When I go out hiking, I never know for sure what the highlight is going to be or what is going to show up. Will I see some interesting turtles? Will there be a vast array of flowers? This week the insects reign.
One of them I saw was a cicada (family Cicadidae) of some sort. As I have zero experience in cicada ID, I’m not going to offer any sort of positive identification, but it was a black and green insect with a white belly. It might be a member of the genus Neotibicen. Members of that genus are annual cicadas, meaning that adults are present every year. This is in contrast to periodical cicadas, which only show up as adults every thirteen or seventeen years depending on the species. Annual cicadas still have multi-year life cycles, but the life cycles of individuals aren’t synced so some will show up as adults when others are still at an earlier stage.
Cicadas are an essential part of my summer. I love the buzzing song that rarely seems to stop. It’s as if the warmest part of the year comes with its own hum. It is a sound that reminds me of picking berries by the alfalfa field when I was a kid. It also reminds me of when I worked at a Christmas tree farm and I’d go to cut a branch and an angry cicada would come flying out at me, buzzing its loudest. This never caused me any harm but it always startled me. Mostly cicadas are creatures that would make summer silent if they disappeared. Their absence would be more startling than their presence.
Now onto things I can identify! I’ve been seeing quite a few butterfly species around town. I’m still deciding on a favorite species, but I know I like swallowtails. I was in luck in Saturday because the black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes) were plentiful. I saw a few I presume were mating, and I captured a few pictures of one getting the most nectar it could from a thistle flower.
Everybody’s favorite butterfly is the monarch (Danaus plexippus), isn’t it? The few up on top of Frederick’s Hill in Middleton were very photogenic, perching on yellow flowers in the patchy shadows of oaks.
Summer won’t last forever. In a matter of months, insects will be just a memory. In the case of mosquitoes that’s a good thing, but I will miss butterflies for their dazzling appearance and cicadas for the daily company they provide with their songs.
Friday evening found me at the springs. I felt they would be a good end to a long prairie walk. When I got to them there were four people down by the water already. A woman and her two young children were there, along with an unrelated woman who was admiring the water. Soon after I arrived the lone woman left and the other woman and her two kids remained. The kids were dipping their hands in the water and splashing around. It is not how I typically enjoy the springs but it was fun to sit on the deck above and listening to the sounds of them playing. Before they left the kids put sticks in the water and told them to float to the ocean. The sticks may not ever reach the ocean, but the water eventually will. What the kids said made me contemplate the long journey the water would take. The water would flow first to Lake Mendota then on to the Yahara river, then the Mississippi, finally moving on to the Gulf of Mexico. I thought about the incredible journey water makes while the mother rounded up her children and led them up the path and back to their home.
I made my way down to the lower platform. It is a place I like to go, especially by myself. While I enjoy the company of others, there are some places where being alone is important. As I usually do, I stuck my forehead into the cold water, but before I did so I took a few seconds to take in the vision of the water bubbling up from the earth. The water was cold to the touch and I only kept the top of my head in there for a while. I looked upside down at the creek below my body, below the platform. I lifted my head up but remained down on my knees. The springs have a hypnotic quality and I did not want to leave yet. I do not know how long I knelt down but it was long enough to observe the complexity of the little space in front of me. The bubbling springs themselves are not uniform. They come in different sizes and different flow rates. Some of them bubble a mile a minute but others bubble almost imperceptibly. There was one in particular that did not seem to be bubbling at first but if I stared at it for a few seconds I realized it was, in the same way you notice the minute hand on a clock moving if you take the time to slow down. There were small animals too, the first ones I noticed being small prawn-like invertebrates. They swam around lazily and it seemed that many of them were trying to get as close to the springs as possible. This was a challenge as their small bodies were easily pushed away by the speeding water. The second animals, even smaller, were tiny insects that could have fit on my pinky nail. They had a modified appendage on each side of their body that looked and functioned like a boat oar. Both species seemed to depend on the springs, though whether it was for the water temperature or microorganism meals I do not know. The area around the springs is likely their whole world.
Upon realizing this I wanted to study their world more. I began to notice not only the springs, but the sand around them. It reminded me of desert dunes. The formation of springs in an area determined what shape the sand took. In one striking instance, four equidistant springs pushed the sand into a low pyramid. All around the prawn-like things and the insects, the springs were morphing the sand into unique shapes. This was a small world from my perspective, but it was a fascinating one. Eventually my knees got sore and I bid the springs farewell and headed over to another small corner of my world.