The Many May Delights of Prairie and Woods

“Let all thy joys be as the month of May”—Francis Quarles

*******

Is there a more beautiful time in the Midwest than mid-May?

It’s been a week for the birds. Migrating birds, that is. In the woods, the great crested flycatcher calls. Such a distinctive voice!

Great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus), Norris Woods Nature Preserve, St. Charles, IL.

I’ve read that the great crested flycatcher weaves unusual items into its nest: snakeskin, cellophane, plastic wrappers. Wouldn’t I love to spot one of those nests! This is the first great crested flycatcher I’ve ever seen. How did I miss it all these years? Likely I was busy looking down, not up: at the wildflowers.

Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphyllagone) with seed capsule, Norris Woods Nature Preserve, St. Charles, IL.

Seeing the flycatcher is one of the wonderful benefits of hiking with knowledgeable birding friends. If I had been hiking alone, I would have been looking at wildflowers, and likely missed it.

Probably white baneberry or doll’s eyes (Actaea pachypoda), Norris Woods Nature Preserve, St. Charles, IL.

In his poem The May Magnificant, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: “Question: What is Spring–Growth in everything–Flesh and fleece; fur and feather; Grass and green world altogether… .” As we hike through the green, green, green woods, we discover a single, random feather. Our birding friends tell us it may be a young owlet’s. I would love to know how it came to be here along the trail.

Young owlet feather, Norris Woods, St. Charles, IL.

High in a tree, an indigo bunting surprises us. I love Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s description of the bunting; “a scrap of sky with wings.”

Indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea), Norris Woods Nature Preseve, St. Charles, IL.

Most of the “blues” I see in the bird world belong to the blue jays that stop by my feeder. This past week, there’s been the color orange as well—the Baltimore orioles who love the grape jelly and orange halves we put out for them.

Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula), Cindy’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

This weekend, while I listened to the birds at the feeders, I dug newly-purchased prairie seedlings into my prairie patch. White wild indigo.

White wild indigo (Baptisia alba), Cindy’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Meadow rue.

Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dioicum), Cindy’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Prairie coreopsis. Great angelica. Prairie smoke. Anise hyssop. So many plants! When I ordered earlier this season, where did I imagine I could put them all? At the end of the day—a lonnnnng planting day—every plant had a seat in the prairie. Now it’s up to them and the weather.

As I turned on the hose to wash the dirt from my hands, I heard the first American toad of the year in our little pond. I turned the water back off to listen. Have you ever heard the American toad? No? You can hear it here. At night, when we crack open our bedroom window for the breeze, the sound can be deafening. In the forest preserve wetlands, lakes, and ponds, the American toad trillllllllll is a warm weather soundtrack for our hikes.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Birds! Toads. Plants. Wildflowers. The writer Ellis Peters wrote, “Every spring is a perpetual astonishment.” It’s difficult to know where to look. So much is happening on the prairies and in the woodlands. How can I choose where to hike? And so much is happening, right under my nose, here in my yard!

Near my prairie patch, the pawpaw tree is in bloom. Such an unusual flower color! That brownish-maroon reminds me of wild ginger blooms. For fun, I try to match the flower color to a lipstick shade. The closest I find is “Cherry Cocoa” or maybe, “Love in Maroon.” What do you think?

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) tree in bloom, Cindy’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Butterflies pass me as I examine the pawpaw flowers. Cabbage white butterflies showed up early this spring, stopping to lay a few eggs on my overwintered kale and kohlrabi. I don’t grudge them a few leaves. Especially since this year’s overwintered crop is a bonus. A gift to share.

Overwintered kale (Brassica oleracea, Acephala group) and kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea, Gongylodes group) going to seed, Cindy’s garden, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I saw my first tiger swallowtail last week, and a few friends have reported monarchs. Pearl crescent butterflies pass through the prairies and savannas, taking a moment to pause and let me admire their bright colors. They’re a common sight, and will continue to be throughout the summer. But no less delightful, for being so ubiquitous.

Pearl crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos), Norris Woods, St. Charles, IL.

The pearl crescent butterflies enjoy a wide variety of flowers. There are plenty of blooms to choose from in the middle of May. Wild geraniums are still going strong on the prairies and in the woodlands. Is it my imagination, or are they lingering longer this year? Maybe it’s the cool weather?

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2017)

I’m grateful, whatever the reason.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum), Norris Woods Nature Preserve, St. Charles, IL.

Prairie, woodland, and savanna spring wildflowers are best seen up close.

Examining the wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Then, when something unusual comes along, you’ll have a ringside seat.

