Thanks to a blog tip from Christopher, Clara and I walked in the Lower Arboretum yesterday afternoon and saw the brilliant display of penstemon blooming in the prairie. (Click the link to see Christopher's photo, which is much better than mine.) The trail along the river was entirely flooded—a foot deep in some parts—so we headed straight for the high ground of the upland prairie. In the photograph above, you can see the pale purple flowers and the Carleton wind turbine in the background. According to my field guide, Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers, what we appear to have here is large-flowered beard tongue (penstemon grandifloris), which is a member of the snapdragon family. Unfortunately, we also encountered what appeared to be a serious infestation of tent caterpillars after the path entered the woods. Strangely, I didn't see any of the telltale "tents" in the trees along the path, but the ground—the path itself—was writhing with thousands of them. It was impossible to walk the path without stepping on them. Here's a brief description of a tent caterpillar infestation from Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye:
The caterpillars are everywhere in the woods, striped and bristly. They dangle from the branches on threads of silk, forming a hanging curtain you have to brush out of the way; they river along the ground like a rug come to life, they cross roads, turning to greasy mush under the tires of the logging trucks. The trees around are denuded, as if they've been burnt; webbing sheathes their trunks.
That's exactly how it was: the caterpillars were "river[ing] along the ground like a rug come to life." The photograph above shows just two of the thousands we had to step through on our walk. To recover from the grossness of it all, we had to beat a quick retreat to the Contented Cow for gin and tonics.