Spring Prairie Thaw

“Keep busy with survival…remember nothing stays the same for long, not even pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.”  ― May Sarton
Mid-March in the Chicago region feels like emergence from a long dream.  The world is waking up. Slowly.
We blink in the sunshine. Rub our eyes. Stretch.
What’s that sound?
It’s the sounds of water. The prairie creek thaws. At last!
Melted snow runs into cracks and crevices. Water tunes up; provides a musical soundtrack for the tallgrass once again.
Sure, it’s not officially astronomical spring until March 20, another week away, when winter officially ends.
 But you can see the transitions in play.
Willoway Brook 3719WM.jpg
Not quite spring yet? Tell that to the birds. They know better. Soon, migrants will pour through the skies, piping their songs to us Midwesterners. We’ll ask each other, “Was that a white-throated sparrow singing?” They are common migrants and occasional winter residents here in Illinois. Every spring, I hear them calling on their way north, headed for the upper Midwest and Canada. It’s just a matter of days, now. I’m listening.
Speaking of birds…In the tallgrass, one has pecked through the Chinese mantis egg case  I’ve been watching all winter. The case is in tatters. Goodbye, little future insects! Praying mantises are pretty merciless predators themselves, so perhaps it’s justice.
chinese mantis WM2719SPMA.jpg
It’s a savage world out there, especially at the end of winter when survival is still bitterly won. Hunger gnaws. Reserves are low. Hang on. Don’t quit. Sit it out. You can make it!
Soon, the March mud season will give way to color and song. For now, I welcome the sunshine, the melt and the thaw.
Cardinal songs in the morning. The “oke-a-leeeeee” conversations of red-winged blackbirds as I hike the prairie trails by the brook.
The first green shoots. The last old stands of dried grasses and wildflowers, fuel for the coming prescribed burn. You can feel spring trying to punch through the cold; break out of the gray and the gloom.
The old order is passing. Something new is on the way.
Breathe in. Can you detect spring in the air? It’s in the scent of water. The smell of earth. That subtle scent of green. Feel the mud cling to your boots. Hear spring’s tentative first notes as the prairie community warms under the March sun.
Later, we’ll demand more than these small pleasures from the tallgrass.
But for now, they are enough.
The poet May Sarton (1912-1995), whose quote begins this post, was also the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction books, including “Recovery.” She was particularly interested in aging, illness and depression (and our responses to both); solitude; personal, emotional, and artistic growth; our need for community and dependency on others; and the close observation of the natural world. Read “Mud Season” about her spring garden here. “Fluent, fluid…” said one reviewer of Sarton’s work; another wrote that her words are, “…direct and deeply given.”  Her writing, however, has been largely snubbed by major critics. She died of breast cancer at the age of 83. Read more in her obituary from The New York Times.
All photos and video clip copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): bubbles under the ice, Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; ice waterfall, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; water running into crevices at Fermilab Prairie’s Interpretive Trail, Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL;  ice on Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Chinese mantis ((Tenodera sinensis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Willoway Brook ice, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) singing on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; gray-headed coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.
Pre-order Cindy’s New Prairie Book By Clicking Here Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit (Cindy Crosby and Thomas Dean), Ice Cube Press. Releases in April, 2019, full-color hardcover, $24.95. Also available at The Arboretum Store: https://www.mortonarb.org/visit-explore/arboretum-store
Cindy’s Classes in March
Tallgrass Prairie Ecology Online March 27 (The Morton Arboretum—work at your own pace from home and hone your knowledge of prairie)

9 responses to “Spring Prairie Thaw

  1. Thank you for the quote as I mourn the passing of my sister last month – so true “Keep busy with survival…remember nothing stays the same for long, not even pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.” I am doing so day by day…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Cathy — what a terrible loss for you. My deepest sympathy. May Sarton is a powerful writer. I’m glad you found a bit of resonance in her words. Her book, “Recovering” is a good companion after loss — it was helpful to me. Thank you for sharing, and for taking time to read this morning. Spring is coming…


  2. Laurel Tormey Cole

    Cindy, Thank you for your wonderful blog. I live in the northeast, in upstate NY but much of the timing of the seasons is the same as where you are. And although I have never been to an actual prairie, they are somehow in my blood. I have been promoting the use of native plants for over two decades. And here in the northeast that was something very novel.
    Thank you for the May Sarton quote. She was one of my favorite authors. I own a vast number of her books. She was overlooked by most critics, but her novels and journals were always beautifully written. I’ve been living that quote since my husband’s sudden passing in September.
    And thank you for all your beautiful photography.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Laurel, and thank you for reading and taking time to share a little bit about upstate NY (such beautiful country!) and your love for prairie. I appreciated your note about May Sarton — I agree, such beautiful writing! I was a fan of her journals, in particular. I hope you find comfort in her words as you grieve the loss of your husband. My deepest sympathy to you. Grateful for your encouraging words, and our shared love of the tallgrass and May Sarton’s writing. Sending you and also Cathy (her post is above) a hug from Illinois!
      Thanks for reading.


  3. Pure poetry, Cindy.  Do you mind if I post a link to this on my Prairie Enthusiast Chapter facebook page?  Even though you are in Illinois, your words will inspire others holding on for spring. Mary “Ray” Goehring

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mary, I would be delighted if you posted the link and shared it to your Prairie Enthusiast Chapter FB page! How nice of you. Anytime, please feel free to do so. I love partnering with people to share prairie! Thank you for the good work you are doing. Spring is coming!


  4. Sandhill group passing over Oak Lawn today at lunchtime!

    Liked by 1 person

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