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Birdland is wet again, so the yard and surrounding fields are soft and verdant.

Although I am still worried about the low population of insect life, the mosquitos, at least, are back in force. I hope the bats will follow.

Michael described the big herd of dragonflies while I was away, how they would circle the air just above the little pond and then dive down to dip their abdomens in the water for a while.

“Were they laying eggs?” I asked. My husband shrugged.

“What else would you be doing with your belly in the pond if you were a dragonfly?”

Michael stayed back to keep the home fires burning while I was in Iowa City with my women’s group. We have been meeting for over 30 years, but one of our friends, Diane, has moved away, so we have to travel a bit to get the whole band back together.

We rode over in one car, stopping midway to open our coolers and share the potluck lunch we brought — hummus and chips, veggies, a delightful sandwich.

Diane is an artistic spirit and lives in a sweet little frame house in the Goosetown neighborhood.

Goosetown, according to the Iowagen website, is a historic Bohemian and German neighborhood. Residents kept geese, and flocks wandered the streets.

Today, the street signs are topped with a selection of sculptural markers, a mama goose trailing her babies, a pair of geese out for a stroll ... Diane’s house is on the corner and full of color and art, like the “Peace Tree” she and David made after a favorite tree fell.

The sculpture is full of peace signs and fairy lights. Children stop to admire the floating alligator embedded in one of her beds by the gate and her door stoop painted with swirling colors.

A walkway winds through flower beds full of echinacea and other sunflowers, past an elaborate and popular bird feeder, to the fire circle where we spent our evenings laughing and chatting.

Diane’s stories are sprinkled with names of neighbors and neighborhood pets, showing how tightly knit her community is.

My favorite was about the college boys who live next door. She seems to have a rapport with them. One evening they were having a party, blasting music off their back deck.

They asked her, “Diane, is our music too loud?” “No,” she replied. “Too crappy. Why can’t you play the Stones or Eagles or Heart or something decent?”

They dug into their music collection, and they had rigged some kind of microphone, and for the rest of the evening, when they found something “decent,” they would proclaim in a radio-announcer voice, “This one goes out to DIANE!”

It was a lovely, long weekend, and Diane drove us on a tour of the city that ended at the Devonian Fossil Gorge in Coralville, where in a historic 1993 flood, water rushed over the emergency spillway from the Coralville Lake to erode away soil and vegetation, revealing bedrock that was once a seafloor.

The site is protected, but you can wander freely as long as you don’t disturb the stones. Pictures are encouraged, though, and you can see fossils large and small. Some were so tiny that we couldn’t see them well with our eyes, but snap a photo, and you can see that the sea floor was teeming with life.

We wandered the gorge in a light smattering of rain, taking pictures and chatting. In the rock were small streams that sometimes gathered in pools of water holding water plantains, cattails, algae and crawdads (which we would have missed but for the small boy who showed us the claw peeping out from under a rock).

We saw familiar, yet strange, plants: a mullein with a different sort of leaves, milkweed with more compact and deeply-colored flowers.

We spent some quiet time in the Prairie Lights Bookstore, one of my favorite places, and gave thanks for the independent bookshops that survived the pandemic and the new ones sprouting up.

We shopped in the local art store (and I bought a present to take to our oldest and his wife when we visit next week — a blown glass wind chime in the delicate shape of a jellyfish — tendrils hanging beneath the balloon like body, giving a soft tinkle).

But mostly we just basked in the company of good friends. Our visits usually last an evening, and here we had three full days together.

Back home we tumbled out of the van, the others stopping for a break before returning to town. I was amazed at how much had changed in Birdland over four days: zucchini leaves twice as big, more of the fancy day lilies blooming with more colors, the grass even greener if possible with the weekend rain.

The dogs showed their joy at our arrival, and best of all, Michael coming out from his office with a broad smile.

Visit Beauty; Proclaim Peace; Blessed Be

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. If you’re missing your weekly dose of Birdland Letters in The News-Gazette, you can still read them every week in the Piatt County Journal-Republican. Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can see pictures from the Devonian Fossil Gorge on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of the Journal-Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856. She wants to thank her friends for writing and will answer you all soon.

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