New Prairie Perspectives

“Gratitude is wine for the soul.”–Rumi


We’re in the last days of meteorological summer. which ends August 31. For those of us who want to hang on to “summer” a little longer, we default to the astronomical seasons, which put the start of autumn on September 23 this year.  Either way, the seasons are shifting.

Joe Pye Weed SPMA 82319WM Sky clouds.jpg

One of the best things about unexpected interruptions is they give you new perspective. These past two weeks,  I’ve been putting in more time observing my backyard prairie out of necessity. Cut loose from my work schedule, sidelined for a bit by surgery, I’ve had to slow down. It’s been a reminder to pay attention to what’s in front of me—my own backyard.

I’ve had time to watch — really watch — the cardinal flowers open their lipstick red petals. To be delighted at how the hummingbirds go crazy over them, flying in and out from their hiding spots in nearby trees to drink from the blooms.

Cardinal flower 82419 GE backyardWM.jpg

The hummers boldly check me out where I sit motionless in my deck chair, then take a quick sip of nectar from the feeder. They’re so fast! Audubon tells me that while hovering, ruby-throated hummingbirds beat their wings 50 times per second. They must be on a sugar high.


Then, they rocket over to the red cardinal flower’s cousin—blue lobelia—dripping with much-needed rain–for another drink. The lobelia have just started to bloom around the pond this weekend; one of the last hurrahs of summer.


Monarchs sail over garden and pond and prairie, joining the hummingbirds for a nip of nectar.

monarch and hummingbird 82419WM.jpg

Soon, both monarchs and hummers will head south; the monarchs to Mexico, the hummingbirds as far south as Costa Rica.  The backyard will be emptier without them.

Obedient plant (sometimes called “false dragonhead”) is in full bloom in my backyard prairie patch. I move each individual flower sideways with my finger. They rotate then stay put, thus the name. Fiddling with flowers—it’s addicting!

obedient plant 82419WM.jpg

Queen of the prairie blooms, those cotton-candy pink tufts, have gone to seed; but are perhaps no less beautiful at this stage of life. Just different. So many seeds. So much promise for the future.

Queen of the PrairieWM seeds Glen Ellyn Backyard 82419.jpg

Tiny skippers rev up across the yard; flitting from flower to flower. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources tells me there are more than 3,500 species of skipper butterflies in the world. Wow!

Fiery Skipper GE backyard zinnia WM82419.jpg

The skippers are tough to ID. I like Field Guide to the Skippers of Illinois from the Illinois Natural History Survey, now out of print, but fortunately on my bookshelf. Inaturalist, a phone app and online resource, is also useful in ID’ing these little fliers. Between the two, I can sometimes figure out who is who. Is this a fiery skipper in the photo above? Possibly! Nearby, the small bullfrog in my pond startles when I stop at the edge to scan the water, both of us watching for damselflies and dragonflies.

bullfrog backyard pond 82419WM.jpg

Earlier this week, I looked at the pond’s water level and realized how long it had been since we’ve had rain. I’m not allowed to carry the hose around yet, so until a storm moves through—or my family helps me—the pond is left to its own devices. It’s a curious thing, letting go of this ability to “do” things that I once took for granted. I gauge everything with an eye to its weight. I look at my day ahead and prioritize where my energy goes, instead of heading into it recklessly, taking whatever comes.  It’s a new perspective on each day.

Thistle and a bee SPMA82319WM.jpg

Two weeks into recovery this week, I ask my husband to drive us to the Belmont Prairie in Downer’s Grove. I can’t walk the trails here yet—they are too narrow and treacherous with their grassy overlays—but I can admire the prairie from the parking lot. The Maxmilian sunflowers tower over my head.

Belmont Prairie 82219WM.jpg

Peering in between them, I can see blazing star and rattlesnake master, two August prairie masterpieces. The gray-headed coneflowers are going to seed, and the wild quinine is close behind. The silhouettes of pale purple coneflower are magnets for goldfinches, who know what tasty seeds are inside. The goldfinches move from coneflower seed head to coneflower seed head. Their bouncy flight always makes me laugh.

Not a bad view from the parking lot.

