Tempest ‘tem~pest’ (noun): a violent windstorm, especially one with rain, hail, or snow.
Temperamental March comes in like a lion in Illinois, all twisters and high winds. Perhaps not a true tempest in the purest sense, but certainly leaning toward tempestuous.
The tallgrass ripples and blurs in 50-mph gusts.
Prairie managers consult weather forecasts. What is the wind speed? Wind direction? Humidity? March in Illinois is a season of prescribed fire. In prairies and woodlands; savannas and wetlands, invasive plants are knocked back as the flames blacken the ground. Warming it for new life to come.
Up, up, up goes the smoke. Particles practice hangtime long after the burn is over. The smoke particles filter out the wavelengths of certain colors, but reds, oranges, and pinks come through. The result? Vivid sunsets. As if the flames have leapt into space. Motorists slow, marveling at the skies.
Just when spring-like weather seems here to stay, March hits the rewind button. Snow fills the forecasts. Flakes fall overnight, covering prairies like sifted sugar. Or…
… slathered on like heavy frosting.
Deer move through the savannas, looking for browse.
In the icy air, sundogs–bright patches of iridescence–tint the clouds just after sunrise and right before sunset.
March is mercurial. A month of hellos and goodbyes. Farewell to the last thimbleweed seeds…
…goodbye to the Indian hemp seeds.
Small leaves spear through old grass and leaf litter. Such welcome color! We greet each new prairie plant shoot like an old friend we haven’t seen in a while.
Try to describe the month of March on the prairie, and you may find the exact terms elude you; move in and out of focus.
Why? The March prairie is a changeling child–the offspring of wind, fire, snow, hail, rain, and sun. Of opposites. Hot and cold; push and pull; destroy and grow.
A prairie tempest. Within that tempest brews a new season.
Something to anticipate.
The opening quote is from Mark Twain (1835-1910), whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. He was born and raised in Missouri, then later lived in New York and Connecticut. Twain’s writing was noted for its satire and humor. Among his greatest works are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby: high winds, Nachusa Grasslands, Thelma Carpenter Unit, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; prescribed fire, wetlands around Klein Creek, Carol Stream, IL; rush hour after a day of local prescribed burns, Glen Ellyn, IL; tallgrass with snow, Saul Lake Bog, Land Conservancy of West Michigan, Rockford, MI; snow on bee balm (Monarda fistulosa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; young white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: sundog, Lake Michigan; thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica), Great Western Prairie, Shooting Star Trail, Elmhurst, IL; dogbane/Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum), Great Western Prairie, Shooting Star Trail, Elmhurst, IL; moss in the savanna, Nachusa Grasslands, Tellabs Unit, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; spiderwort (Tradescantia bracteata), Great Western Prairie, Shooting Star Trail, Elmhurst, IL; switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Great Western Prairie, Shooting Star Trail, Elmhurst, IL; goldenrod (Solidago, species unknown), Great Western Prairie, Shooting Star Trail, Elmhurst, IL.