The Prairie Whispers “Courage”

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” —Viktor Frankl


I look out my kitchen window at my prairie planting and see something purple. It’s the first hyacinth in bloom. I’m a native plant aficionado, so hyacinths aren’t really my thing—and I planted prairie over the old garden bulbs that came with the house we purchased 20 years ago. But I welcome hyacinths this week. I welcome their fragrance. Their beauty. That purple.

Hyacinth Glen Ellyn 33020WM.jpg

As I look out the window, I’m folding a piece of parchment paper to reuse. I’ve been baking. A lot. Comfort baking, I imagine.  I’m also trying to minimize trips to the store during this time of Covid-19 uncertainty. “Shelter in place” means making the most of what we have on hand.

rolling pin 33020WM.jpg

I think of my grandmother, now long passed, who would have recognized this moment. One of my early memories is of her washing a piece of foil, then folding and putting it away to reuse later. As a child, I scoffed at this, impatient. There is always more than enough of everything, wasn’t there? An endless supply. Little did I know. But she knew.


Grandma also had a victory garden. Long after World War II was over, her garden gave her a sense of food security. Today, I feel a kinship with her as I start vegetable and flower seeds; spade my soil to plant lettuce, peas, potatoes.

Seed starting 33020.jpg

I feel the ghosts of my grandmothers in my kitchen as I plan meals using the ingredients I have on hand, plant a garden, struggle with uncertainty, just as they once did during the Great Depression and wars. This March, I’ve remembered—and marveled at—the courage they showed as they lived through times of insecurity, fear, and uncertainty. Courage I didn’t appreciate before. Courage I didn’t really understand when I was a child, or even a young adult. Courage I didn’t understand until now.

I wish both my grandmothers were here so we could talk.. They’d tell me their stories of these times, and I could ask them for advice. As a child, I squirmed when they hugged me. What I wouldn’t give to hug my grandmothers now.


Jeff and I hiked the Schulenberg Prairie Sunday in 50-mph wind gusts, needled by sharp darts of drizzle that stung our faces and soaked our jeans. It was cathartic. And invigorating. We hiked  staying “present to the moment” by necessity—aware of the cold we felt as we  sloshed through the flooded prairie trails.


I noticed the way the black walnut and oak trees were darkened on one side from the slashing rain, and bone dry on the other.

Shadow and light.


The tallgrass is flattened now. In previous years, its tinder would be gone to ashes from the prescribed burn that happens here each spring. For perhaps the first time in its almost 60-year history, this planted prairie I’m hiking through may not see fire when it needs it. A prescribed fire here calls for a team of two dozen people or more working together, and it’s difficult to envision those simple gatherings happening anytime soon. By the time our Illinois shelter-in-place guidelines are lifted, it will likely be too late.


I walked, and I wondered, and I looked. In the savannas and woodlands this week…

Schulenberg Prairie SavannaWM 32920.jpg

…I found sharp-lobed hepatica, nodding in the rain.

Sharp-lobed Hepatica MAEastWoodsWM32820.jpg


I’m looking for a different wildflower today, the pasque flower. Its newer scientific name is Pulsatilla patens, synonymous with the older name,  “Anemone patens.” It’s one of the first native wildflowers to bloom on the prairie. “Pasque” comes from the Hebrew word “pasakh,” “passing over.” The flower blooms despite the flames of early prescribed burns, usually during the Easter season (thus the name “pasque” is also associated with this holiday from the old French language.). When the pasque flower blooms, I feel as if winter has passed.

Last year, the few blooms we had were memorable, perhaps for their scarcity.


“Anemone” means “windflower.” “Pulsatilla” means “sway” or “tremble” which the pasque flower does in March and April breezes. Appropriate names for a flower that faces down cold, brutal winds, prescribed fire, and seasonal instability.  Our population of these fuzzy-leaved lavender bloomers had dwindled in previous years; down to just one clump plus a few stragglers. Since then, I’ve sown seeds to re-invigorate our plant population from another preserve.


