“Migration is a blind leap of faith… .” Scott Weidensaul
In a prairie pond, a turtle and a few ducks snooze in the late afternoon sun.
A baby snapper ventures slowly out to explore the rocks.
The last great blue lobelia flowers open and bloom amid the goldenrod. September’s colors.
Deep in the tallgrass, a grasshopper takes a hopping hiatus from the heat.
A cool breeze stirs. The tree leaves begin to rustle, then rattle. A sound like waves rushing to shore sweeps through the prairie. It ripples in the wind. Tall coreopsis sways.
The prairie whispers, Go.
The black saddlebags dragonfly feels restless, deep down in its DNA. Orienting south, it joins the green darners, variegated meadowhawks, and wandering gliders to swarm the skies. Go. Go.
The meadowhawk dragonfly hears, but doesn’t respond. It will be left behind. Only a few species of dragonflies answer the migration call. Why?
We don’t know. It’s a mystery.
A flash of orange and black, and a monarch nectars at the zinnias that grow by my prairie patch. Mexico seems a long way off for something so small. But this butterfly was born with a passport that includes a complimentary GPS system. This particular monarch will go. Just one more sip.
A viceroy butterfly delicately tastes nectar from goldenrod. No epic trip for this look-alike. Although its days are numbered, the butterfly bursts with energy, zipping from prairie wildflower to wildflower. Go? I wish!
A turkey vulture lazily soars through the air, headed south. These Chicago buzzards won’t drift far. Once they hit the sweet tea and BBQ states, they’ll stay put until spring.
Go? The red-tailed hawk catches the whispered imperative. She stops her wheeling over the prairie for a moment and rests on top of a flagpole, disgruntled. Go? NO! So many birds heading for warmer climes! She ignores the command. She’ll winter here, in the frigid Chicago temperatures. Wimps, she says, disdaining the pretty warblers, flocking south.
Meanwhile, the last blast of hummingbirds dive-bomb my feeders, slugging it out for fuel. Think of the lines at the pump during the oil embargo crisis of the 1970s –that’s the scene. Destination? Central America. You can feel their desperation as they drink deeply, then buzz away.
Saying goodbye is always the most difficult for those left behind. Seeing those we know and care about leave home is bittersweet, fraught with loss.
But, as the prairie brings one chapter to a close–with all of its colorful and lively characters…
…another chapter is about to begin.
Meanwhile, we watch them go. Bon voyage. Safe travels.
The opening quote is by Scott Weidensaul, the author of Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) and mallard ducks ((Anas platyrhynchos) on the prairie pond, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; baby snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) and Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; grasshopper (species unknown), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), Glen Ellyn Public Library prairie planting, Glen Ellyn, IL; black saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata), James “Pate” Philip State Park, Illinois DNR, Bartlett, IL; meadowhawk (Sympetrum spp.) Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; monarch (Danaus plexippus), author’s backyard garden and prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) on Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) , author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; sunset at Russell Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.