There’s a quietness in the tallgrass; the silence of emptiness.
Hike in the tallgrass in the spring, and you’re overwhelmed by the green shoots of new growth and pretty wildflowers. Summer is a riot of colorful blooms; the air full of dragonflies and unusual birds. Fall is all about waves of grasses and fat seedheads.
Then comes winter, and January.
At first glance, it appears that all life has fled the prairie. The once-lavender blooms of wild bergamot, or bee balm as gardeners like to call it, are now globes of hollow papery tubes. Each tunnel was once filled with tiny black seed grains that I could shake like pepper into my hands. Now, I try to rattle them and come up empty. Someone has beat me to it. Birds and small prairie creatures, likely, looking for breakfast.
Not much here that seems worthwhile on the surface. The tallgrass colors have gradually bleached out with age and cold. No blossoms and nectar remain for bees and butterflies to linger over.
Queen Anne’s lace is stripped of everything but the basics.
The blown-out stars of the asters take on a different personality in winter. Without the blooms, I’m free to admire the infrastructure.
The gift of January is this: the comparative emptiness of the winter season allows us to see the scaffolding upon which the prairie is built. It reminds us that rest is as important as activity; that looking at things over time gives us a different perspective on what we thought we knew well. New ways of seeing open up. If we pay attention.
The prairie is pared away to the bare essentials. It rests, quietly, waiting for the emptiness to pass and a new season to come.
(All photos by Cindy Crosby at the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL)