A Very Merry Prairie Christmas

“Life regularly persists through winter, the toughest, most demanding of seasons.” –Allen M. Young

******

It’s the Winter Solstice. Light-lovers, rejoice! Tomorrow, we begin the slow climb out of darkness.

Sunrise over Cindy’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

There is still no significant snowfall here in the Chicago region. Jeff and I joke that we know the reason why. We’ve shoveled our driveway by hand the past 23 years, but after three back-to-back heavy snow events last winter we said, “No more!” This summer, we bought a small snowblower. We figured our purchase should guarantee a snow-free winter. (You’re welcome).

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Glen Ellyn, IL.

But…I miss the snow. Despite December 21st being the first official astronomical day of winter, the prairies and natural areas around me seem to say “autumn.” The upside? Without that blanket of white thrown over the prairies, there are so many visible wonders. Plant tendrils…

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

…and their swerves and curves.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Ice crystals captured in a shady river eddy.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

The bridges we regularly hike across are geometry lessons in angles and lines.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Look closely.

Possibly blue-gray rosette lichen (Physcia caesia), Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

There is life, even here. The lichens remind me of the tatted lace antimacassars so beloved by my great-grandmothers. It also reminds me I need to learn more lichen ID. Winter might be a good time to focus on that.

The soundtrack of the prairie in late December is the castanet rattle of White Wild Indigo pods…

White Wild Indigo (Baptisia leucantha), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

…and the wind’s sizzle-hiss through the grasses. This December in the Midwest, wind has been a significant force. Harsh. Destructive. Here in the Chicago region, we’ve escaped most wind damage. Yet wind makes its presence known. When I’m hiking into it, my face goes numb. My eyes water. Brrrr. But I love the way it strokes and tunes the dry tallgrass, coaxing out a winter prairie tune.

Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

I admire the seed-stripped sprays of crinkled switchgrass wands…

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

…the bright blue of a snow-less sky, feathered with clouds…

Skies over Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

…the joy of spent winter wildflowers.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

I spy the mallard and his mate.

Mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos), Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Feel delight in the murmur of an ice-free stream.

East Branch of the Dupage River, Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

The way December puts her mark on grasses, leaves and trees leaves me in awe… and happy.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

All these wonders! All available for any hiker passing through the prairies or woodlands at this time of year—without a single snowflake in the repertoire.

Frost at Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Sure, I still check the forecast. Hoping to see snow on the radar. But who needs the white stuff when there are so many other surprises? What a treasure trove of delights December has on offer!

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Why not go out and see them for yourself?

You’ll be glad you did.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Happy holidays and Merry Christmas!

******

The opening quote is from Allen M. Young’s Small Creatures and Ordinary Places: Essays on Nature (2000, University of Wisconsin Press). This lovely book includes dragonflies and damselflies; fireflies, silk moths, butterflies, and cicadas—just a few of the many insects he investigates. Several of his essays first appeared in the Sunday Magazine of the Chicago Tribune. Young is Curator Emeritus of Zoology at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

*****

Need a New Year’s Resolution? Help Bell Bowl Prairie, one of Illinois’ last remaining native prairie remnants, which is about to be destroyed by the Chicago Rockford International Airport. Please go to www.savebellbowlprairie.org to discover easy ways your actions can make a difference.

*****

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my readers! Thank you for (virtually) hiking with me in 2021.

12 responses to “A Very Merry Prairie Christmas

  1. Happy Christmas, Cindy. This post is, for me, one of your very best! Makes me want to go out and observe carefully and slowly. Has to be the salt marsh here on the East Coast but still a joy to read and the nudge to brave the elements and go looking for more than Snowy Owls! Thank you and all the best in the New Year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Beth — thank you for your kind note, and for reading. I love the East Coast salt marshes, but know so little about them. Lucky you! Keep on hiking and Happy New Year! Thank you for dropping me a note. (Snowy owls! Lucky you!!!) Cindy ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. It is amazing to me that in winter when so much looks deadโ€ฆthere is so much going on that we cannot see, preparation already for new life in spring. Winter is miracle, holding the promise of hope. A blessed Christmas to you, Cindy – wishing you good time with your family!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. May you and Jeff and your whole family enjoy a very Merry Christmas!

    On Tue, Dec 21, 2021, 7:12 AM Tuesdays in the Tallgrass wrote:

    > Cindy Crosby posted: ” “Life regularly persists through winter, the > toughest, most demanding of seasons.” –Allen M. Young ****** It’s the > Winter Solstice. Light-lovers, rejoice! Tomorrow, we begin the slow climb > out of darkness. Sunrise over Cindy’s backyard prairie” >

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, light is coming back slowly, meanwhile thanks for the reminder to enjoy “sleeping” nature. I enjoy the frost covered leaves and plants in my garden on my walks.

    Thanks for the snow blower purchase, it’s working so far! I don’t think we’re going to miss a whole winter without snow though. We bought a smaller one last season and waited for a long while for it to arrive due to supply issues. Luckily, it arrived just in time for the snow.

    Merry Christmas and enjoy all that you do in 2022!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Cathy — I think our snow blower purchase is about to fail! Look at that storm on the way! Glad we are both prepared. Happy New Year, and thank you for reading this year! Cindy ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. Lovely photos and observations, Cindy. Count me among those who are grateful for your purchase of that snow blower…and hope its impact reaches us over here in Toledo too. Merry Christmas to you and Jeff!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Life hasn’t allowed me to get out hiking with or without my camera lately as much as I used to, so I look forward to hiking virtually every week thanks to your blog. Thanks as always for your observations and images, and merry Christmas to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so grateful you hike with me each week, even if virtually — we need community right now! I’m grateful for you and all the folks who take a moment to read and write an encouraging note. Happy New Year! Hope it is a peaceful one for you. Cindy ๐Ÿ™‚

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