A Holiday Hike in the Tallgrass

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.”—Laura Ingalls Wilder
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It’s 50 degrees. Can it really be December?

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Jeff and I took a break from wrapping gifts this weekend and went for a hike on the Belmont Prairie, a small remnant in Downer’s Grove, IL. The weather was flawless.

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We were greeted immediately.

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As a prairie steward, deer aren’t a welcome sight. But I enjoyed the fluid grace of this white-tail in motion as it bounded into the treeline. Nearby, flattened grasses showed where the deer may have spent the night.

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Many prairie plants in December are almost unrecognizable. Goldenrod leaves , shaped by weather and age, look like ribbon curls. Remember old-fashioned ribbon candy? It was a staple of my childhood holidays. This stage of the plant brings it to mind, albeit with a little less color.

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Goldenrod gall rosettes are as jaunty as spring wildflowers. It’s difficult to believe an insect is the artist behind this creation.

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The bright sunshine and deep shadows of early afternoon throw familiar plants into unfamiliarity. Rattlesnake master leaves, toothed and deeply grooved, bear little resemblance to the juicy green foliage of spring and summer.

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The rattlesnake master seedheads are brittle and alien-esque in the bright sun.

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Prairie dock leaves remind me of an elephant’s trunk.

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I hum tunes from “The Nutcracker” when I see these picked-over pale purple coneflower seedheads on the prairie. This one looks like a ballerina in a stiff tutu with her hands in the air.

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I love the backlit drum major’s baton of the round-headed bush clover…

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…and the weathered beads of wild quinine, like tarnished silver that needs a little polishing.

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On this unseasonably warm day, I think of the Schulenberg Prairie where  I’m a steward and the volunteer hours my team spent weeding and cutting; planting plugs and seeding this year. Many of them, through patient ID work, discovered several new plant species. By coming out to the prairie at night, we were able to ID almost a hundred moth species new to our site this season. Patiently, volunteers made progress on invasive plant removal. We renovated our prairie display beds. Made our prairie more visitor-friendly. All reasons to celebrate.

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There were some disappointments. I think of a few tasks undone. The seeding that didn’t work out. The back-ordered equipment that never arrived.  New signs that were damaged and now, need to be replaced. All part of caring and preserving precious prairie places. Beautiful places like the prairie where I’m hiking today.

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It’s good to take a moment and pause before the new year begins, with all its planning and possibilities. To feel joy over a year well spent. To be grateful for the many people and organizations who make these prairies possible through their hard work, vision, and support.

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To be grateful for the progress we made. Always, it seems our efforts are three steps forward, two steps back. But always…progress. Worth celebrating.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Wonderful New Year to All!

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Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose quote opens this post, was the popular author of the “Little House” children’s series. I’ve been reading Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder this week and am struck anew by the hardships and difficulties families experienced through westward expansion, the Dustbowl years, and the Great Depression. Quite a different perspective than I had reading these books as a child! Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize.

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All photos this week copyright Cindy Crosby and taken at Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downer’s Grove, IL, unless noted otherwise (top to bottom) : thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica); view from the trail looking toward subdivision; white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus); flattened prairie grasses; goldenrod leaves (Oligoneuron rigidum); goldenrod gall rosette (Rhopalomyia solidaginis);  rattlesnake master leaves (Eryngium yuccafolium), rattlesnake master seedheads (Eryngium yuccafolium); prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum); pale purple coneflower seeds (Echinacea pallida); round-headed bush clover (Lespedeza capitata); wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), the prairie in December; milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) pappus; Christmas ornament, author’s yard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

*******

Please join Cindy at one of her upcoming classes or talks in the new year!

Nature Writing and Art Retreat, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL, February 22 (Saturday) 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Cindy will be facilitating the writing portion. Register here.

Tallgrass Prairie Ecology Online begins March 26.  Details and registration here.

Nature Writing Workshop (a blended online and in-person course, three Tuesday evenings in-person) begins March 3 at The Morton Arboretum. For details and registration, click here. 

14 responses to “A Holiday Hike in the Tallgrass

  1. Merry Christmas to you and your family Cindy. Thank you for all you do to preserve these spaces and to educate us all! Wishing you health and happiness in 2020!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wishing you a wonderful Christmas with family and friends – and perhaps some outdoor activities with this great weather! And profuse gratitude for your writing and photographs. A gift to us, each week.

      This season I have been drawn to noticing the architecture of bare trees – something that we cannot see – or appreciate – during the rest of the year.

      I did not grow up reading the Little House books – only watched the tv program. I loved the first half or so of Prairie Fires, when the focus was on Laura. (And such a very difficult life, yes!) However, when the focus shifted more to Rose – frankly, I had to push myself to reach the end. A complicated relationship for certain. You and Laura are kindred spirits – both of you love the prairie!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for reading, Paula, and for taking time to drop me a note about prairies, the blog, Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Prairie Fires book. I found the book sad—I grew up on the Little House books—such a difficult relationship between mother and daughter! But I appreciated the way such memorable literature can come from difficult circumstances and difficult relationships. I had never thought of the books as “true” -rather, more inspired by true events, so it was interesting to me to see how they were originally presented. A very discussable book, isn’t it? I’m so grateful for your encouragement, and your love for prairie and literature which comes through in your note. Happy New Year! Cindy 🙂

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    • Thank you, Cathy, for your kind note. Happy New Year! Grateful for readers like you. — Cindy 🙂

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  2. This blessed season reminds us to see all of the blessing that surround us, from prairie to savannah to forest. To regard one another with new eyes and with gratitude. Let’s hope 2020 brings strong human to human and human to nature connections. We all need each other more than ever.
    Merry Christmas and a very happy, healthy 2020.
    Teri Pehta

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Teri, you are so a champion for prairies—from your hard work there as a volunteer, to your evocative poetry. Loved your comment about “regarding each other with new eyes and with gratitude” — yes! I hope 2020 brings kindness, peace, and new respect for each other to all of us. Nature is a great healing force. Thank you for reading, and for all you do for prairie! — CIndy 🙂

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  3. Cindy your posts are beautiful! They are so positive and enjoyable to read. Thank you & Merry Christmas!

    Thank you
    Laurie Faller

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Laurie, you are so kind to drop me a note during the busy holiday season! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, and thank you for taking a moment to share such encouraging words. — Cindy 🙂

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  4. I’m loving the coneflower ballerina! Best wishes for a happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year, Cindy.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “creation that cannot help but praise the creator”. Cindy, your weaving of grasses and love of nature with God is most inspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This was truly a Christmas gift today…many thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Marcy, and thank you for reading and taking time to leave such a kind note. I hope Christmas week is full of joy and prairie hikes for you! Happy New Year and much gratitude. — Cindy 🙂

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