By Eric Wilson-Edge
My niece lets out a burp. She smiles and matter-of-factly states, “that’s a sign the tank is full.” Abigail is six and very aware that what she just said is funny. She burps again. I tell her all the adult things like “gross” and “inappropriate” but I’m her uncle and she knows I don’t care. Besides, it’s hard to look at those little gapped teeth and be serious.
Abigail and I are on an afternoon adventure to Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. The mounds are, well, exactly what you think. They’re little hills, lots of them, covering more than 600 acres of prairie land.
Abigail takes off down the paved trail and immediately scales a mound. She does some kind of dance involving lots of arm flailing. I’m not sure she’s supposed to be up there but I don’t want to quell her enthusiasm. Instead, I point her to the multi-level information center.
Here we learn there is no definitive answer as to why the mounds form. Theories range widely from Native American burial grounds to glaciers to pocket gophers. Abigail nods likes she knows this already and bounds the stairs.
Up top we can see everything. The earth in front of us undulates and waves. A bird takes flight. I think it’s a falcon or maybe a hawk. Abigail points and asks the obvious. I lose some cool points when I tell her I don’t know.
We decide to take a look around. There are paved and unpaved trails. Abigail prefers the latter. It isn’t long before she kneels beside a yellow flower. I’m ready this time. I took one of the pamphlets at the entrance. The flower she’s admiring is a buttercup.
The “grassy bubbles,” as Abigail calls them are home to all kinds of flowers. We spot a few camas and red paintbrush but lichen is the big hit. Abigail accidentally steps on some and her eyes immediately go diabolical. She picks up the patch and proceeds to inspect. The lichen is reduced to nothing in less than a minute. From that moment forward we are on a quest to find lichen. In between time we make jokes about “lichen this place” or “lichen chocolate milk.”
It’s a cold day. The clouds are out and the wind is just enough to be annoying. Later in the summer the mounds will be teeming with life. The prairie is home to different species of butterflies and birds. Soon, the landscape will be dotted by even more flowers.
We spend about an hour walking around before Abigail decides she’s hungry. On our way to the car we pass an impressive spider web. Without missing a beat Abigail tells me, “it’s the first website. Get it? It’s funny because it’s a web.”
As we’re driving away I ask Abigail if she had fun. She says yes then proceeds to ask me all kinds of questions I don’t know how to answer. She’s really interested in what we just saw. I deflect and tell her we’ll look it up later. She says “okay” and then asks if we can get chocolate milk.