Autumn strikes its match against the tallgrass.
There’s a hiss, then a smolder. Seemingly overnight, the prairie bursts into flame.
Sumacs catch fire.
The odd sapling or two torches the tallgrass, creating small flare ups.
Impossible colors clash.
Even the butterflies mimic the tallgrass, their wings full of glowing embers.
The colors crescendo, peak, then begin to fade.
Compass plants wave leaf flags of surrender.
Slowly, the elephant-eared prairie dock leaves crumple like old paper bags.
Little bluestem sparks bright; then its seeds float away like cinders, still combustible.
Colors burn out, leaving trails of ash-colored seeds behind.
The seeds disperse. Only skeletons of the plants remain.
November is close on the heels of this conflagration. As the prairie moves into a season of rest, it will offer new ways of seeing beauty. Structure, instead of color.
Until then, we celebrate the last frenzied outpourings.
All photos by Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; road through the October tallgrass, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; sumac (Rhus spp.), NG; October sapling in the tallgrass, NG; October sapling in the tallgrass, NG; New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae- angliae) against gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa), SP; buckeye butterfly, NG; compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), SP; prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), SP; Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis), NG; Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), NG; Great Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea), NG.