There are some things I would like to do during my 50th year. One of them was to see American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea). So at 7:00 this morning, with Carolyn away at her Landscape Architecture orientation, I got in the car and started driving towards where Lotus grow. I have looked for them before, in the places where tundra swans and other tuber-eaters migrate down the Mississippi flyway, but I had been far too early. I fretted about whether I would be able to find any in bloom, or at all, having read that they were blooming two weeks ago. I needn't have worried.
There were many of the exotic-looking plants in all stages, from bud to dried pod. Luxurious, creamy white bowls of grace, these flowers brought me to tears when I finally came upon them, right where Bruce said they'd be, on the dike road between Wabasha and Nelson.
I continued down to Alma, and saw more plants, more accessible, between the Marina Road and Hwy 35. All I had to do was park in the marina and follow the railroad tracks. Two sets of tracks following a steep and narrow raised berm, the sides of which were stabilized against the action of the river by large boulders. I traipsed, tripped and danced over the boulders to the water's edge to photograph the flowers. I was more graceful in the days when I was a Tai Chi player. Soon I noticed an unnerving trend. In the half hour I spent walking along those tracks, 5 trains rattled past, the last one a monster that nearly deafened me.
May I just say, that a train with empty flatbeds is a lot less scary when you are standing next to it than a train with cargo containers stacked 2 high? May I also say that it is very, very stupid to stand next to speeding trains when there is evidence of big chunks of metal flying off them scattered about one's feet? This is my tiny hand grasping a stake that formerly held some rail to the ties. I picked up at least 10 of these. I kept one with lichens growing on it, and tossed the rest back on the tracks. Many other unidentifiable bits of rusted metal lined the rails as well. I felt suddenly fragile. In a way that I would not have done before I was a middle-aged woman.
The other trains were not so fearsome as that one stacked two high. When that double-decker train passed me, I crept to the edge of the water, crouched down, curled up small and tried not to imagine a stake taking off half my skull. The ground shook beneath my feet, and I felt like a vulnerable little creature hiding from a terrible beast, trying very hard not to be eaten. Once it was gone, I stood and walked quickly back to the marina. I got in my car and congratulated myself for being intact.
I'd do it again. I will do it again, because I realize was that the edges of railbeds hold a wealth of wildflowers: Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) and Groundnut (Apios americana) were two that I have been wanting to see outside of a garden setting. I guess at railbed will stand in for a natural setting. Gary Nabhan writes in Cultures of Habitat that humans are part of the natural environment, and that the notion of wilderness is one that must be evaluated carefully before applied.
I didn't try very hard at birding, but the big birds were begging to be seen: American Bald Eagles; Turkey Vultures, Great Egrets and Wild Turkeys.