A Season on the Brink

“No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.” — Hal Borland

***

February’s weather roller coaster continues its wild ride into the end of the month. The weather cools. Warms. Cools again.  Mornings are unexpectedly shrouded by fog.

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Milkweed bugs emerge early. Too early? Confused, they look for their signature plant and find only the last bleached-out stands of grasses and crumbling wildflowers.

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The brittle grasses, defeated by winter, wait.

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There’s a lick of flame. The tallgrass is intentionally torched…

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The flames consume the last elegant silver and gold seed heads; currency of the rich prairie landscape.

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In a flash, the muscled stems and starred coneflower seed heads…

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…and diverse species of grasses…

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…of the past season disappear.

The landscape changes to one of smoke and ash.

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A day or two passes. The prairie, sleek in the aftermath of fire, is a just-cleaned blackboard.

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What new memories will we chalk  upon it?

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Slowly, the signs of spring appear.  On the edge of the burned prairie, St. John’s wort leaves tentatively unfurl.

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Overhead, sandhill cranes scrawl their graceful cursive flight patterns as they head north.

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There’s a fresh smell in the air. A difference in the slant of the sun. It’s as if a window is opening to something new.

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We feel it. Spring.  The heat of the prescribed fire. The emerging insects. The green of new leaves. The arrival of the sandhills.

On the last day of February, we wait for it.

A season on the brink.

***

Hal Borland (1900-1978) was an American nature writer and journalist. Born in Nebraska, he went on to school in Colorado, then to New York city as a writer for The New York Times. In 1968, he won the John Burroughs medal for distinguished nature writing for Hill Country Harvest.

****

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom):  Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; tallgrass in February, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  prairie burn, Glen Ellyn, IL; wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; Canada wild rye (Elmyus canadensis), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; prairie burn, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: after the burn, Burlington Prairie Preserve, Kane County Forest Preserve and Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Burlington, IL; after the burn, Burlington Prairie Preserve, Kane County Forest Preserve and Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Burlington, IL; Kalm’s St. John’s wort (Hypericum kalmianum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis) over author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL: railroad at Burlington Prairie Preserve, Kane County Forest Preserve and Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Burlington, IL.

7 responses to “A Season on the Brink

  1. Beautiful photos. I love the warmer weather but miss the winter weather too. I am concerned our wildlife and plants may be out of synch., as your milkweed bug photo shows. It probably wasn’t cold enough this winter to kill many pests. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Good-Natured, for the compliments! It doesn’t seem like we’ve really had “winter” here in the Chicago suburbs, does it? I’m interested to see how the warmer weather plays out on the tallgrass landscape this coming spring and summer. Stay tuned! And thank you for reading and commenting.

      Like

  2. Katherine Jarva

    Beautiful. Thank you. Kjarva

    On Feb 28, 2017 7:36 AM, “Tuesdays in the Tallgrass” wrote:

    > Cindy Crosby posted: “”No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.” > — Hal Borland *** February’s weather roller coaster continues its wild > ride into the end of the month. The weather cools. Warms. Cools again. > Mornings are unexpectedly shrouded by fog. Milkweed b” >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Noticed the initial acrid odor on the black prairie has become sweet from carbon and shoots of green. Here we go!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Can’t believe milkweed bugs can be seen in February! Oh, and the Sandhills cranes… Spellbinding. xo

    Like

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