Walking across the prairie in the sub-zero temperatures and snow, you notice surprising things.
Butterflies, for instance.
I know, I know. All the monarchs have long fled — packed their bags and migrated to Mexico.
Monarch butterfly, Schulenberg Prairie
The mourning cloak butterflies are in hibernation, cozied into cracks of tree bark or nestled under fallen limbs. Most of the summer butterflies simply died off when cold weather hit Illinois.
Except the ones I see today.
When squirrels spring through the snow, the tracks they leave look like a string of butterflies. The sunshine fills their prints with deep indigo shadows.
I love hiking the tallgrass, mittens stuffed deep into my pockets, looking for winter butterflies. Most of the squirrels hang out on the edges of the prairie in the savanna, where they nest in leafy oak high-rises.
The squirrel print butterflies remind me of summer, and the colorful butterflies to come.
Kaleidoscope of sulphur butterflies, Nachusa Grasslands
But the winter butterflies have their own unexpected beauty as well.
All it takes to see them is a little imagination.
(All photos by Cindy Crosby)