Illinois prairie of yesteryear

All but gone

My bike rides routinely take me to Meadowbrook Park in Urbana, home to a decent swatch of prairie restoration. It’s small lake of the tall grasses, flowers and red-wing blackbirds that once formed an ocean as far as the eye could see across this state.

Today, we have settled the land, replacing the prairie with corn and our homesteads with neatly packed towns. Our yards are short grasses that we try our damndest to keep short.

In the process we’ve compromised our ecosystems, forcing us to rely more on biotech farming and synthetic fertilizer. We’ve watched nutrients be leeched from the soil or washed into our rivers. We’ve taken too much, in our quest to feed our cattle and our cars.

I vote for more returning to native plants, for more prairie restoration, for more preserving land for all creatures; Aldo Leopold saw the problems decades ago when he wrote about riding a bus across Illinois.

And so have countless of other scientists, conservationists, nature lovers and people lucky enough to experience the beauty of Illinois prairie that is now mostly confined to parks and the occasional highway embankment.

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Darwin’s feathered friends?

A guidepost for Darwin?

Galapagos finches — more a dozen different species — with their specially adapted beaks and features were among the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution and natural selection. The finches actually played a relatively minor part in all of Darwin’s research, but they are perhaps the most renown, simply because the Galapagos drew so much attention and provided such a mysterious location for science.

They’re all over the islands today, mostly unwary of humans. They are admittedly very cute and often curious enough that it’s easy to see why they attracted Darwin’s attention.

This one comes from Tortuga Bay, not far from the main tourist center and capital of Puerto Ayora.

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