Dog days?

Not if you’re a 5-year-old!

Like a welcome cold front clearing out the Iowa heat and humidity, a young person’s sense of wonder and amazement can bring a new perspective to what may have seemed like too much summer.

A recent visit from my 5-year-old grandson Derek reminded me, literally, to stop and smell the roses. Well, not roses – but the summer prairie flowers: butterfly milkweeds, late-blooming spiderworts, gayfeather, partridge pea, gentians, coneflowers.

And hear the music!  We can’t see the catbird, but we hear its “meeewww” from the wild plum thicket. The cardinal “cheers” in a dead elm. The indigo bunting keeps up its staccato chatter even on the hottest afternoon.

A summer day offers a smorgasbord for the senses of a young mind:

First comes checking the garden. How big are the cucumbers and zucchini? Are the tomatoes ripe enough to pick? Look at those green peppers! Time to harvest some green beans. Can we eat them raw? Oh, that broccoli grows fast! Can we dig some potatoes? Hey, see those worms? Can we go fishing? Please!

Tackle box, fishing rods, and water bottles at ready, we march down the grassy lane to the neighbor’s pond. Then, at the water’s edge, the big decision: What’s the best bait? I get the garden worms to tempt the bluegills, but Derek chooses a 5-inch, brown-and-yellow plastic lizard. He’s after bigger quarry.

To prove his point to a skeptical Grandpa, he proudly cranks in a splashing 12-inch bass. We carefully remove the hook, then Derek eases the fish into the shallows to let it swim away. “Bye fishy!”

Despite tangled lines, errant casts, and time out to pose for photos, Derek soon lands three more lively bass. We release each one, ever-so-gently.

Derek consoles his Grandpa, who only manages to catch three bluegills.

Back in the kitchen, while cleaning the bluegills, we’re distracted by examining their scales, looking at their stomachs, feeling their teeth, and avoiding their sharp spines. Outside the window, a parade of hummingbirds zips around the sugar-water feeder. Goldfinches and downy woodpeckers grab a bedtime snack at the sunflower seed tray.

Next morning, after a bluegill fillet for breakfast, Derek is fueled for more adventures!

In the flowerbed that’s become “habitat,” we discover an array of fuzzy caterpillars and black-and-red bugs that love our common milkweeds. Best of all, there’s a chrysalis, with a Monarch waiting to emerge.

An hour later, there it is! A freshly-hatched butterfly, its wings not yet inflated, sits near the empty case in which it formed.

Unable to contain his amazement, Derek touches a finger to the Monarch’s front legs, and the butterfly obliges by climbing aboard. With a little nudging, the cooperative butterfly also perches on Derek’s nose. “That tickles!” Derek coaxes the insect onto his finger again, and puts it onto a milkweed leaf. We watch the Monarch as it sits quietly, occasionally pumping it wings to gain strength before flying away on the breeze.

As we scan the prairie for other butterflies, Derek’s keen eyes catch a movement among the bluestem and coneflowers. “Deer!” The boy and the fawn eye each other, then the spotted deer resumes it nibbling on the grasses. Stalking like a hunter, Derek quietly approaches. Flicking its ears and tail, the puzzled fawn lets the inquisitive little human get within about 20 feet. Then the baby whitetail bounds away, as Derek grins in delight.

How can anyone be hot or tired or bored with so many wonders to savor all around us?

The cicadas buzz, even on the muggiest afternoon. Turkey vultures hang on the thermals. Bumblebees busily work the butterfly milkweed blossoms. Chipmunks scale the birdbath for a cooling drink. Dragonflies hover and dart over the prairie. Skinks sunbathe on the terrace wall.

At dusk, we hoot comically in a vain attempt to talk to the barred owls in our woods. We listen for the coyote chorus. Saturn sinks like a beacon in the western sky. Bats swoop over the yard, gobbling up mosquitoes. Moths flock to the lighted windows, The katydids and crickets begin a chorus that makes the darkness anything but “still.”

But even the seemingly limitless energy of a 5-year-old eventually runs out. Sleep! Tomorrow will bring even more wonders.

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