Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
The Schulenberg Prairie is blackened after a prescribed burn that torched the tallgrass a few days ago. The landscape lies in ruins. Or so it seems.
In other areas of The Morton Arboretum, hundreds of thousands of daffodils are beginning to bloom. It’s no surprise that this is where visitors focus their attention and their cameras. A burned landscape holds little attraction.
After the flames pass over the tallgrass prairie, it’s difficult to believe anything will ever grow there again. And yet.
My hiking boots crunch into the charred surface of the prairie, as I look for signs of life. Instead, I find interesting objects revealed by the flames that have erased the tallgrass.
There are bones from a tiny mammal that didn’t scamper quite fast enough when the fire moved across the grasses. Snail shells. Metal tags marking some research experiment, now defunct.
Prairie dropseed hummocks, shorn of all green, look like a squadron of UFO’s that touched down on the landscape. It’s no wonder the early pioneers called dropseed “ankle breaker,” and took care not to trip over the mounds hidden in the tallgrass.
Anthills are suddenly everywhere, like fantastic dirt castles spun out of soil. Some scientists believe these anthills and other disturbances that change the topography increase the number of different species of plants found on the prairie. Without disturbance, the life of the prairie might be less rich.
I inhale the smell of soot and smoke; brush ashes from my jeans. The old prairie I knew is gone. The landscape is at ground zero.
Could anything good come out of this devastation?
It seems impossible.
Certum est quia impossibile est.
It is certain because it is impossible.
(All photos above by Cindy Crosby are of the Schulenberg Prairie at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL, except: daffodils on The Joy Path, The Morton Arboretum; white ashes, the author’s backyard prairie spot in Glen Ellyn, IL. The quote is from Tertullian, 160-225 AD.)