Nessus Sphinx Moth (Amphion floridensis) on wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), Norris Woods Nature Preserve, St. Charles, IL.

And—you’ll thank your lucky stars—so grateful and glad that you went for a hike in the middle of May.

*****

The opening quote is by Francis Quarles (1592-1644), an English poet. One of his descendants was the poet Langston Hughes (1901-1967), a celebrated poet and author.

****

Join Cindy for a program or class!

The Tallgrass Prairie: Illinois Original Garden Online: June 2, 7-8:30 p.m. Illinois’ nickname is “The Prairie State.” Listen to stories of the history of the tallgrass prairie and its amazing plants and creatures –-from blooms to butterflies to bison. Discover plants that work well in the home garden as you enjoy learning about Illinois’ “landscape of home.” Presented by Sag Moraine Native Plant Community. More information here.

Literary Gardens Online: June 8, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Join master gardener and natural history writer Cindy Crosby for a fun look at gardens in literature and poetry. From Agatha Christie’s mystery series, to Brother Cadfael’s medieval herb garden, to Michael Pollan’s garden in “Second Nature,” to the “secret garden” beloved of children’s literature, there are so many gardens that helped shape the books we love to read. Discover how gardens and garden imagery figure in the works of Mary Oliver, Henry Mitchell, Barbara Kingsolver,  Lewis Carroll–and many more! See your garden with new eyes—and come away with a list of books you can’t wait to explore. Registration through the Downers Grove Public Library coming soon 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. Offered through The Morton Arboretum. Register here.

Thanks to Tricia Lowery and John Heneghan for the afternoon hike, the gift of the prairie plants, and help with spotting wonderful flying critters this week.

12 responses to “The Many May Delights of Prairie and Woods

  1. How cool to see that sphinx moth! I didn’t know they were out so early!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know it’s a common one, Karen, but the four of us hiking had never seen this species before! John H. saw it first, and drew our attention to it. One of the joys of being able to hike with friends again! Thanks for reading, and for your beautiful work with prairie plants. Love your new drawings! Folks be sure and check out Karen’s Nature Art –https://www.karensnatureart.com/ –she has some gorgeous pieces of prairie work for sale! I own several. Thanks, Karen, and please keep sharing prairie! Cindy 🙂

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  2. You continually drive home the point that there is so much going on in nature if we only, as the poet Mary Oliver writes, “pay attention.” I saw my one and only indigo bunting at the Morton Arboretum – absolutely enchanting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aren’t those indigo buntings amazing, Paula? I always count it as a treat to see one — and I don’t see them very often. We were fortunate to be hiking with friends who are expert birders, and who pointed it out, or we would have missed it. Happy birding, and enjoy the week! Thanks for reading. Cindy 🙂

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  3. brendaspitzer

    Thank you for this beautiful post, Cindy. It was just what a needed today, like a breath of spring air. For the past week I have been hospitalized and unable to be outside. Your post and calming photographs were very restorative! I especially love the photo of your little person exploring with her magnifying glass.
    I am now looking forward to returning home and enjoying the peace of walking in the woods and sitting in my garden!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no! I had no idea! Speedy recovery — and rest up, okay? I’m so glad it was calming to your spirit to read. Grateful for all you do for the natural world through your Forest Therapy walks! Folks, please talk to Brenda Spitzer if you ever need someone to take your group on a Forest Therapy hike — she’s certified as a guide and terrific! She has a wonderful new book on nature art out as well. Here’s the link: https://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/guides/brenda-spitzer

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  4. I’m glad to see you are continuing your blog. I was worried changes to a volunteer agreement might have prevented you from continuing. Although, I don’t see any mention of the place owned by the organization that made the changes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, James! Thanks for reading this week, and taking a moment to comment. The blog is not part of any organization — just my own, and some of the outflow of my love for sharing the natural world through words, images, and experiences. I will keep posting images and words about prairies from all over! And one of the best places to see the most amazing marvels is our own backyards and neighborhoods. Good to hear from you!
      Cindy 🙂

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  5. I would totally wear a lipstick color called Pawpaw blossom. 😆

    On Tue, May 18, 2021, 3:49 AM Tuesdays in the Tallgrass wrote:

    > Cindy Crosby posted: ” “Let all thy joys be as the month of May”—Francis > Quarles ******* Is there a more beautiful time in the Midwest than mid-May? > It’s been a week for the birds. Migrating birds, that is. In the woods, the > great crested flycatcher calls. Such a di” >

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I once had a friend who told me he still wanted to be friends with me but that he did not want me to tell anyone we were friends. That’s kind of how the new volunteer agreement makes me feel.

    Like

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