Would anything be up? Jeff and I slogged through the mud and peered closely. And there! One tiny fuzzed green shoot. And another! Barely detectable in the wind and drizzle.

Pasque flower shoots SPMA32920WM.jpg

Life was going on, despite the chaos of the outer world. Nature calmly follows the rhythm of spring. It was a shot of hope in a dismal month. Brave little pasqueflower. It seemed to whisper to me. Courage.

I find myself trying to summon courage for each day. Not for tomorrow, or for next week, but for the 24 hours ahead of me, in which I need to make good choices. Courage right now, as Governor Andrew Cuomo has said in one of his binge-worthy news conferences on Covid-19, means “looking for the light.” I desperately want to be strong, but some days, it’s tough to know where to start. Looking for the light seems like a good place to begin.SPMAmarch32920WM.jpg


The courage to get up each morning, get dressed, make a meal. Even if no one sees us.

two trees on the SPMA32920WMWMWM

Courage. The courage to rise each morning and school our children.

shooting star backyard prairie patch WM33020

Courage. The courage of those who live alone, whether from necessity or from choice—and who ride this season out, bereft of their usual friendships and routines.


Courage. Those who work in a makeshift office in a bedroom, an attic, a basement, or from the kitchen table. We may deliver groceries, work in hospitals, fill prescriptions. We watch our businesses implode, our freelance work vanish, our jobs lost, our retirement savings plummet.


And still. We choose to take the next step. We teach a lesson on weather to our children. Go for a walk with the dog and wave to the neighbors—-neighbors we’ve never seen before until two weeks ago and suddenly have gotten to “know” from across the road—because they are out walking too.  We realize that so much is out of our control.

And yet, the world goes on.

In the midst of it, we find courage to make the choices we can make.  Courage to sit through another online meeting—trying to show up with our best game face, even though we feel like getting into bed, pulling the covers over our head, and not coming out for the next month.

Or maybe the next two.


Courage to be patient with our children as they sense the fear we feel and need us now—and our reassurances—more than ever.

Mosses SPMA32920WMWM.jpg

Courage to be kind to our spouse and those we share space with—adult children, older parents, grandchildren. We find ourselves together 24/7, without the distractions of outside errands and activities. Our margin for patience gets slimmer each day. But we dig deep. We find new reserves. Because patience and kindness are the things that matter most. They are choices we can make.


We ask for courage to be patient with those who don’t see this crisis the way we do, and act in ways we find irresponsible—or perhaps, overly-cautious.


Courage to bake bread, start learning a new language, clean out a drawer, begin a journal, plant garden seeds, laugh at an old sitcom, watch re-runs of classic baseball games because there is no opening day. Because the crack of a bat, the roar of the crowds— the  memory of what once was normal is something that reassures us. We find humor in situations—-even when we don’t feel like laughing. Why? Because those are choices available to us, when so many other choices are not.


We scrape up our last bit of bravery to find courage to live into the next hour, much less the next day. To think ahead? It’s terrifying. We turn on the news, then turn it off. We need to know, but we don’t want to know.


In a world where once we had so many possibilities at our fingertips —and just about anything we wanted was available to us at the tap of a computer key—we have different choices to make now. How will we live in this new reality? When we look back on this next year—in five years, ten years—what stories are we living out that we we tell our children, our grandchildren, and our friends? How will we use this time we are given? What chapter in our lives will we write? It’s up to us. Today. Right now.


Don’t surrender to fear.

cup plant SPMAsurrender32920WM.jpg

We can choose to love. To be kind. To keep moving forward.

Take courage. You’re not alone.


Together, let’s keep moving forward.


The opening quote is from Viktor Frankl’s (1905-1997) Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and Austrian psychiatrist who lost his wife during their incarceration. A quest for meaning was what Frankl said helped him survive tremendous uncertainty and suffering. “Meaning,” he says, came out of three things: work, love, and courage in the face of difficulty. Read more here.


