“Barn’s burnt down. Now I can see the moon.”—Mizuta Masahi
Look what’s rising over the newly-burned prairies. Sugar Moon? Worm Moon? Paschal Moon? By any name, it is beautiful.
At the Morton Arboretum just outside Chicago, there’s another sort of moonscape this week.
The Schulenberg Prairie, which burned a week ago.
Few people walk the just-burned prairie.
Can you blame them, when hundreds of thousands of spring bulbs are in bloom in parks and preserves and backyards, not far away?
Native wildflowers are up in the woodlands. Virginia bluebells emerge, with leaves like ping pong paddles.
Jacob’s ladder unspools its ferny leaves in the savannas.
On the unburned Belmont Prairie just a few miles from my house, rattlesnake master spears through the soil.
Native wild strawberries spread their leaves in the sunshine. Soon, white flowers and tiny strawberries will cover the prairie remnant here.
So much green growth on the prairies I walk this week! So many signs of spring flowers. You can see why people are out admiring the spring flowers.
No wonder a blackened landscape holds little attraction.
And yet. There is a different sort of way of experiencing beauty here.
There’s a sense of something given away today in exchange for something in the future. A willingness to let go. To reset. To start over.
Loss is here, make no mistake about it. Fire is deadly. Fire is voracious. The prairie’s old apple tree, a relic of settlement, is burned beyond recognition. After years of surviving prescribed burns, it seemed a certain centenarian. Now, it will not see another season.
I’ll miss passing this little piece of history on my prairie hikes; a reminder that people like the ones who planted this apple tree—or its predecessors —forever changed the Midwest prairies. Another tree not far from it, which was prime real estate for the Baltimore orioles and their nests, will have to be removed for the safety of volunteers and visitors.
I walk the black earth and find more casualties. Bones. Two baby turtles, unable to scramble away from the wall of fire. A tiny beetle.
All of these losses—and others—-are small griefs, but griefs none the less. Prairie management means trade-offs. What gives life to one plant or animal may be a death knell for another.
Signs of life are here—if you look closely. Tiny insects buzz along the singed earth.
Mallard ducks quack their way down Willoway Brook.
And when I see the charred prairie willows…
…with their spring-soft “puffs”…
…I feel the life of the prairie continuing on, more vibrant than before.
After the fire.
Mizuta Masahide (1657–1723), whose quote begins this post, studied poetry under the tutelage of Matsuo Basho (1644 –1694) in Japan. Another of his lovely poems: While I walk on/the moon keeps pace beside me:/friend in the water.
Join Cindy for an online class! See http://www.cindycrosby.com for a full list of upcoming talks and programs.
Virtual Wildflower Walks Online: Section A: Friday, April 9, 11:30 am to 1:00 pm CST Woodland Wildflowers, Section B: Thursday, May 6, 6:30 to 8:00 pm CST Woodland and Prairie Wildflowers. Wander through the ever-changing array of blooms in our woodlands and prairies in this virtual walk. Learn how to identify spring wildflowers, and hear about their folklore. In April, the woodlands begin to blossom with ephemerals, and weeks later, the prairie joins in the fun! Each session will cover what’s blooming in our local woodlands and prairies as the spring unfolds. Enjoy this fleeting spring pleasure, with new flowers revealing themselves each week. Register here.
A Brief History of Trees in America: Online, Wednesday, April 28, 7-8 pm CST Sponsored by Friends of the Green Bay Trail and the Glencoe Public Library. From oaks to sugar maples to the American chestnut: trees changed the course of American history. Discover the roles of a few of our favorite trees in building our nation as you remember and celebrate the trees influential in your personal history and your garden. Registration here.
Plant A Backyard Prairie: Online, Wednesday, June 9 and Friday, June 11, 11am-12:30pm CST –Bring the prairie to your doorstep! Turn a corner of your home landscape into a pocket-size prairie. If you think prairie plants are too wild for a home garden, think again! You can create a beautiful planted area that welcomes pollinators and wildlife without raising your neighbors’ eyebrows. In this online class, you will learn: how to select the right spot for your home prairie; which plants to select and their many benefits, for wildlife, and for you; creative ways to group plants for a pleasing look, and how to care for your prairie. Plus, you’ll get loads of inspiration from beautiful photos and stories that will bring your backyard prairie to life before you even put a single plant in the ground. Register here.