This morning, as the sun slowly rose, the engulfing fog began to glow and my eyes opened to a dripping landscape, where coalescing dew slowly formed into earth-bound droplets from every plant leaf and flower around my head. The fog-muffled calls of birds were accompanied by the sound of these drips careening from upper leaves on the grape vines as I watched from my bed on our screen porch. On such mornings, my mind and the land are awash in this fog.
About the time I was preparing to go to bed last night, our dog, Willow, started pacing in circles from room to room. He sensed the low grumble of a distant thunderstorm well before I did and probably couldn’t decide which bed to hide under. Driven by his need to be with his pack-- me in this case-- he followed me out to the screen porch where I would do some reading and then, hopefully, simply fall asleep. I placed his white fabric “fuzzy bed” next to mine and settled in to read about managing our apple orchard. His unsettled behavior amplified as the storm flashed its way closer and finally arrived at Stone Prairie Farm. After a single attempt to push under my blankets, the flashes and cracks of lightning sent him into the house to hide under a real bed. I turned off my reading light and lay back to experience the show.
A wave of wind-- fresh, cold and fragrant-- roughed up the screens. The build up of the storm’s approach was like laying next to a huge breathing beast as the intensity of the wind would rise and fall.. Moments later, a heavy, nearly horizontal rain started and blasted through the screen, dousing my blankets and my face with a startling chill and an exhilarating elixir. While I remained mummy-still beneath the warmth of the sheets and blanket, the intensity of the storm raged on. Falling asleep was not possible.
Moments after the lightning, thunder and rain moved eastward, the sky cleared and stars were brilliantly beaming in the blackness. I settled into the comfort and warmth and started to doze.
I heard the sound of Willow’s claws percussively tapping on the wood floors as he walked back out to be with his pack on the screen porch. But, instead of lying down and falling asleep on his fuzzy bed, he started pacing again. At one point I awoke to a wet dog nose in my face. I extended my hand to give him a comforting pat and felt him quivering. This seemed out of place as "mister storm," as we refer to such weather events in our "dog talk" vernacular, had already passed.
As I turned on the lamp, I had the eerie feeling that I was sharing the porch with some other life forms besides Willow. Shivers started running up and down my back. My adjusting eyes then caught the swooping shadows of something flying around my head. Could these be moths that somehow got through the screen door during the day? Willow continued to quiver.
Through the illuminating beam of the bedside flashlight, I watched several bats flying tight circles in the small room. I jumped up to close the door between the house the porch was open and opened the screen door to let them outside. This didn’t work, and they kept circling within the porch rafters, not low enough to encounter the open door.
I remembered we had several butterfly nets and went into the bedroom to our equipment closet. As I was departing to go back to the porch, Willow arrived and attempted to hide under the bed. In his unsettled condition, he couldn’t coordinate his shaking body to accomplish the task. I patted him and went back to bat duty.
A minute later, with the help of the flashlight, I attempted to capture the bats for their release outside. My first attempts found them amazingly agile and dodgy, difficult to catch. After learning their behavioral pattern-- clockwise flight, just below the rafters-- I had the net waiting. Coming from the opposite direction, with one gentle swing of the net I captured two bats simultaneously, little brown bats to be exact, a common species.
Each clicked a high-frequency staccato, sounds that were off the charts of the normal audible range. And in the few steps to the open door, one let out a piercing harmonic sound, a fast chirp. A few seconds later the open, inverted net lay on the ground outside the porch beyond the closed door, and I watched them crawl from the tangles to take wing, seemingly unharmed and off to feed on the nights insects.
By now I was plenty tired and lay down again under the blanket in the fresh cool air. But the evening entertainment here at Stone Prairie Farm was not over.
Before me was a galaxy of swirling, pulsing, shooting star-like lightning bugs. Perhaps thousands winked, twittered, and pulsed in different patterns over the habitat, restored prairie lands that we have been nurturing for nearly 30 years. This dance I've read to be courtship flights, where males and females of each species emit differing signals to lure mates. Some also lure in possible meals, and some species impersonate a more delectable species and invite them to be their midnight snack.
I couldn't help but watch, awake now to this remarkable display. I could see the spectacle concentrated over our prairie and not over the neighbor’s corn field immediately north of our farm. This was a prairie ecosystem phenomenon.
In my tired stupor, I had to abandon the dazzling performance and lay back down to try to fall asleep. I found myself playing the game, opening my eyes every so often to see if the show was still going on. It was, and probably continued well into the morning hours. Willow emerged from the house onto the porch, laid down on his fuzzy bed and less then a minute was snoring loudly, finally asleep and at peace. I now followed his lead. And the pack slept off and dreamed about the events of the evening.
A foggy morning at Stone Prairie Farm in Juda, Wisconsin.
Spiderwort growing on the prairie.
A bee on an echinacea bloom.