Belmont Prairie 82219WM Downers Grove.jpg

Later, Jeff drives me to the Schulenberg Prairie where I’m a steward. I walk the short loop of the accessibility trail. I’ve not paid a lot of attention to this part of the prairie, and I’m delighted at the diversity. Big bluestem is coloring up.

Big bluestem 82319WM.jpg

Wingstem, with its unique flower shapes, is in full bloom.

wingstem SPMA 82319WM.jpg

Virgin’s bower tumbles through the shadier areas. I’ve never noticed it in this spot before.

virgin bower SPMA82319WM.jpg

Wild golden glow blooms splash their sunshine alongside the paved trail. You might also hear this flower called cutleaf coneflower, or the green coneflower.

Cut-leaf coneflower 82319  SPMAWM.jpg

Walking slowly, observing the natural world—both in my backyard, and at the prairies down the road—reminds me that every day is a gift. Sounds a bit cliché, I know.

Accessible trail SPMA 82319WM.jpg

But I can’t shake the feeling, especially after this cancer diagnosis. My prognosis is good. I’m one of the lucky ones.  I’m getting stronger every day. As the poet Jane Kenyon wrote, “It could have been otherwise.”  I’m grateful for every new day.

The poet Mary Oliver told us, “Pay attention. Be astonished! Tell about it.” I feel a renewed push to do just that.


Rumi (1207-1273) also known as Jalal al-Din Rumi and Jalal al-Din Mohammad-e Balkhiwas, was a 13th century Sufi poet, mystic, and scholar. Read more here.


All photos and video copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Joe pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL;  ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris); author’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL; great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), author’s backyard prairie pond, Glen Ellyn, IL; monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), on heirloom cut and come again zinnias (Zinnia elegans), author’s backyard garden and prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; skipper, (Hylephila, possibly phyleus–the fiery skipper–thanks John Heneghan) on heirloom cut and come again zinna, (Zinnia elegans), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL;  bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), author’s backyard pond, Glen Ellyn, IL;  pasture thistle (Cirsium discolor) with black-and-gold bumblebee (Bombus auricomus), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani), Belmont Prairie Preserve, Downer’s Grove, IL; button blazing star (Liatris aspera), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), and pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) Belmont Prairie Preserve, Downer’s Grove, IL; big bluestem (Andropogon nutans), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana), accessibility loop, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; wild golden glow, or cut-leaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), accessibility loop, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; entrance to accessibility loop at the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.


Cindy’s speaking and classes can be found at  

27 responses to “New Prairie Perspectives

  1. Cindy, you are in my thoughts and prayers and every good wish.
    Take good care, and I know that your resting time will be healing and will strengthen you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sandy! So appreciate your note. Grateful for you reading and for your encouragement. I’m doing very well — your support means a lot. Enjoy the last few days of August.


  2. Katherine Jarva

    Such beautiful photos and great information every week, in addition to your own lovely prose. Wishing you all the best in your recovery. Thank you for continuing your posts while you convalesce.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Katherine — I think the backyard prairie, pond, and garden have become my healing agent these past few weeks! Thank you for reading, and for taking time to leave such a kind note. Grateful.


  3. Cindy, I wish you well to get well. Thank you for your voice from the prairie. Your writing and photos are inspiring. Gorgeous is the word. You keep me connected and teach me about plants I can’t put a name to and you introduce me to new ones. You send me a gift every Tuesday.
    Big blue stem in the fall is love at first sight!

    Eileen LaBarre

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eileen, it’s so lovely to get your upbeat and complimentary note. Thank you for taking time to read the blog, and then to write to me. The support of my readers has been a healing balm, no kidding! Glad we both share that affinity for big bluestem…. it is delightful. I hope the last days of meteorological summer are good ones for you, full of beauty and lots of time outdoors.


  4. “Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light” – Theodore Roethke –
    You, Cindy, have that light.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Prayers for healing and restored health to get you back on your feet and in the local prairies soon. I enjoy iNaturalist as much as you do. Skippers are bountiful this year and hard to ID. The app has helped me figure them out several times. Enjoy the peace today after a much needed rainy day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Cathy, thank you for your prayers–I’m grateful for them. I am finding the skippers EVERYWHERE in the backyard, and I feel as if I’ve hardly noticed them before. Lots of gifts everywhere you look. (I’m also glad to find a kindred iNaturalist spirit! What did we do without it? :)) Enjoying a very peaceful day — hope you have a wonderful week. Thank you for reading.


  6. johnayres43gmailcom

    Didn’t know you were laid up . Perhaps some apples and honey may be in order? I would call that a Fiery without hesitation. Skippers are not so bad . The three witches are sort of hard. Hartmans told me they had Cardinal flower come up from seed. Is that from the seed I gave you? I had 4 different patches come up from plantings around the wetlands. They just seem to spring up out of nowhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi John — I bet you are keeping busy with bees and harvest! Glad for the confirmation on the ID — John Heneghan was a big help to me with his photos of the same species. Who are “the three witches?” Probably three skippers I need to learn! 🙂 So many skippers to learn, so little time…. And yes! I think some of the cardinal flower is from that batch of seed you gave me. The great blue lobelia is spreading also! Yay! So grateful. Thank you for reading, and give my love to Lisa.


  7. as always so inspirational…may the prairie give you strength and heal you, Cindy!


    • Mike, what a kind note — thank you! Nature is such a healing place — I’m grateful —more than ever this year–for my little backyard prairie patch and pond and garden. Appreciate you taking time to drop me a note. Enjoy the last days of August!


  8. Thanks Cindy,
    I’ll need you and Jeff to come for a visit so I can plan my own garden with your eye to native species.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, Bob — so nice to hear from you, and thank you for taking time to drop me a note. You have some different species (and very cool ones) up north that we don’t have as much of here! I hope you are putting down roots, and enjoying the last days of summer.


  9. faithanncolburn

    I always enjoy your photos.I live in shortgrass prairie country and have established a native grass patch that’s diversifying as we speak. Started with two species and now can’t count them. Coneflowers (and goat’sbeard whether I like them or not) have volunteered and I’m seeding false indigo, butterfly milkweed, shell leaf penstemon and snot-on-the-mountain this fall. it looks like your prairie had been around longer than mine and is really thriving.


    • Hello, Faithann! So wonderful to hear from the “shortgrass prairie” folks. I love that landscape as well. It sounds like your native prairie patch is thriving! I love the names! (I must check out “shell leaf penstemon” and “snot on the mountain” — wow!) My backyard patch is almost 20 years old, and I expand it a bit every year. This year, I added a lot more obedient plant, cardinal flower, ironweed, and queen of the prairie — really enjoying the results. Like all good things, these prairies take time. Grateful for your reading, and for your delightful note.


  10. You document and celebrate the going-to-seed time of the year which fortunately is a long one. Some colors are eye-smashing–the red of the cardinal flower; others are subtle and gradual–the big bluestem. They say

    In beauty I walk
    With beauty before me I walk
    With beauty behind me I walk
    With beauty above me I walk
    With beauty around me I walk
    –Navajo Way Blessing Ceremony

    Thanks again.


    • Oh Ed — how lovely! This is one I’ll need to print out and keep handy. Thank you so much for sharing that Navajo Way blessing ceremony with me. And thank you for your encouragement and your notes. Grateful.


  11. Your hummer pic by the feeder is astonishingly beautiful! Glad you are taking time to heal out in nature. Wishing you a speedy recovery as my friend Barb would say. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the hummers, don’t you? They never fail to amaze, delight, and make me marvel. Worth keeping them in sugar water and tubular blooms. 🙂 Thank you for reading, for your encouraging note, and for your love of the outdoors, Kathy. Grateful.


  12. Thinking of you often and wishing you well! Thank you always for the inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Marcy, for your recovery wishes! I’m doing very well, and grateful for all of you who read the blog and take time to leave a comment. Enjoy the first week of September! — Cindy 🙂


  13. Cindy, so sorry to hear about the cancer, but thankful you have a good prognosis! As you already know, continuing your walks in nature will be good for your healing process. Thanks for sharing your journey and your keen observations. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kim! Grateful to have such a good outcome. Thank you for reading the blog, and taking time to comment! Hope you are enjoying the transition from summer to fall. — Cindy 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just as prairie fires bring new life back to it so will you have a new healthy life. Even greater appreciation of the natural world which you love so much. Wishing you all the best.


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