Tallgrass Thank You Notes

“…I hear a sound, sometimes a little more than a whisper, of something falling, arriving, fallen, a seed …there is no trace of regret in the sound or in the stillness after the falling, no sound of hesitation on the way, no question and no doubt.” M.S. Merwin


I’ve been catching up on my thank-you notes this week, nudged by the upcoming holiday that reminds me to be grateful. Ironic, isn’t it? A week in the Midwest in which we dedicate ourselves to be thankful falls in one of the gloomiest seasons of the year.

What if Thanksgiving fell in July? Easy to get in a thankful mood.


Or May, when shooting star blooms carpet the prairie after a long, cold winter; everything seems bathed in joy and delight. Do I feel thankful then? You bet!shootingstarSPMA51918wm

But November! Well, she makes no apologies for who she is.  November’s given me a lot to be grateful for. So, as I write my thank-you notes to people in my life this week, I figure I should write a few to November as well.

Here goes…

Thanks, November–your gray days are a foil for aspects of the prairie I’d otherwise overlook.  Would I notice the dangling seedpods of white wild indigo if they appeared this way in sunny July? Perhaps not. They seem to take on added charisma on gray, snow-spitting days.  “Prairie bling” of a certain kind.


I appreciate how some of the less exciting plants get their moment in the spotlight this month, November. Late figwort isn’t a particularly glamorous plant, but this month, it gets a makeover. Without the pops of bright July wildflower color or distractions of butterflies and bees, the eye is drawn to figwort’s kitschy structure. Looks a bit like some management diagrams I’ve seen,  or maybe an organizational flow chart.


Other flora and fauna of the prairie are worth a second look in November. Carrion flower, which twines its way through the prairie grasses without a lot of fanfare during the warm weather, is a show-stopper this month. (Nope, it’s not edible—unless you’re a bird or a mammal).


November even gives the humble bison track some seasonal flair. Glitzy!


Thanks for the unexpected, November. The rhythm of sandhill crane migration through prairie skies is an expected pleasure this month. But November bird life holds some surprises.

John Heneghen's Varied ThrushWM2 111918 Like this little guy, above. Our friends, John and Trisha, had a varied thrush show up this week in their backyard, not far from their prairie patch. The varied thrush is an erratic migrant from the West Coast not normally seen in the Midwest. Its arrival here in the Chicago region is a November serendipity. People drove from around the Midwest to see and add this colorful thrush to their life lists. Who knows what other avian surprises might appear this month?

Hey, November, thanks for teaching me about adapting and surviving.


The hairs of the compass plant above speak of hard times. Each hair catches moisture and helps retain water, which keeps the compass plant alive through brutal Midwestern droughts. November peels away all the color and glam of a compass plant, and reminds me of how tough some of our prairie plants are. It’s a memo to myself, as well; a reminder that I have cultivated ways to navigate the difficult times of my life.  Survival skills. Adaptations.

November reminds me, “You’ve got this.” 


Thanks, November for the transition. Change is good, right? Well, maybe. But change is usually difficult. As much as I enjoy the change of seasons, I also have trouble letting go of whatever season I’m in. As I get older, it seems time moves more quickly, with less time to adjust. November, with its segue from autumn into meteorological winter, helps make the transition to the end of the year a little easier.

willowaybrookSPMA118The photo above of Willoway Brook on the Schulenberg Prairie is a study in transitions. Snow has settled around the stream, which is just a breath away from freezing but still runs free and clear. High quality prairie on the left is juxtaposed with invasive reed canary grass along the shoreline, which prairie volunteers battled to a hard-fought draw this season. The partly-dead reed canary grass hangs over the brook, admiring its reflection, perhaps, and—in my mind—thumbing its proverbial nose at us. We’ve decided to let a certain amount of reed canary grass colonize the streambanks as we focus on other restoration activities on the prairie, a decision made simply from a time-management standpoint. The above photo tells many stories about persistence and patience; resistance and acceptance.


Which reminds me…

Thanks, November, for the people who care for prairie. People like the site managers and volunteers and stewards. People like the prairie donors and environmental activists who make a difference. Those who take a child out to see the prairie. The person who shares a photo of the tallgrass with a friend. People like you—who care about the natural world.

The curtain is coming down on another year in the tallgrass. As it does…


…I want to say thank you for reading. Thank you for being a part of the work that keeps the tallgrass prairie alive and thriving. Thank you for sharing your love of prairie with others. And, thank you for your part in keeping the tallgrass prairie visible, both in our communities and in people’s hearts and minds.


What about you? Is there a thank-you note you’d like to write to November? Leave it in the comments section below as a reminder of what we have to be thankful for this month.

Thank you.


The opening quote is from the poem, Garden Notes, from William Stanley “W.S.” Merwin’s collection, The Moon Before Morning (Copper Canyon Press). Twice a Pulitzer Prize winner, Merwin (1927-) was our 2010-11 United States Poet Laureate, and is known for writing his grief over our destruction of the natural world. Discover more about him at the Poetry Foundation. Click here to listen to him read his powerful and moving poem, Rain Light.


All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom) except for varied thrush as noted: monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Nomia Meadow Farms prairie, Franklin Grove, IL; shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia), Schulenberg Prairie in May, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; white wild indigo (Baptisia alba macrophylla) with snowcap, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; late figwort (Scrophularia marilandica) in November, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL, carrion flower (probably Smilax lasioneura) in November, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  icy bison (Bison bison) track, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius), photo courtesy John Heneghan, Kane County, IL; compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) seedhead, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pale Indian plantain seeds (Arnoglossum atriplicifolium), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; snowmelt on Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) in November, author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; bench on the Schulenberg Prairie in November, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

With grateful thanks to John Heneghen, who shared his varied thrush photo and story with me for this post, and reminded me of another reason to be thankful for the unexpected serendipities of November.