All photos and video copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Dutch hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis), author’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL; rolling pin, author’s kitchen, Glen Ellyn, IL; Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; seed starting, author’s office, Glen Ellyn, IL: flooded trail, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; tree lashed by rain, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; sharp-lobed hepatica (Anemone acutiloba), Lisle, IL; pasque flower (Pulsatilla or Anemone patens) in bloom on the Schulenberg Prairie in 2019, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pasque flower (Pulstilla or Anemone patens) seeds, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pasque flower (Pulsatilla or Anemone patens) shoots, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Schulenberg Prairie; Schulenberg Prairie; shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), log on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; March on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; western chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata); The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; compass plant (Silphium laciniatum); mosses (unknown species, would welcome ID suggestions!); common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morotn Arboretum, Lisle, IL; switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bridge over Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; chalk art, author’s driveway, Glen Ellyn, IL.


Cindy’s classes have moved online! For updates on classes and events, please go to The next Tallgrass Prairie Ecology class online begins in early May. See more information and registration  here.


Have you always been curious about the native landscape of the Midwest, but didn’t have time to read?  Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit (order directly from Ice Cube Press) and The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction  from Northwestern University Press (order from your independent bookseller if they remain open or deliver, or from Bookshop or  I’m grateful for your support for prairie, books, small publishers, and freelance writers like myself.

26 responses to “The Prairie Whispers “Courage”

  1. Jeanne Iovinelli

    As usual, you have brightened my morning. Thank you for bringing the prairie to me through your writing. Stay well Cindy!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stay strong, Jeanne- you are an inspiration to me! I miss you and our prairie group right now. That garlic mustard will be waiting for us! Thank you for taking a moment to read, and to drop me a note. Grateful!
      Cindy 🙂


  2. Dear Cindy, Your post this morning brought tears to my eyes. I’m going to get out to see the prairie tomorrow! Thank you for your thoughtful, BEAUTIFUL and informative letters. Blessings and good health to you and your family. Lindsay

    On Tue, Mar 31, 2020 at 7:21 AM Tuesdays in the Tallgrass wrote:

    > Cindy Crosby posted: “”Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: > the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set > of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” —Viktor Frankl ****** I look > out my kitchen window at my prairie planting and see ” >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Lindsay, and what a lovely, lovely note. Thank you for your kindness, and for taking time to read. I’m grateful for you, and the others out there reading who love and care for the natural world. We’ll get through this! Good health to you and your family!– Cindy 🙂


  3. I’ve been following this for awhile and just shared a link to this post with my friends on Facebook. It is the most inspirational thing I’ve read during this crises. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Ken, and how wonderful to hear from you. Thank you for sharing the link — that’s such an encouraging thing to hear today. Your words mean a lot to me. Grateful that you took a moment to get in touch. Stay safe! — Cindy 🙂


  4. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
    On afternoons when we walk just to break up the day, I try to stay observant as inspired by your Tuesdays in the Tall Grass. And I am so appreciative of your weekly posts and for the prairie….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Sandy — how lovely to hear from you. I’m so grateful you are finding moments of observation during this difficult time. Keep walking, and keep finding those moments! Grateful for readers like you right now. Stay strong! Cindy 🙂


  5. Katherine Jarva


    On Tue, Mar 31, 2020, 8:21 AM Tuesdays in the Tallgrass wrote:

    > Cindy Crosby posted: “”Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: > the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set > of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” —Viktor Frankl ****** I look > out my kitchen window at my prairie planting and see ” >

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a wonderful post, Cindy. I’ve been feeling and thinking much the same including reflecting on how our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents went through their intense periods of uncertainty and fear. Though they’re gone now, they feel closer than ever.
    That hyacinth is a (non-native) beauty! 😍

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Linda, and thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here. I feel the same about my grandparents! Grateful you took a moment to read, and to share your thoughts. I confess, for a native plants gardener, those hyacinths (we have two left) have given me a lot of joy this spring! 🙂 Take care, and be well. — Cindy 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for your calming and centering words

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for the respite in the middle of the noise . . .

