A Little Prairie Fog Magic

“Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.” — Mary Oliver

*****

Seems Mother Nature is trying to cram all four seasons into one week as January gets off to a tumultuous start in the Chicago region. From the “Winter Storm Icepocalypse” that fizzled, to temps veering from a balmy 50 degrees to a bitter 17 (and what about those wind gusts at 40 mph?) we’ve already experienced weather worthy of all four seasons. Sun. Snow. Ice. Sleet. Wind. Rain. Fog.

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With a winter storm in the forecast, I headed to the Schulenberg Prairie Friday to put in some long-overdue pasque flower seeds.  Pasque flowers are one of the first wildflowers to bloom in the spring after a prescribed burn.

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We usually deal with the seeds immediately as they ripen, pushing them into the soil next to the mother plant. But our flowering plants have dwindled here—in 2018, to just a few blooms. We’ve also been starting them in the greenhouse—and direct sowing them—but I worry about the limited genetic pool we’re drawing from. Slowly the population is increasing. But we have a long way to go.

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This season, generous folks at a local forest preserve were kind enough to share seeds with us to help invigorate our dwindling, genetically-inbred population. But, by the time the seeds arrived, I was out of commission for the season after cancer surgery. The seeds languished in an envelope. Until now.

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Winter seeding is a time-honored method to stratify certain prairie seeds that need a cold, moist period to germinate. Better late than never, I tell myself. This morning, the temperature hovers in the mid-40s. But snow is on the way.

Fog envelopes the prairie and prairie savanna.

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I grab my bucket of sand and envelope of seeds, and head for the area I have in mind for the pasque flowers.

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Fog brings a certain silence with it. On Sterling Pond, across from the prairie savanna, the cold ice of the pond kisses the warm air. The fog shape-shifts across the water. A living thing. A breath of transition.

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A few goldfinches in their buff-colored winter plumage bounce through the scattered trees.

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Along the trail, a pasture thistle throws sparks of light from the fog moisture.

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Learning to distinguish between the native thistles (keepers!) and invasive thistles (begone!) was one of my early tasks as a prairie steward. One clue is the pale reverse sides of the leaves on native thistles. Even in winter, this pasture thistle’s leaves are a give-away. Keeper.

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The trail is mushy, and I’m soon thankful for my knee-high rubber boots. Mud clings to the soles, weighing my steps. It’s a slog, but I’m slowed more by the beauty around me than the mud. The prairie is on fire with water.

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Fog droplets kindle sparks of light on every plant surface, reflecting the upside prairie.

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Arriving at my chosen spot, I push the pasque flower seeds into the moist ground and sprinkle a little sand over the top to anchor them so they don’t blow away before the snow falls. When gale force winds arrive that evening, I’ll think back on this and be glad I did.

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The coming snow will provide cover. Freeze and thaw. Freeze and thaw. The seeds will settle into the prairie soil and wait, ready to germinate—I hope—this spring.

It’s tough to focus on the task at hand when all around me, droplets hang from the tips of grasses like crystals. Canada wild rye is beaded with diamonds.

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Big bluestem, our Illinois state grass, is clear-pearled and luminous.

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Switchgrass hangs wands of lights in the gloom.

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It’s unearthly. Magical. I’m mesmerized by contrasts. Worn, wet prairie seedheads. Sprinkled with light.

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I return to the seeds. Pasque flowers have a reputation for going into deep dormancy if not planted immediately after harvesting. So my hope for seeing any quick results in the spring are tempered with the knowledge that these were held in storage longer than I would have liked. It might be years. And yet. Sometimes, life doesn’t work out the way you planned it. You have to adapt to what you’re given.

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2019 was a year of the unexpected for many of us. Me included. As a prairie steward, I had to adjust my expectations of what I would accomplish. Looking back at the year,  it’s tough not to think about the projects that remain unfinished.

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These pasque flower seeds were one fall-out of those adjusted expectations of my prairie work. After surgery in August, it was two months before I could hike as far as the pasque flowers’ seeding spot.

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I’m grateful that today, five months later, I can effortlessly hike across the prairie. As the late poet Jane Kenyon wrote, “It could have been otherwise.

Brian Doyle wrote about his  cancer diagnosis in One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder. Don’t call it “a battle with cancer,” he said. It’s not a battle. Rather—as a tiny, frail nun once told him—cancer becomes your dance partner. You don’t want this partner;  you don’t like this partner, but you have to dance, he writes.

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The shadow of that dance partner will always be with  you. I think of this as I gently pull the pasque flower seeds from their envelope. How quickly our lives may change. How unwelcome  “the dance.” But as I sow the seeds of the pasque flower, and sand them into their places, I feel optimistic about the future.

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The common name “pasque” means Easter, as this is the time the plant usually flowers. Its scientific name  is Pulsatilla patensPulsatilla means “beaten about” in modern Latin, or “beaten by the wind.”

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We burn the tallgrass prairie here each spring. Amid the ashes and bare, blackened earth, the pasque flower dances with the prescribed fire. None-the-less, it blooms. Trembles in the wind. It’s almost been defeated here, on this site, over the years.

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But not yet. I’m not going to let it go. The dance continues. I’ll keep planting pasque flower seeds for the future. I’ll continue to hope.

*****

The opening quote is from Felicity by Mary Oliver (1935-2019),  winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. If you haven’t read her writing, a good place to start is New & Selected Poems Volume 1.

