I wandered the paths from the Schaar’s Bluff Gathering Center to the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River at Spring Lake Park Reserve in Hastings, Minn. I was worried about one of the dogs, back in California, that had just been injured and the news wasn’t sounding very good. Making photographs of the prairie flowers that I learned were planted there a few years ago brought me comfort. Just before heading back, as light was disappearing, I saw a brilliant yellow swallowtail butterfly among some purple flowers that I could not identify. The butterfly seemed to me a good omen that my dog would be all right. It took awhile to ID the flowers. Google searches weren’t showing me what I needed. I finally called the Dakota County parks department and was transferred to Johnny Forrest (great name) of the natural resources department. I expected to hear that they were too busy, or some other excuse that would have been completely understandable given government budgets these days. Instead, I was greeted with an invitation to send the photo. He got back to me quickly with more information than I expected. That’s something called “Minnesota nice.” He talked about the butterflies and other insects the flowers there attract, and let me know the food the seed-heads provide food for winter songbirds because the stems stand up to snow. More prairie flowers are scheduled to be planted there next spring. It will take awhile for the new planting to get established — 2013 for some and 2014 for the rest. If you’re in the area and have some time available, stop by the park for a visit. Click for the Dakota County parks website.