Leaving the Prairie Learning Center made me realize something. Even though I grew up in Iowa, I was almost completely ignorant about it, and I had forgotten most of what I did know. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply several times, the heat of the summer morning making every scent more colorful and intense. The smells were unique and they were the kind that hit you in the stomach if you haven't smelled them in years. They were smells from my boyhood, and I've never encountered them anywhere else.
|Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and the Iowa Prairie Learning Center|
I don't know if the Prairie Learning Center was around when I was a child, but even if it was, I doubt I would have been interested. What kid wants to know about fields of weeds?
Sitting through a 15 minute video at the center left me feeling I hadn't known anything at all about where I come from. We have family to ground us, but it is also the very ground that shapes us, at least in Iowa it does. Almost the entire state was once this beautiful and sometimes cruel prairie, formed millions of years ago, with countless thousands of years of annual life and death of native plants and animals making the deep black Iowa dirt.
Iowa Prairie Wildflowers
There are buffalo at the Neal Smith national Wildlife Refuge, but you will have to walk a bit to see them. It was a hot morning and we chose not to, but if you open your eyes here you can see the hawks and sparrows and swallows flying above you, and animals like foxes, large rabbits, snakes and butterflies (and so many more) that call the prairie home.
Once my ignorance was sufficiently checked, I began to see prairie everywhere across the state. Many cities and towns and highways were starting to adopt a "native" approach. Even the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum was going native with a prairie only a hundred yards from the president's grave. Maybe I am romanticizing what I saw. Who knows? I look for colors and qualities of light in the world, and they were intense here. I found it breathtakingly beautiful that morning, and wished I would have seen it more clearly as a boy.