Prairie Shadows; Prairie Promise

“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

*******

It’s “shadow season” on the prairie, a time where everything seems a ghost of its former, vibrant self. I find it one of the most difficult times of the year in the tallgrass. Everything that remains at the turn of March to April is seemingly brittle. Ruined. Grasses are flattened. The prairie seems worn out.

Waiting for fire.

schulenbergprairie32518watermarked

Or maybe I’m just projecting my own winter-weary self on the prairie. The prairie—as always—has its gifts to give.  These gifts just aren’t that in-your-face, “wow-look-at-that-color!” good looks. No wildflowers. No juicy grasses. Few returning grassland birds.

There is a whole lot of animal scat and mud. Trash, small mammal bones, and flotsam and jetsam left behind after the snow melt.

bonestwoprairiewoods318watermarked.jpg

spoonafterburnprairiewoods31818watermarked.jpg

It’s discouraging. But sometimes, to see hope for the future—or even, just to give yourself a mental boost to get to next week—you have to look a little closer. Dig a little deeper. Take more time. Sit with things.

When you do, you find that with the prairie’s maturity comes a different sort of beauty. It’s nuanced.

Prairiedock-belmontleafwatermarked31018

Some plants are crumpled and twisted. This one caught a plant virus. See that thick stem? It’s frayed a little around the stress points, but not broken…

Belmont-coneflowerwatermarked31018.jpg

Prairie dock leaves are so wrinkled you have to look twice to recognize them.

PRairiedock-belmontmarch1018watermarked.jpg

Much different from their beginnings just a year or so ago.

P1080308

All the knowledge of the past prairie season is encapsulated here in March. A shadow of what once was. You can’t help but be reminded of our own fleeting presence here.

 

featheronprairieplantSPMA318watermarked.jpg

There’s promise. That promise will be more evident after the prescribed fires, when the prairie is once again lush and green and beginning to bloom.

pasqueflowersgroupNGwatermarked.jpg

Despite the stands of dead foliage, what is important to the prairie is still here. Even if unseen. It’s right where you’re standing. Down deep where the fire can’t touch it, in the roots that plunge up to 15 feet or more into the earth.

prairiewoodsoak318watermarked

Martin Luther King, Jr., once said: “Everything we see is but a shadow cast by that which we don’t see.” He wasn’t talking about the prairie, but his words are applicable. Those unseen deep roots that grip the soil so tenaciously–and will remain untouched by fire—are the prairie’s future. They hold the history of the prairie–the soil—in their grasp. While the life of the prairie above the ground is finished—that fleeting shadow of wildflowers, grasses, and color—there is more to consider than what is visible to our eyes.

ballgallprairiewoods318watermarked.jpg

Some prairies have already been burned as March comes to a close. But, without the right weather conditions, many of our local prairies are still in a state of anticipation. Waiting for the flames. For the prairie to flourish—for color and life and motion to be kindled again in the tallgrass—calls for something harsh, extravagant, and radical to happen.

There’s not much time left. March is almost over.

prairiewoodsburnedandunburned318watermarked.jpg

Bring on the fire.

burnsign318MAwatermarked copy.jpg

MAburnindistanceNOTSP318watermarked.jpg

*****

The opening quote is by dark romantic writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), a neighbor of Ralph Waldo Emerson and a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln, Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville (who dedicated his novel Moby Dick to Hawthorne), and Louis Agassiz. To support his writing, and later his family, Hawthorne did everything from working as a surveyor to shoveling manure. He’s known for his short stories and his novels, such as The House of the Seven Gables. Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was one of the first mass produced books in America, and required reading when I was in high school. Writer D.H. Lawrence said of The Scarlet Letter, “There could be no more perfect work of the imagination.” Hawthorne is buried at Authors Ridge in Concord, Massachusetts.

*****

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Schulenberg Prairie in March before the burn, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  unknown mammal bones, Prairiewoods Prairie, Hiawatha, IA; spoon in the tallgrass, Prairiewoods Prairie, Hiawatha, IA; prairie dock leaf (Silphium terebinthinaceum), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Illinois DNR, The Nature Conservancy IL, Downer’s Grove Park District, Downer’s Grove, IL; pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) (probably infected with a virus), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Illinois DNR, The Nature Conservancy IL; Downer’s Grove Park District, Downer’s Grove, IL; wrinkled prairie dock leaf (Silphium terebinthinaceum), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Illinois DNR, The Nature Conservancy IL, Downer’s Grove Park District, Downer’s Grove, IL; green prairie dock leaf (Silphium terebinthinaceum), Aldo Leopold Prairie Visitor Center prairie planting, Baraboo, WI; feather on prairie plant (both unknown species), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pasque flowers (Pulsatilla patens) Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans)  at Prairiewoods, Hiawatha, IA; ball gall, Prairiewoods, Hiawatha, IA; unburned savanna and burned prairie at Prairiewoods, Hiawatha, IA; prescribed burn sign, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prescribed burn in the distance, viewed from The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

8 responses to “Prairie Shadows; Prairie Promise

  1. Katherine Jarva

    Beautiful, comforting, inspiring…as always, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Cindy
    I was with my son and family for Easter today and shared with him how I had discovered you,your posts and how much I enjoyed them. I thought he would enjoy them too…we had a good laugh…his name is Andrew Hipp! 😊. I live in Milwaukee and share your thoughts and photos often with friends in KC , Atlanta and My home state Connecticut. They are great!
    Maureen Laustsen (Andrew’s mom)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maureen, you must be one of the proudest mothers in the world if Andrew is your son! I’m still smiling about your note. What amazing work Andrew is doing! And more importantly, what a kind and gracious man he is. (I can guess where he gets these qualities by your very kind note). Thank you for taking time to write, and also, thank you for reading and sharing the blog. Most of all, thank you for Andrew — he’s pretty special (all the people I know who work for him tell me that, by the way), and the research he’s doing on behalf of the natural world and prairie is nothing short of brilliant. I feel privileged to know him. I hope you’ll introduce yourself if you are ever out my way and we can go for a hike on the prairie together! Happy Easter, and thank you.

      Like

  3. Karen Johnson mentioned your blog and I checked in. How wonderful to see all these great photos and read your comments! I enjoyed it immensely! Hope to be able to follow. Can I sign up to do so?

    Like

    • Hi Marlene —
      So nice to hear from you (and thank you Karen Johnson!) — grateful for your interest. Just click the “follow” button on the sidebar and you are all set! Let me know if you run into problems. Looking forward to more prairie adventures!

      Like

      • Marlene Vitek

        Thank you. I have forwarded your blog to my daughter who lives in Glen Ellyn. She is a horticulturist who designs gardens and advocates for native plants to encourage native wildlife. She has her own mini prairie in front of her house and also one in backyard.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s so lovely of you to share this with your daughter! I’m thankful for you, and for her work with native plants and prairies. We need more prairie advocates! Grateful.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s