****

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): trail to the Schulenberg Prairie in the fog, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pasque flowers (Pulsatilla patens), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy Illinois, Franklin Grove, IL; pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens) seeds, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bee balm (Monarda fistulosa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; fog on the Schulenberg Prairie and Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bridge over Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Sterling Pond in the fog, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; goldfinch (Spinus tristis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pasture thistle (Cirsium discolor), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pasture thistle (Cirsium discolor) leaves, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; droplets on Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens) seeds, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; gray-headed coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL; prairie interpretive trail under the snow, Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL; coyote (Canis latrans) tracks in the snow, Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL;  ice art, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; sanding in the seeds, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens) blooms fading, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pasque flowers (Pulsatilla patens) opening (Pulsatilla patens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

The line from the Jane Kenyon poem is from Otherwise. Thanks to Susan Kleiman and Russell Brunner for their help with the pasque flower seeds! Grateful.

*****

Please join Cindy at an upcoming event or class this winter!

Sterling Stories, Lisle Heritage Society, Sunday, January 19, 2 p.m. With co-presenter Rita Hassert, Library Collections Manager, The Morton Arboretum. Location is the  Lisle Library, 777 Front Street, Lisle, IL. Open to the public.

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. Sold Out. Waiting list –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. 

22 responses to “A Little Prairie Fog Magic

  1. Thank you, so much, Cindy for your life affirming work and words (to say nothing of your beautiful photographs!). Today your words reached me at a point of real need. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Joel, and what a lovely note to start my day. Thank you for reading, and taking time to let me know. So glad the words connected. Grateful for the wonderful work you do to share the natural world. — Cindy

      Like

  2. What a great way to look at a cancer diagnosis,
    as an unwanted dance partner. Thanks for sharing and inspiring those who have the same partner. Continue to hope and enjoy the soul cleansing in the tall grass Cindy.

    I’ll be waiting for the pasque flower update in the following springs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Cathy, for taking time to read, and to connect. Brian Doyle is an inspiration, isn’t he? I like the idea of the “dance partner” much better than the “battle.” Sending you all good wishes, and gratitude for sharing. Cindy

      Like

  3. Amazing Cindy. Thankful for the many WANTED dance partners of the prairie, of blogs, and Jesus!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely focus, Cindy. I spent time with Mary Oliver last week, and in the poem, Terns, found this excerpt that suits your efforts for us. Thank you:

    “…The years to come – this is a promise –
    will grant you ample time

    to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
    where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.

    But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
    than this deepest affinity between your eyes and the world…”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you so much, Cindy, for your work and words (AND the beautiful photographs!) Your insights came at a perfect time for me today. You are doing important work for all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dear Cindy. I am in California visiting cousins and have shared your Tuesday writings with them. My cousin is in stage four cancer’s dance with stomach cancer. His wife is bearing the load well but struggles. She is an avid nature fan and absolutely loves your winter photography. I was wondering if it might be possible for me to buy a copy of your Canada wild-rye picture to give to her. I have no idea whether you ever sell your prints . I admire the ways you have dealt with your own dance!,,

    Fondly Marj Dolbeer

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Marj. I am so sorry to hear about your cousin’s cancer. Private message me through the website (www.cindycrosby.com) and we will figure the photo out! Sending your cousin my wishes for peace and freedom from pain. Thinking of you both. Thank you for sharing—so grateful. Cindy

      Like

  7. Nature is so healing, you are where you belong. Also sending healing thoughts your way. Love the water droplet photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so kind to take time to read and drop me a note! I’m grateful for you, and others who care so passionately for the natural world. Thank you for all you do! Hope you are finding time to hike this winter, and enjoy the beautiful prairies. — Cindy 🙂

      Like

  8. I just wanted to wish you the very best of health in the future. P.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is so lovely, Pamela! I am getting stronger all the time. Looking forward to 2020 and a year of good health! Thank you for reading, and taking time to write me a note. Grateful for your good wishes. — Cindy 🙂

      Like

  9. That was a welcome article about your prairie. It brought back memories. Loved your photos. That quote by the nun cracked me up. Good luck with your future health. I went through it in 2019. There’s a lot of us that are healing….

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a delight for me to receive and share these posts.

    Peace on and with the prairie,

    Clay🌻

    On Tue, Jan 14, 2020, 7:03 AM Tuesdays in the Tallgrass wrote:

    > Cindy Crosby posted: ““Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.” — > Mary Oliver ***** Seems Mother Nature is trying to cram all four seasons > into one week as January gets off to a tumultuous start in the Chicago > region. From the “Winter Storm Icepocalypse” that fizzled, t” >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Clay — it’s great to hear from you and to receive your encouraging note. Grateful that you are reading and sharing prairie through the blog. Here’s to a great 2020! — Cindy 🙂

      Like

  11. Cindy, I’ve never seen pasque flower, but this year I’ll be looking for it and thinking of your beautiful essay. Also, you mentioned the silence of the fog, and it instantly took me back to the day I sat on the rocky Maine coast as a thick fog rolled in and swallowed me up. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced…complete with the sound of a buoy bell clanging in the distance. Thanks for bringing back that memory!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Kim — what a lovely comment, and thank you for reading! Really appreciated your note about Maine– I can almost hear the bell you described–so beautiful there. Folks if you haven’t checked out Kim’s blog, she’s at “Nature is My Therapy.” Take a look –great stuff. Hope your year is off to a wonderful start! — Cindy 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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