles (yea!) and the culmination of 1,500 riding miles for this year.  My bicycle has brought me in contact with great people, amazing scenery, the best and worst of weather, a sense of accomplishment, and the most wonderful feeling of adventure as I cruise along on trails and roads.  The kid in me enjoys the freedom of riding and the adult in me appreciates the bounty of sights, sounds, and memories.  So this winter as the snow is piling up we’ll be planning our biking adventures and goals for next year.

With delightful autumn weather forecast for the day, we headed out before sunrise this morning to Wild River State Park.  This Minnesota park is north of the Twin Cities and is located on the St. Croix River. Although there was the promise of afternoon temps in the upper 70’s, the morning had a cool feel to it.  We drove down to the canoe landing on the river and could see the fingers of fog stretching into the air and creating a veil over the fall colors on the Wisconsin shoreline.  As we turned the opposite direction facing away from the river, we were greeted by the full moon as it was making its way behind the hillside.  The prairie stretched out before us filled with golden grasses;  the birdhouses were empty at this early time of the morning.  The hillside was brilliant with the colors of fall – golds, oranges, reds – all in a hush before the sunlight brought them out into a blaze of bright color.  Silently we watched the moon descend behind the hill and turned our attentions back to the river, accompanied by the geese and the ducks that were flying by.

This past January, in the middle of freezing temperatures and feet of snow, we were planning a spring trip to a Minnesota state park.  We decided that mid-April would be a perfect time to go to the prairie lands of western Minnesota and enjoy a warm sunny weekend with the opportunity to photograph early wildflowers.  Of course, this past winter has been harder and longer than usual, and the snow has only recently melted.  So it wasn’t altogether a major surprise when we drove to Lac qui Parle State Park on Friday night and arrived in the middle of a snow squall.  The snow continued throughout the night and into the morning, with the winds howling around our little camper cabin.  As “frightful” as it was outside, we were warm and snug on the bluff overlooking Lac qui Parle Lake, which is a broadening of the Minnesota River.  The winds continued throughout the day Saturday, blowing the clouds across the prairie sky.  Eventually the front passed us by early Sunday morning and we awoke to blue skies and warmer temperatures.  Lac qui Parle was named by French explorers who lived with the Dakota Indians and means the “lake that speaks.”  This weekend the area was “speaking” with a plethora of pelicans, geese, ducks, and cormorants.  We were even treated to the sighting of a coyote and the olfactory “sighting” of a skunk.  With the recent spring snowmelt the lake has flooded the lowlands and even closed some of the roads in the area.  However, we were still able to explore this part of the state that borders South Dakota, meet some fascinating people who shared their knowledge and history of the prairie and the area, and brush up on the history of the fur-traders and missionaries that settled here with the Dakotas in the early 1800’s.  We will certainly return to this wonderful state park and prairie land again, perhaps in the fall when over 150,000 Canada geese migrate through the area.  Although our original plans and expectations did not come to fruition, we had a truly wonderful and enjoyable weekend.

This past Friday night was the opening reception for the 4th annual Horizontal Grandeur fine art exhibition at the Stevens County Historical Museum in Morris, Minnesota.  The exhibit brought together artists from across the country, all living in states with prairies.  Inspired by Bill Holm’s essay, “Horizontal Grandeur,” there were inspiring and wonderful interpretations of  the prairie theme.  I was honored to have two of my photographs juried into this show.  This image, “Dawn’s first light on the prairie” was photographed while I was an artist-in-residence at  the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.  My second photograph in the exhibit is the image from my April 11, 2010 blog entry “Pasque flower welcome to spring.”  For a complete viewing of the pieces in the exhibit, please visit the website for the Stevens County Historical Museum at www.stevenshistorymuseum.com.

Here in the Twin Cities I’m a member of the Minneapolis Photographic Society — a group of wonderfully talented photographers with diverse interests.  Each year there is one image that is selected as Color Print of the Year and one that is selected as Monochrome Print of the Year.  This year I was awarded the Color Print of the Year for my image “Through the red barn window.”    To see more of the award-winning images from the group, please visit the website:  http://www.mplsphoto.com/mps/site/a28yearend.php

And lastly, I am excited to have a photograph published in the July/August issue of  “The Iowan Magazine.”  This image “Swept into the center” is the opening spread of the portfolio section titled “red.white.blue.”

It’s been a busy and exciting few months, and I feel honored with these exhibits, awards, and publications.

One of the first prairie flowers to bloom in the spring are the pasque flowers.  They thrive in gravel prairies and are found in various areas throughout Minnesota.  Yesterday I ventured south of the Twin Cities to a Minnesota Scientific and Natural Area.  When I first arrived, the morning was cool and overcast, but I was thrilled to have found a wonderful slope dotted with these small pasque flowers.  Standing only 4 to 5 inches tall, they are easily overlooked from a distance.  As I walked along I found more and more of these little gems pushing their blooms up from under the brown grasses.  I spent over an hour photographing, all the while accompanied by the sounds of Canada geese and mourning doves.   As I stopped to take in the beauty of the landscape around me the skies slowly cleared and I was treated to a warm sun and beautiful pasque flowers against a blue sky — a delightful and wonderful welcome to spring.