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How do I love the prairie? Let me count the ways!

Once again I will be spending a few weeks out at the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s fescue prairie preserves, south of Riding Mountain National Park, studying plant-pollinator interactions. Last week was my first trip of the year. Before I left the city I was feeling apprehensive: were the mosquitoes going to be bad, would I get Lyme disease from a tick bite, eaten by a bear, stuck in the mud? However, all that nervousness melted away as I came to my first plot and remembered what it is I love about doing field work:

5. Doing the tick flick.
There’s nothing more satisfying than capturing a tick, putting it on your knee and flicking it into the stratosphere with your fingers (take that you lousy parasite!)

An image of a hand flicking a tick off her knee.

All the ticks at the Elk Glen preserve would line up on Dr. Robson’s knee for one of her famous airplane rides (thanks for the idea for that caption Gary Larson!).

4. The view.
In Winnipeg my office window faces a parking lot (which I think used to be paradise). Out on the prairie I get to look at leaves trembling in the breeze, colourful wildflowers and funky dragonflies.

An image of a browna nd black dragonfly resting on some grass.

There were tonnes of cool dragonflies to look at this spring.

3. Getting to know the neighbours.
I love the look on animals’ faces when they know they’re being watched. I startled a thirteen-lined ground squirrel, a family of Canada geese, a chipmunk, a skunk, a woodchuck and a black bear this trip. I’m just sorry I didn’t have a telephoto lens on my camera to capture their priceless expressions of shock!

An image of a woodchuck sitting next to a blue car.

The woodchuck that lives under the field house was inspecting my car.

2. That prairie smell of chokecherry flowers, crushed wild bergamot leaves and dried grass.
If only I could bottle it and sell it.

An image of a small chokecherry shrub.

Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) flowers smell amazing!

1. The lack of noise, noise, noise, noise!
When you live in the city you get used to the noise, although it still irritates you on some level. What I hate most about the city are gas powered lawn mowers. Constantly. And always just as you sit down on your deck to read a book. When I go to the preserve the almost complete absence of human-caused noise makes me feel like I don’t want to throttle someone anymore.

An image of a fescue prairie grassland with a Trembling aspen and white spruce forest behind it.

The sound of trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) leaves in the breeze is sublime.

Somewhat regretfully I am back in noisy Winnipeg, staring at that parking lot again. And ironically this morning my neighbour fired up his gas mower just as I sat on my deck to have my coffee. But in just a few more weeks I’ll be listening to those lovely mourning doves again and smelling the roses, quite literally as they should be in bloom by the time I get there. Till then, that thought will have to sustain me.

 

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Dr. Diana Robson

Curator of Botany

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Dr. Robson obtained a Master’s Degree in Plant Ecology and a Ph.D. in Soil Science at the University of Saskatchewan. She has been working at the Manitoba Museum since 2003, conducting research mainly on rare plant and pollination ecology.