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Ruins on the Prairie (Part III)

We went down a small incline passed through trees on either side of us; there was a patch of short scrubby trees. I looked back again and could make out the stone wall through the trees. Hank meandered about always looking for a stick to play with. There was a clump of pine trees on our left, we were facing east. The prairie opened up before us. There was a fire break mowed around it. Then a sea of little bluestem, stretching to the road on the north, the former farm site to the west, far to the south a row of trees and Goose Lake beyond. The trees continued in almost an oval shape around to the east as did the water. We waded through the little bluestem, the loose sand beneath made the walking difficult as my feet slipped and slid. We continued eastward. It didn’t feel quite so cold with the wind at our backs and the strenuous trek through the little bluestem. Soon we were on the edge of the trees.

Larry plunged ahead into the wooded area. I paused to take in the beauty of the peeling bark of a river birch tree, before following into the trees. A big tree, I wasn’t sure what kind it was, caught my attention. It had a big base which split into three main trunks only a couple feet off the ground. A very large bole stuck out like a wart just below the branching trunks. It was the bole that first caught my attention but it was overall a magnificent tree. We continued walking through the trees until we came to the edge of the water – it was so big, vast. The sun gleamed on the water. It was so stunning. We were no longer under the trees but there were trees to the very edge of the water on either side of us, they were mostly small and some leaned out over the water. There was still ice along the edge, anywhere from five to perhaps twenty feet out. With the trees between us and the wind it didn’t feel cold at all. The distant bluffs, cradling the water looked quite blue.

We turned to our left and continued walking, no longer right along the water’s edge. We came to another big tree with a large bole at the base. Larry admired it too, “That’s a really big river birch tree.”

I enjoyed walking through the trees. I noticed a spot where there was some ice, had the water come up this far? I saw another fascinating river birch; it had three trunks, separating almost as soon as it came out of the ground. It almost looked like three giant fingers popping out of the ground. I admired yet another river birch, its many trunks quite serpentine. We had come close to the corner of the lake, where the west and north banks met. Larry paused behind a tree and indicated the birds in the water; we weren’t very close to the water’s edge though Hank was.

Larry said, “You can sneak in closer but keep the big trees between you and them. They’re watching Hank.”

So I crept forward as quietly and cautiously as I could which was difficult given the dry underbrush. I darted between the big trees, ducking under branches, then stationed myself near a big one, crawling practically on hands and knees to get underneath it and to stay low. There was a whole bunch of birds on a little jut of vegetation, mostly mallards, and a single gull, large and white. A few of them spooked and flew away. I’m not sure if it was because of me or Hank. Further out in the water were more mallards, ring necks, a canvas back, and some too far out for me to identify them. They bobbed on the water. The water slapping against the ice made an interesting sound. Hank was wandering on the ice and broke through a little bit which he seemed to enjoy. After a few moments I went back to rejoin Larry; he had moved a little closer too. He said, “The red headed one is a canvasback.”

“Yeah, I was wondering if that was a canvasback.”

We walked out from underneath the trees and stepped on to the prairie. I stumbled as we plodded across the sand prairie, my feet slipped and slid in the sand. We were heading northwest, the wind was brutal, slapping us in the face. I was breathing heavily from the effort of hiking through the little bluestem and into the wind. I fell behind Larry several times and had to almost run to catch up to him. Far to our left, I could see the abandoned farmstead. The rock wall of the former barn almost looked to be standing on a knoll. We skirted the farmstead far to the north, returning to the truck by a different, more direct route. After ten minutes of trekking through the prairie we came to a stand of red pine trees – the same stand we observed when we started out, the truck was just on the other side. Larry sat down on the edge of the trees. I sat down too. Hank tried to get me to throw a stick for him but I shooed him away.

When we sat down Larry said, “That’s better.” Then he said, “I can understand why the first thing people did when they arrived on the prairie was to plant trees. They make a huge difference.”

With the trees blocking the wind and the sun beating down on us it did feel considerably warmer. We didn’t remain sitting for very long before we started walking again. Larry led us into the grove of red pines. The sunlight filtering through them and casting shadows across the trunks was quite lovely. It felt very peaceful tucked beneath the red pine boughs. Once we stepped out from their ranks we were immediately blasted by the icy cold wind again, chilling me all over again. We walked up the grassy driveway to the truck. It felt good to climb inside the cab and feel the heat. We left around 9:00 am and returned to Larry’s.

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