“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.'” —Alfred, Lord Tennyson
I watched a flock of sandhill cranes scrawling their calligraphic way south this week, high above my backyard prairie patch. You’re late, I said under my breath. But of course, they’re not.
Sandhill cranes know the rhythms and patterns encoded deep in their bones; ancient and primitive. They don’t need someone like me, who lives by clocks and calendars, to tell them when it is time to shift places. The wild things know what they need to know.
But we who do live by clocks and calendars know that this particular week is a symbolic one; one that brings our year to a close.
It’s been a bittersweet year for many of us. For some, a year of losses. Disappointments.
For others, a year of joys. A year of surprises, perhaps. Of new beginnings.
For most of us, a blend of all of these. In a few days, the coming season stands ready to be unwrapped, like a bright shiny package. Full of unknowns.
We look back on a prairie season that brimmed full of braided ladies’ tresses orchids and ebony jewelwing damselflies;
…dickcissels and purple prairie clover; Scribner’s panic grass and ornate box turtles.
Subtle sunrises and in-your-face-spectacular sunsets. Clouds that splattered the prairie sky in a thousand different patterns. Thunderstorms and snow. Wide open spaces that gave us room to think.
Rainbows and sun halos and sundogs that prismed the clouds with color.
Astonishing! All of it. How can we not marvel?
But most of all, this past year the prairie continued to amaze me with its people. Volunteers. Their generosity and willingness to give continually exceeded my expectations. People who care! They are willing to put sweat equity into ensuring the tallgrass prairie’s survival.
Such a diverse group! Some are gifted in art or poetry; theology or math; in music or mechanical engineering; in home economics or biology. These volunteers are pilots, librarians, homemakers, real estate agents, clergy, nurses, and lawyers. They are the unemployed, the already-too-committed, students, and retirees.
They arise early in the morning. Drive long distances to pull weeds, cut brush, collect seeds. Set prescribed fires. Listen patiently to someone like me talk or teach about prairie. Week after week, they get up and do it all over again. It’s because of them that the tallgrass prairie has a chance in this world.
As this year ends, I think of the prairie and its community of rich diversity. And I think of this rich diversity of people I know who so faithfully care for it. For without them, the prairie today would no longer thrive in a world where its currency has tenuous value.
Looking back on 2017, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious, discouraged and—even at times, looking at recent headlines—despair about the natural world. I’ve felt all of these things at some point during the year. But this week, I choose to feel hope.
Because of the volunteers I know. Because they are working to make this world a better place. Because they show up, week after week. They believe they can make a difference.
Don’t give up.
This year, I hope you’ll be out there on the prairies and other natural areas with us.
We’ll be waiting for you.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), whose quote opens this blog post, is a good writer to end the year on. He was Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland. He suffered great grief in his family; his father was abusive, and of his 11 siblings, two became addicts and several others suffered acute mental illness. Poetry was his escape, and he poured his life into it. Read about his work and explore his poems at The Poetry Foundation. I particularly like his short poem, The Eagle.
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): sun halo with sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis); last weeks of December at Orland Grassland, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Orland Park, IL; goldfinch nest (Spinus tristis), Orland Grassland, Forest Preserves of Cook County Orland Park, IL; bison (Bison bison) at Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) egg case, Orland Grassland, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Orland Park, IL; ebony jewelwing damselflies (male and female) (Calopteryx maculata), Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; wetland and prairie, Orland Grassland, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Orland Park, IL; clouds over Orland Grassland, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Orland Park, IL; sundog over Lake Michigan after a prairie visit, St. Joseph, IL; volunteer on Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; volunteers caring for prairie planting, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; wetland and prairie, Orland Grassland, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Orland Park, IL; clouds and prairie, Orland Grassland, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Orland Park, IL; Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), Orland Grassland, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Orland Park, IL; two-track through Orland Grassland, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Orland Park, IL.
Thanks to Heather Herakovich for the nest ID! And thanks to the staff and volunteers who work to preserve the 960-acre Orland Grassland, and to Bob Rottschalk, a faithful blog reader who suggested I go see this preserve for myself. What a beautiful prairie and natural area! I’ll be back.