It's been a tough year, weather-wise.

There's the heat, the lack of rain and the depressing news of more heat and a lack of rain to continue.

And now we know La Nina has returned, the "little girl," that brings a cooling phase to the Pacific Ocean.

Markedly different than an El Nino, the warming of the ocean, La Nina is responsible for the drought and heat that has besieged the Southern Plains -- Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Kansas.

The drought, of course, has been bad for crops, livestock -- even cities that were in the path of the weather phenomenon.

It's also been a tough year for all things wild.

Pheasants had to contend with shorter wheat, cut or abandoned earlier, making a mess of nesting.

Heck, even prairie dogs headed south -- deep into their burrows -- for the winter, taking an almost unheard-of hibernation.

But an even more subtle change could be seen as well in the wildflowers that burst to life in the spring and summer, bringing the landscape to life as bees buzz to and fro and insects gather the lifeblood of nectar.

This year, the wildflowers bloomed and then promptly died.

If you weren't there, you missed it.

They are irrepressible, however, and even the smallest of showers can bring them back to life.

Photographing wildflowers was all but impossible until late August, and then only slightly.

The flowering of northwest Kansas did not burst on the scene, but rather crept in, softly sending up shoots on a whisper of moisture.

They are not the boastful colors of spring, but rather the more subtle hint of life.

Be that as it may, they are beautiful, in so many ways.

They are a welcome respite from the otherwise brown countryside that is August and September in the shortgrass prairie.

They are enough to brighten the otherwise drab earth tones we've endured this year.

* A second page of northwest Kansas flowers will be published in two weeks. I've tried my best to identify the flowers, using