Monthly Archives: April 2017

Spring’s Contrasts on the Prairie

“April golden, April cloudy, Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy...”–Ogden Nash.

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Spring on the prairie is a showcase of contrasts at the end of April.

Jacob’s ladder.

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Sand phlox. So small! Like a paper snowflake carefully cut out with scissors.

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Tiny blooms. Balanced by rough-and-tumble bison, the heavyweight champs of the prairie.

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Delicate spreadwing damselflies emerge from ponds to tremble in the sun.

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Furry beavers coast by, on their way to ongoing construction projects.

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There’s evidence of egrets. Their pale feathers a contrast to…

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…the bright buttery sunshine of marsh marigolds, with a lipstick red beetle.

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The beetle seems minuscule until a spider wanders into the scene. The line it throws is deceptively fragile looking. Yet, it’s strong enough to capture supper.

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There is life high above, in the flight of a blue heron scared up from the fen.

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While below, tossed carelessly in the grasses, are souvenirs of death.

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Life cut short.

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Beauty and terror co-exist, side-by-side.

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But the stars still come out –shooting stars! Make a wish.

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Life, death, rebirth. It’s all here…

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…at the end of April on the prairie.

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The opening quote is from the poet (Frederic) Ogden Nash (1902-71) and his poem, “Always Marry an April Girl.” Nash is known for his humorous rhyming verse, and his nonsensical words. An example: “If called by a panther/don’t anther.”

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby at Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL (top to bottom): Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans), sand phlox (Phlox bifida bifida); bison (Bison bison); possibly sweetflag spreadwing (Lestes forcipatus) (ID uncertain); beaver (Castor canadensis); egret feather (Ardea alba); marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) with an unknown beetle;  unknown spider; blue heron (Ardea herodias); bones in the grasses;  possibly red-winged blackbird egg (Agelaius phoeniceus) in nest; shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) with nest; shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia); violet sorrel (Oxalis violacea) with an unknown pollinator. Thanks to Bernie Buchholz for showing me the sand phlox, and John Heneghan, for help with the nest ID.

A Walk on the Wild Side

“The earth laughs in flowers.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Come hike with me in April as the gray days of winter recede.

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On the prairie, in the savanna, and deep in the woodlands, birds sing the wildflowers up into the sunshine. Christmas fern fiddleheads jostle for space among the striped spring beauties.

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A small ensemble of hepatica nudge aside a fallen log.

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Virginia bluebells, aided by pollinators, chime in quietly at first…

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… then in full chorus.

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White dogtooth violets, sometimes called adder’s tongue or trout lilies…

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…join with the yellow to throw their flowery stars across the woodlands and savanna.

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Their sheer numbers threaten to distract us from the more timid spring blooms. Look closely. See the subtle notes of bishop’s cap? Such tiny, intricate flowers! They dazzle in their own quiet way.

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Other blooms clamor for attention. The false rue anemones sway in the breeze; little wind instruments.

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A single wild geranium appears. You’re early!  But it cannot be repressed. More are on the way. Soon. Very soon.

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On the prairie, the first wood betony swirls into a whirlwind of yellow and russet.

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A nice foil for the pussytoes blooming nearby, antennae-like on their silvery stalks.

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Vast swaths of bloodroot strike chords of impermanence; here one morning and then gone seemingly overnight. Did we dream them?

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The prairies, savannas, and woodlands flood the world with blooms. Orchestrating spring.

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All we have to do to see them is make time to look.

Let’s go!

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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), whose quote opens this post, was a transcendental poet and essayist who made his living as a lecturer. He published his first essay, “Nature,” anonymously in 1836. Emerson famously asked Henry David Thoreau, “Do you keep a journal?” in 1837. This simple query became a life-long inspiration for Thoreau,  perhaps, sparking Thoreau’s writing of Walden.

All photos by Cindy Crosby (top to bottom) red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Christmas fern fiddleheads (Polystichum acrostichoides) with spring beauties (Claytonia virginica), Franklin Creek State Natural Area (Illinois DNR), Franklin Grove, IL;  hepatica (Hepatica nobilis acuta), Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Franklin Creek State Natural Area (Illinois DNR), Franklin Grove, IL; white trout lily (Erythronium albidum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum), Schulenberg Prairie savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bishop’s cap (Mitella diphylla), Franklin Creek State Natural Area (Illinois DNR), Franklin Grove, IL; false rue anemones (Enemion biternatum), Franklin Creek State Natural Area (Illinois DNR), Franklin Grove, IL; wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), Franklin Creek State Natural Area (Illinois DNR), Franklin Grove, IL; wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; fiddlehead ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides), wood anemone leaves (Anemone quinquefolia), spring beauties (Claytonia virginica), and wild geranium leaves (Geranium maculatum) at Franklin Creek State Natural Area (Illinois DNR), Franklin Grove, IL. Special thanks to Susan Kleiman for the walk in the woods at Franklin Creek State Natural Area and pointing out the bishop’s cap.

