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Eastern Kingbird by Mike Benkis

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Prairie offers priceless views for a buck

My adventure began as I turned left onto 14 Road, five miles north of Blair. Even before I topped the next hill I saw them: a sign that looked like a historical marker and a steel ladder straddling a wire fence. I parked along 14 Road, gathered my binoculars, camera and hat, and set off to find the orange Butterfly Milkweed my friend had photographed the week before.  

I remembered sitting at my first Board meeting, when Glenn Pollock, our conservation committee chair, said we had been offered a prairie property which surrounded a small cemetery . The Nebraska Nature Conservancy wanted to hand over 10 acres to Audubon Society of Omaha for $1. We all chuckled at that, buying property for a dollar. We agreed that he should go look at it.  Glenn drove north to check it out and reported that it was very good prairie, a virgin short -grass prairie that had never been put into cropland or even been plowed. Rare plants grew there, even the Lead Plant with 10-foot roots. Glenn had found an ecosystem amongst the tombstones, land that is so very rare. This land was frozen in time, for the deceased, on a hilltop in the 1880s. 

I followed a mowed path around a corner and then on up the hill. At first, there was a lot of sumac, and not many flowers blooming, but then I saw that splash of orange I had been looking for, up a slope about five yards from the trail. I kept on walking and the land cover began to change. First, the purplish blue of the Lead Plant caught my eye. Then, other plants flowered in shades of pink, white, purple and yellow. Most stood a foot-and-a-half tall, with small leaves and stems of varying sizes. Certain places boasted a diversity of plants, with as many as four species filling a single picture frame. Stepping off the path, searching for new and different plants, I snapped several photos, stopping often to take in the sweet smell of the Lead Plant. Butterflies and moths — including my favorite white moth with black markings — flitted and floated across my field of vision. Wasps and bees buzzed near one of the gravesites, adjacent to a patch of poison ivy. I kept hearing a Dickcissel. Finally, I spotted it, perched on the tallest stem in the prairie, eating a caterpillar. When it was time to go, I cut a diagonal path toward where I’d seen the orange Butterfly Milkweed, and as it began to sprinkle … I found it.  

ASO’s Cuming City Prairie Cemetery prairie, which only cost $1, is a priceless resource for generations to come. 

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