    *Jim EschenbrennerEmail: Cell: 641.799.0010*

    On Tue, Mar 31, 2020 at 7:21 AM Tuesdays in the Tallgrass wrote:

    > Cindy Crosby posted: “”Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: > the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set > of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” —Viktor Frankl ****** I look > out my kitchen window at my prairie planting and see ” >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for taking a moment to read, and to let me know. We all need that “respite” from the noise right now…. I’m glad you found it here. Stay well! I’m grateful for your kind note. — Cindy 🙂


  9. Who could ever imagine where reading (writing) these each Tuesday has brought us today? I love that our minds and hearts can have this Strength and POWER to share now. Cindy we need You to start writing a Monday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday’s in the Confinement! Keep the Faith Baby!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike, it’s crazy, isn’t it? Never would I have imagined something like this when I started writing the blog in 2014. And here we are. I’m glad to have this community online — it has been a real gift to hear from you and the readers, and to feel that sense of “togetherness” in loving and caring for the natural world. You cracked me up with your M-W-TH-F! 🙂 That’s a lovely thing to say. Take care of yourself, and thank you as always for reading and taking time to share your thoughts. I’m grateful for you, Mike! — Cindy 🙂


  10. Thank you Cindy. I used to live in Glen Ellyn, 3 different times. I now live in LA. Your words and images remind me that I am happiest in nature. Courage is a word many of us are adopting these days. I would add, endure and believe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Sheila! It’s great to hear from a former (three-time!) resident of my little town. Thinking of you in LA — I know your area has been hit hard by this. I love “Endure” and “Believe!” Good words for difficult times. Stay strong, and thank you for taking time to read and leave me an encouraging note. Grateful! — Cindy 🙂


  11. Karen Burkhalter

    Cindy…your tuesdayinthetallgrass as usual didn’t disappoint. It was rather inspiring and trying to think of courage instead of fear at this time. I wonder if our grandparents during a time like this didn’t have as much fear since they didn’t have all the social media to look at. Will look forward to next Tuesday. At least then I know it is Tuesday. Take care, be safe, and stay well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen — what a lovely note. I agree — I think social media is both a blessing and a curse right now! It keeps us in touch with friends and family, and yet, stokes our fears. Many of us have lost our sense of time; I’m glad the Tuesday email helps keep you grounded. Having it to write helps me remember what day of the week it is too! 🙂 Take care, and thank you for making time to read, and to share some thoughts. I’m grateful. Cindy 🙂


  12. Of all your blog posts I’ve read, I believe this is the best one yet.

    Courage is not a character trait we either have or don’t possess. It is something that grows within us. It is human to be vunerable and that vunerability gives us great power. When tragedy strikes, healing is needed before we can move forward. It will take time, but in fits and starts we will recover.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is a lovely thing to say, James, and I’m so grateful. Thank you for being one of those bits of light in some of these dark days. I appreciate you! We’ll be back out pulling garlic mustard before we know it…. Take care, and stay strong! Cindy 🙂


  13. Cindy, so often as I read your posts I’m nodding my head in agreement, as you so eloquently express what I’m thinking and feeling. The part about “the courage of those who live alone” really hit home with me. Before this pandemic, I was always grateful that I was able to live alone. I had a full and active life with lots of friends to socialize with, and could have as much alone time as I wanted. And now that my social life has been cut off, I find myself not only very lonely, but also envious and sometimes angry at people who have partners and families during this time. I go for a drive, alone, and see so many people driving with family members along, and I want to weep. There’s nobody here to talk me down on a bad day, or give me a hug. Most days I’m doing okay, but there are moments I would give my right arm to have someone put their arm around me, just for a minute. I’ve made an effort to maintain regular contact with friends by phone or text, but I’m really missing the physical contact of our everyday hugs.

    Thanks, by the way, for continuing these weekly walks around the prairie — they give me comfort.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Kim — just saw your reply! — I missed it the first time around. Sending you a hug, and know you are not alone! Thank you for sharing so vulnerably about your feelings during this difficult time. You are such an encouragement to all of us with your blog, and to me with your kind words. Stay strong, and know I am cheering you on.
      Big virtual hugs — Cindy 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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