Fire and Rain

“I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain… .” –James Taylor

Those relentless March rains! Now it’s April—pushing the envelope for fire.

The prairie waits.

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Wildflowers and grasses, urged to life by spring showers, push up through the damp earth. Oblivious to the fire still to come.

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The prescribed burn crew gathers. Light the match! The drip torch ignites.  A crackle and pop… the dry grasses catch.

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Smoke rises; smudges the sun.

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Trees are cast into sharp relief;  wraith-like shadows haunt the grasses.

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Flames devour the prairie; lick the savanna. Whispering. Growing closer.

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Listen. Can you hear the fire advancing? A sound like rain.

 

Last year’s prairie vanishes in moments. Becomes only memories.

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More rain falls. The prairie fizzes over, all chocolates and emeralds.

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Life-giving fire. Life-giving rain.

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The beginnings of something new emerge.

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Hope. Anticipation. Wonder. So much is on the way. Right around the corner.

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James Taylor (1948-) is a five-time Grammy Award winner who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. His albums have sold more than 100 million copies. Although it only went to #3 on pop charts (1970), his single, “Fire and Rain,” is considered Taylor’s breakthrough song.

All photos and video copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; Schulenberg Prairie and Willoway Brook, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Schulenberg Prairie Visitor Station area, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Schulenberg Prairie Visitor Station, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Schulenberg Prairie and Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; video of Schulenberg Prairie and Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Russell Kirt Prairie in my side view mirror, College of DuPage Natural Areas, Glen Ellyn, IL; Fame Flower Knob, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; sunset over Russell Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage Natural Areas, Glen Ellyn, IL;  red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) on marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris), author’s backyard prairie pond, Glen Ellyn, IL.

A Prairie Kaleidoscope

“Life would be dull if we had to look up at cloudless monotony day after day.” –-Gavin Pretor-Pinney
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If April showers bring May flowers, my little corner of Illinois is going to be a blaze of blooms next month. So much rain! The skies have been gray more than blue.

The western chorus frogs at Nachusa Grasslands are one of my favorite soundtracks to gray, drizzly days like these. Can you see the bison in the distance in the video  above? They don’t mind the rain much. And look! Scattered among the bison dung are…

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…pasque flowers! Wildflowers are beginning to pop up on the prairie, creating pastel spots of color.

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When you think of a prairie, you may imagine colorful flowers like these, tallgrass, and perhaps a herd of bison grazing.

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Bison and wildflowers are two prairie showstoppers. But what you may not think about is this. Look at the photo above again. One of the joys of a prairie is the seemingly unlimited view overhead. The prairie sky! It’s a kaleidoscope; a constant amazement of color, motion, sound, and of course—clouds.

Sometimes the sky seems dabbed with cotton batting.

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Contrails made by jets are teased out into thumbprinted fuzzy ribbons.

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Other afternoons, the sky is scoured clean of clouds and contrails and burnished to an achingly bright blue.

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You can’t help but think of the color of old pots and pans when the clouds boil over in a summer storm.

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Look up! The prairie sky is full of wonders. Scrawls of sandhill cranes by day…

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… the moon by turns a silver scimitar or golden globe at night.

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You may catch amazing light shows like sun haloes…

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Or sun dogs…

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The changeable prairie sky offers something new to view each moment.

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Will you be there to see what happens next?

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Gavin Pretor-Pinney, whose quote opens this blog post, is the  author of The Cloudspotter’s Guide and The Cloud Collector’s Handbook. He writes with wry British humor and a love for all things cloud-like.  In 2004, Pretor-Pinney founded “The Cloud Appreciation Society” (https://cloudappreciationsociety.org/) to “fight the banality of blue sky thinking.”

All photos and video copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): western chorus frogs singing (Pseudacris triseriata) with bison (Bison bison) in the distance, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; pasque flowers (Pulsatilla patens) and bison (Bison bison) dung, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; pasque flowers (Pulsatilla patens), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; cloudy with a chance of bison (Bison bison), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Fame Flower Knob, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; Fermilab prairie, Batavia, IL; summer storm, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis) over author’s backyard prairie; full moon over author’s backyard prairie; sun halo and sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis) over author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL;  sundog over Lake Michigan, Benton Harbor, MI; Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL.