October Prairie Adventures

“What day is it?” asked Pooh. “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. “My favorite day,” said Pooh. ― A.A. Milne

*****

The trees blushed into their autumn hues seemingly overnight, delighting leaf-peepers in the Chicago region. Under an onslaught of 35 mph wind gusts and chilly rain on Monday, these same trees gleefully tore loose their red, gold, and copper leaves, sifting them into the streets and sidewalks.

WMunknowntreeMA102119WM.jpg

The rain drizzled to a stop. Sunlight shafted through big-bellied clouds moving fast across the sky.  Light glinted in the swirling leaves, littering the road. It feels like fall at last.

east side MA102119WMpsd.jpg

Suddenly, the birds nests we hunted for all summer are starkly visible. There is the oriole’s nest-purse! Right over my head! And  —So that’s where the squirrel built her drey! Tree branches stand out in start relief, some with miniature worlds to discover.

mossesandfungionoakSPMA101619WM.jpg

In the 1942 book, We Took to the Woods, Louise Dickinson Rich tells of living deep in the Maine forest. She writes that she doesn’t mind the long hike to town to get the mail, as she anticipates visiting with friends. And then — “There are the woods themselves, which I like better in winter than in summer, because I like the type of design that emphasizes line rather than mass,” she writes. “The bare branches of the hardwood trees look exactly like etchings.” In autumn, I feel the same as the trees strip down to silhouettes.

novemberbisonnachusa11418WM

Woolly bear caterpillars are everywhere, it seems, especially if you have the focus to find them. A good way to “see” them is to take a child with you. I hiked the Schulenberg Prairie this week with my six-year-old grandson Tony looking for the last dragonflies. Only a lone green darner was hanging around, but he found eight Woolly Bears in under an hour.

TonySPMAdragonflychasing101519WM.jpg

Until this October, I didn’t know Woolly Bears climb plants! Tony and I found this one  below, that had “slinky-ed” its way up into a stiff goldenrod plant.

woollybearonstiffgoldenrodSPMA101519WM.jpg

Later last week, I took a lovely group of women out to collect little bluestem and stiff goldenrod seeds.

seedcollectingSPMA-northernkanecountybookclub101819WM.JPG

They found at least two more Woolly Bears clinging to the tops of prairie plants, again, mostly stiff goldenrod. Maybe Wilhelm and Rericha’s massive reference work,  Flora of the Chicago Region, will need to add this “insect association” to its list!

Interesting. The Woolly Bear is folklore-famous for its ability to forecast the weather. Of course, its all in fun, but I always like to see if the prediction matches the actual weather that follows. All the Woolly Bears on the Schulenberg Prairie this season seem to have predominately rust-colored bodies, with a bit of black.

Woolly Bear 101719WMSPMA copy.jpg

According to Farmer’s Almanac, this means a mild winter. Further reading says the Woolly Bear’s direction of travel is also a factor; if they are moving south, it means a cold winter; north is a mild winter.

No word on what it means when they crawl upwards.

*****

Jeff and I hiked Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve this weekend, and while we didn’t find any Woolly Bears, we did find some other fauna. Jeff was looking for a map…..

102019WolfRoadPrairiemapboxWM.jpg

When he opened the box, there were none. But some enterprising prairie fauna had moved in.

SurpriseMiceTwoWolfRoadPrairieWM102019.jpg

Sweet! A map mouse house. We carefully closed the lid and left the tiny critters to their naps. The prairie is always full of unexpected surprises.

This was our first time hiking Westchester, Illinois’ Wolf Road Prairie in the autumn, and it was a delight. Entering from the south, you find the celebrated old sidewalks left from the subdivision that was platted and partially laid out, then abandoned back in the late 1920s during the Great Depression.  The savanna breaks into the open prairie, with the city as a backdrop. So many remnants now have this juxtaposition; the urban and suburban with the last pieces of tallgrass untouched by the plow. It’s a celebration of the determined people who saved these precious patches from development.

wolfroadprairiesavannacity102019WM.jpg

As you hike, you’re reminded of the relentless reclamation of nature, when She is given the chance. The sidewalks, now almost 100 years old, are breaking up under the slow pursuit of the grasses and in one spot, the more aggressive roots of a lone cottonwood.

cottonwoodwolfroadprairie102019WM.jpg

Everywhere you follow the sidewalks, you see the hard-won efforts of prairie restoration stewards in the diversity of native prairie plants spread out in all directions.

blazingstarWolfRoadPrairie102019WM.jpg

We stripped some Indian grass of its seeds and took a moment to admire them before scattering them into the prairie.

indiangrassseedsWolfRoadPrairie102019WM.jpg

The prairie dock leaves showed the transition between the seasons.

prairiedock102019WM.jpg

The rusts of little bluestem colored the tallgrass; the late morning sun backlit the seedheads, throwing sparks of light.

JeffhikesWolfRoadPrairie102019WM.jpg

Overhead, a half-moon shadowed us as we hiked back through the savanna to our car.

halfmoonWolfRoadPrairie102019WM.jpg

The prairie moves from wildflowers to wisps and puffs and kernels of seeds.

Trees transform themselves from welcome shady refuges with blurred edges to stripped down, sharp-cut “etchings.”

I’m embracing the change.

****

Playwright and novelist A.A. Milne (1882-1956), whose quote opens this post, was a British author who penned the wildly popular Winnie the Pooh children’s books. He and his wife, Dorothy, had a son named Christopher Robin, who resented the Pooh books. The rift ended in his estrangement from his parents. The real-life Milnes are chronicled in the 2017 movie, Goodbye Christopher Robin.  Disney eventually acquired all rights for the Winnie the Pooh books and characters for $350 million in 2001. In 2005, Winnie the Pooh generated $6 billion dollars for Disney.

*****

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Unknown tree along the East Side route at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; road through the trees, East Side Route, Lisle, IL; mosses and fungi on an oak branch, Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bison (Bison bison) at Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL (photo taken in 2017); chasing dragonflies, Schulenberg Prairie Visitor Station, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; woolly bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella) on stiff goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; seed collecting on the Schulenberg Prairie in October, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; woolly bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella), Schulenberg Prairie path, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; map box, Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve, Westchester, IL; mouse family (maybe Peromyscus leucopus), Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve, Westchester, IL; skyline behind the Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve, Westchester, IL; sidewalk and eastern cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides), Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve, Westchester, IL; blazing star (Liatris spp,), Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve, Westchester, IL; Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) seeds, Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve, Westchester, IL; Jeff walks the sidewalks of the Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve, Westchester, IL; half-moon over the savanna at Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve, Westchester, IL.

*****

Thanks to Robert Helfer for connecting me to the weather.gov article on Woolly Bears! I really enjoyed it.

Thanks to the Save the Prairie Society, who has worked so hard to care for the precious Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve community. What an accomplishment!

******

Cindy’s upcoming classes and speaking events:

Saturday, December 7, 1:30-3 p.m.: Join Cindy and The Morton Arboretum’s library collections manager Rita Hassert for Sterling Stories from the Arboretum Stacks, at the Sterling Morton Library, Lisle, IL.  Register here. A lovely afternoon enjoying little known Arboretum’s stories, and a quiet respite from the holiday hustle and bustle.

Sunday, December 8, 2-3:30 p.m.: Tallgrass Conversations at Prairieview Education Center, 2112 Behan Road, Crystal Lake, IL 815-479-5779 Book signing after the talk! Free and open to the public.

12 responses to “October Prairie Adventures

  1. Another graceful piece. Loved the map mouse house!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Eileen, for your continued encouragement and the great work you do for the natural world in the Chicago region. It was a delight to have your book group out on the prairie to collect seeds. Thank you for reading the blog, and taking time to comment! The mice were a complete serendipity! You never know what you’ll see on the prairie….. Cindy 🙂

      Like

  2. Jeanne Iovinelli

    Very interesting. Loved the information when I clicked on the link for “drey”. I can’t wait to check out the Wolf Road Prairie.
    Yesterday I was at The Schulenberg Prairie guiding a forest therapy walk and saw a wooly bear on top of the Stiff Goldenrod Plant. Thank you Cindy!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeanne, you will LOVE Wolf Road Prairie. Such a cool place, with a fascinating history. I’m so glad you saw the caterpillars. What a week it has been for them! Grateful for all you do for the Schulenberg Prairie and for opening people’s eyes to the beauties of the natural world through your work. Thank you for reading and taking a moment to drop me a note. (And it was wonderful to see you this morning — your “prairie soil” costume was a stroke of genius!!!)— Cindy 🙂

      Like

  3. “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. “My favorite day,” said Pooh – the best way to start my day! thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this lovely meditation, Cindy!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I collect mouse stories to tell to children. The map mouse house is a great addition!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Marcy — what a lovely idea, to tell children stories about mice — this one is a story that just begs to be written! The “map mice” were one of the prairie hike surprises this weekend. We’re still talking about them at our house. Thanks for taking a moment to read and to comment. Grateful! Happy story telling! — Cindy 🙂

      Like

  6. The late Minnesota poet, Bill Holm, wrote an epigraph to his book of collected and old poems (The Chain Letter of the Soul), that came to mind when I read Pooh’s comment about a day. Here is part of what Holm wrote: “For it is life we want. We want the whole beautiful world alive–and we alive in it. This is the central god we long for and seek, yet we have already found it, if we gain our senses, our whole bodies, thus our souls.”

    Thanks Pooh, thanks Cindy, thanks wee mousies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Ed — I need to check out this book! How beautiful to be alive — both in body and in spirit. Thank you for sharing this, and as always, for being such an encouragement and faithful reader of the blog. Enjoy the weekend ahead! — Cindy 🙂

      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