Sue and I have been practicing physical distancing from other folks when we leave our place. We, like everyone else, miss being physically with our friends and family, but we’ve been reaching out to them in other ways more often than we would have before the pandemic. We’re not technically very adept, but have been able to use our phones, computers, e-mail, FaceTime, Skype, and now a new program called Zoom that allows multiple participants to see and hear each other in a meeting or conversation.

We may not be able to physically touch, but we find that social connecting is more important now than ever. Do you know of a lonely neighbor or maybe distant cousin you haven’t talked to in a long time? They could sure use a call right now. My 4-year-old granddaughter and her mom have chalk-drawn happy rainbows on neighbor’s steps when out walking.

We’ve had some marvelous walks on the nice days, too. A friend from Des Moines says the public trails there are getting heavy use; making physical distancing more difficult. Sue and I seldom run into other people when out on our more rural woodland trails. The fresh air is great, and seeing the first woodland wildflowers after a long winter is always uplifting. Hepatica with their lovely white, and pastel pink and blue flower clusters were at full bloom on April 1. They’ll still have a few blooms for another week or more if we don’t get heavy weather to beat them down. Many more species are soon to follow, and the first spring beauties were beginning open.

There are many places to find woodland wildflowers. The species present will depend on the habitat. Hepatica love steep shady slopes where it stays cool and moist. North and east facing slopes are best, but I have seen wonderful displays on steep west facing slopes where it’s moist enough. Dutchman’s breeches and anemonies like a little more light and may poke through the leaves on even flat upland woods.

Bluebells are just starting to sprout above the ground and prefer damp, rich lowland soils. Many species of flowers will bloom along the greenbelt trail going upstream from Soper’s Mill. The trails at Robison Wildlife Area and Hertz Woods south of Nevada, as well as several of Ames’ forested parks offer more opportunities. You’re not out of luck if you have limited mobility, either. McFarland Park’s Touch-a-life Trail provides a fully paved all-season trail experience. Many species of wildflowers have been transplanted along the trail within a short walk from the Conservation Center (though the building is closed to the public during the pandemic).

Here’s the warning. Ticks are out and active in any area with uncut grass and weeds including prairies and woodlands! I left the trail briefly at Robison Wildlife Area on April 1 to pull some newly sprouting garlic mustard, a nasty invasive weed that can choke out native wildflowers if left uncontrolled. I was on my hands and knees as I crawled along pulling mustard, but gave up when I looked around and saw how much there was — more than I had time for. As we drove home I noted a very small, very dark tick crawling up my hand. I think it was a black legged tick — the kind that can carry Lyme Disease. Sue and I ran our clothes through a hot cycle in the drier to kill any ticks, and showered to make sure there were no more. We found none. Staying on the trail reduces exposure, but crawling around in taller weeds and brush is just asking for it! Those who feel the need to get off the beaten path should plan to take other preventive measures. Wear long sleeves and tuck pants into socks. Treat outer clothing and shoes with a repellent containing DEET. Better yet, spray down your off-trail clothes and foot gear with Permethrin (available at most outdoor stores). Let it dry before wearing. Use these duds just for your off-trail adventures. Ticks hate it worse than DEET. They usually drop right off when exposed to it. If they try to tough it out and hang on, they die. One treatment can last several washings. Be well, but be careful.

Steve Lekwa is the former director of Story County Conservation. Contact him at