17 responses to “Tallgrass Thank You Notes

  1. Thanks, November, for the stillness that you bring. Thanks to Bill, Susan + Bernie at Nachusa, who welcomed my eastern curiosity to their tallgrass family of volunteers. And to you, Cindy, for keeping images, enthusiasm, color, and possibility in our weekly line of sight.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m thankful for your weekly reminders, Cindy, of the joys found in getting out to the prairie, no matter the weather. Thank you for your beautiful writing and photography. You’ve taught me a lot this year and I’m ever so grateful!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Jeanne Iovinelli

    I am so thankful for your blog and volunteering at the Morton Arboretum Tuesday’s in the Prairie with you. I have learned so much this year and I have fallen in love with the prairie. So much I never knew. Which reminds me that I am grateful for the gift of learning. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeanne, your enthusiasm for prairie is contagious! It has been such a joy to be with you on the actual Tuesdays in the Tallgrass crew this season. Thank you for the work you do to bring the prairie to the attention of the community, and the invitations you offer to them to “see” it in new ways! Happy Thanksgiving!


  4. I am grateful for the gift of family love near and far. It warms my heart and gives a purpose for all the advocacy work I do throughout the year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Connie, I totally agree with you about the love of family. When I’m pulling weeds on the prairie, I’m thinking of how we are leaving a gift for our grandchildren for years to come! I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Thank you for being a voice for the tallgrass.


  5. Dear Cindy, Thank you for your blog. Tuesdays in the Tallgrass has come to mean more to me month by month, if not week by week. There was a time in my life I was closely tuned to the wilder world. As a younger teenager I hiked an hour in the bush every morning before returning for breakfast and homeschooling. And I was out again in the afternoon until it grew dim. I knew some of the moods and some of the hideouts of the land around me. And I went to study Botany and Zoology and Geology in college. Some of my best “glory days” of youth were spent as a research assistant in remote bush locations, netting and ringing birds, cutting plant transects to measure grazing & browsing density, live trapping rodents and living pretty close to the bush. Even before returning to USA I had largely let that go. No wonder it was not a very happy time in my life, but the war made it hard to get out of the city and into the wild. Then when I came to USA I never mastered the plants in the way I had done in Zimbabwe beyond the major and easy plants and trees. Your blog has helped me reopen my eyes which were misting over with self focussed cataracts. I have increasingly taken joy in the small things readily visible in my garden without having to range afar to find something “worth” appreciating. This has been a large part of enjoying the tiny yard in our new Indianapolis house. I recently spent 5 weeks back in Zimbabwe and I feel that you had “re-primed” me to take joy in the small things and so experience each moment more fully. I surprised myself at the constancy of my joy. Long road trips were a pleasure each mile, just for being there. Every bird call I knew was like hearing the voice of an old friend and seeing them, like looking on loved ones faces after a long parting. Yes, we spent 8 nights in remote bush camps and game viewing. Tracking a rhino for miles until we startled it into a false charge and a crashing away, was only a highlight, too quick even for an adrenalin rush. These days of delight and wonder, filled with vultures and elephants and dozens of other birds and animals, were only the pinnacle of the mountain. The bulk of this iceberg was every day, just being in the sunshine where we could hear doves calling most any time or see monkeys or baboons as we drove down the road or equally . . . not. I have seldom been more content merely to be present in whatever the day brought. That, my dear, was in part from your schooling.

    With love and warm thoughts to you both, Lynn

    On Tue, Nov 20, 2018 at 8:12 AM Tuesdays in the Tallgrass wrote:

    > Cindy Crosby posted: “”…I hear a sound, sometimes a little more than a > whisper, of something falling, arriving, fallen, a seed …there is no > trace of regret in the sound or in the stillness after the falling, no > sound of hesitation on the way, no question and no doubt.” M.S” >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Lynn! What a beautiful response–it brought tears to my eyes. It’s so interesting to read about the parts of your life that were so connected to the natural world, both in Zimbabwe and here in the Midwest. What lovely, specific descriptions: “days of delight and wonder.” Your sentence, “I have seldom been more content merely to be present in whatever the day brought” –exactly–and as I get older, I continue to realize how easy it is to rush through a day, missing whatever it had to offer, in pursuit of things that later seem unimportant. I needed that reminder. So grateful for you. Jeff and I just put the gorgeous prairie quilt you made us on the bed a month ago in preparation for the colder season, and once again, were reminded of our talented, thoughtful, and creative friend Lynn. Much love and a big hug from us both! Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours…thank you for your words this week. Cindy


  6. Thanks November for proving to me over and over and over again that just as surely as spring comes green, so too comes an end. Showing me endings are natural, and beautiful and eventual. Each November I peek a bit further into understanding and accepting this.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you to November for reminding me to slow down, reflect on the past year and take time to prepare for the new year. Thank you, Cindy, for sharing your knowledge about the prairie and expressing it through your artistry of words and photos. Thank you to all of new friends that I have met along the way that have shared their insights on their own nature connection journeys.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So thankful for the foresight of those who came before us to instruct us in caring for our beloved prairie. For those who work tirelessly to maintain our little acre of ancient Illinois. For the quiet and the music of the life we share out there.For the friendships we develop because nature brings us together and connects us in ways previously unknown. If we can focus on these gifts, we will continue to be thankful long after this holiday is past.


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