Avoca, Iowa, to Joliet, Ill.

I was sleepy today, and had to stop twice in rest areas to take long naps. I tend to drive myself pretty hard at work, even when I’m on sabbatical, and I suspect my body is constantly putting out a little adrenalin to keep me moving fast. Now I’ve been away from work long enough that the adrenalin has stopped, and it makes me sleepy. Because of the naps, I got in late tonight, so this will be a short post.

In the middle of the day I stopped for a walk at the Kuehn Conservation Area in Dallas County, Iowa, three and a half miles along well-graded gravel roads from the interstate. A cold front had gone through last night, with thunder and lightning, and the day was cool and gray; the grass was wet, and the sky still threatened showers. There was not another car in the parking lot. I walked around the upland meadows, looking and listening to the birds, all from the eastern half of the continent — no more Chestnut-backed Chickadees, now there were Black-capped Chickadees; no more Scrub Jays, now there were Blue Jays; no more Western Bluebirds, but rather Eastern Bluebirds.

I walked down a wooded bluff into the Bear Creek valley. The rolling grasslands near the creek were damp and unbelievably green to an eye which has become accustomed to dry, drought-ridden California. You could see the humidity in the air, turning everything a faint blue.

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But what really captured my attention were the variety and number of butterflies. I must have seen ten different species (not that I could say what species they were, but they were so obviously different), and a great many individuals: flittering through the grass, basking on the mud or gravel, dodging in and out of the brush in the woods, sitting half hidden in the leaves.

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The rest of the drive was uneventful. I drove, it rained off and on, I stopped in Grinnell, Iowa, to find Chinese food and a bookstore, I drove some more, took another nap, it rained, and slowly it got dark. I knew when I was getting close to Chicagoland because there were more buildings, more cars, more people. I have now left behind the lightly settled western two-thirds of the United States, and entered the busy, crowded, bustling eastern third of the country.

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