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In Birdland, we’re finally getting a soaking rain. We’ve had a few showers in the past week, but so light that it’s more like walking through a mist than even a sprinkle.

In the morning, I might see damp earth as I step off of the porch and think we’ve had rain in the night, but beneath the trees is dust between blades of grass.

But this morning, I woke to wool-gray skies and a persistent drizzle. Just what we needed. The farmers might not think so, though.

Last week, I looked out across the beans and realized the corn was all a tawny yellow. When did that happen?

On my trips to town, I pass grain trucks on the road and big combines in the fields, shaving the corn to stubble — back and forth — back and forth.

Last weekend, I went to a work party at the Kalyx Center, a venue next door to Allerton Park. It has been closed for two years, but I helped clean the barn for the Hogchute Opry, a prairie music festival. It starts on Oct. 2 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 (See for more information).

I was happy to see that revelers must be vaccinated to attend. My good friend, Bill Taylor, has been hosting various educational and arts programs at the

Kalyx Center for sustainability, for probably more than 20 years.

I drove down the shady lane through the woods to the barn, and what do you think I saw? Babies! Yes, there were some adults, too, around the picnic table, but an abundance of babies.

“Is this Babyland?” I asked Adrienne, who was hoisting a little one into the air. And she affirmed that it was. Sadly, I didn’t have any babies to bring, so after a little visit, I went inside the barn, where I found my old friends, Jan and Sally, sweeping two years’ worth of dust. It’s a big barn, so there was a lot of dust, and they had swept it into large piles.

Jan gave me a good broom, and I went to work on the cobwebs in the ceiling. Spiders can do a lot of building in two years. Now, lest my description scares you away from attending the Opry, let me tell you that many hands make light work, and the barn, though rustic (that’s part of its charm), will be spanking clean by the time the Opry rolls around.

I love a good work party! I get to roll up my sleeves and forget all my cares (and my own chores at home) for a few hours. I get to see old friends and make new ones, and sometimes, I get to see me some babies. (Children of all ages are always a presence at a Kalyx Center work party, but it was something to see all those babies at once. They must have been taking a break when I arrived.)

Kalyx Center events are often (or always?) potlucks, so I get to sample lots of interesting snacks. This time, I’m afraid I pigged out a little on the marinated tofu. The babies didn’t like it that much. When it was time to take a break, Bill walked with me back to his house, showing off the new paths he cut through the woods. The trails are wide and walkable. He said it is more like a park now, and I agreed.

We passed the neat Bonfire he has prepped — a tight dome of brush maybe 8 feet high, piled over a neat box. Bill is the king of bonfires. I know that he will say a few words before lighting, to dedicate this fire to an important cause, perhaps hurricane or COVID-19 victims. Then he will ignite the fire. First-time attenders will gasp at the beauty and power, sparks will rise into the night.

On the path, Bill and I point out various prairie plants that have won out against the invasives. (I see piles of small logs cut from the horrible bush honeysuckle that takes over everywhere.) I point out leadplant, and he shows me cup plant and wingstem.

I show him my iNaturalist app that helps me identify new plants. The cup plant has gone to seed, and I ask if I can collect some. “Of course!” he says, and I pull the brown seeds off the stem. At his house, we part, and I go on home to a shower and a nap, where I will dream of dancing and music and bonfires and babies in the middle of the woods.

Walk in Beauty; Work in 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 about this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at 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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