A Tallgrass New Year

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” —Hal Borland

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And so 2021 comes to a close.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

On the prairie, the tallgrass colors transition to their winter hues.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

The prairie is stripped to bare essence.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)and Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

The deep roots of prairie plants continue to hold the tallgrass through the winter.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

As Paul Gruchow wrote, “The work that matters does not always show.”

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

2021 has been another tough year. We’ve attempted to make each day meaningful in the midst of uncertainty and loss.

Ball gall, Lyman Woods prairie kame, Downers Grove, IL.

We’ve pulled from our reserve strength until we wonder if there is anything left. Trying to keep a sense of normalcy. Trying to get our work done. Trying. Trying. It all seems like too much sometimes, doesn’t it? In When Things Fall Apart, Pema ChΣ§drΣ§n writes, “To be fully alive, fully human, is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” The past two years have made us realize how comfortable that “nest” used to be.

Prairie dock (Silphium terabinthinaceum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

But we keep moving forward, little by little. Reaching for that extra bit of patience. Putting away the media for a time out. Setting aside a morning to go for a walk and just be.

Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Listening to our lives. Listening to that interior landscape.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

We’ve learned we are fragile.

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

We’ve also learned we are more resilient than we ever knew we could be.

Thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica), Lyman Woods, Downers Grove, IL.

In 2019, we had no idea of the challenges ahead.

Lyman Woods, Downers Grove, IL.

And yet, here we are. Meeting those challenges. Exhausted? You bet! It’s not always pretty, but we keep getting up in the morning and getting things done.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

We’re making the best of where we find ourselves.

Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Trying to keep our sense of humor, even when there doesn’t seem to be much to laugh about.

Random tree creation found in Lyman Woods, Downers Grove, IL.

With less margin, we are learning to untangle what’s most important from what we can let go of.

Dogbane or Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

We are making life work, even if it’s messy. Knowing that whatever is ahead in 2022, we’ll give it our best shot.

Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

We’ll hike—the prairies, the woodlands, or wherever we find ourselves—aware of the beauty of the natural world. We’ve never appreciated the outdoors spaces like we have these past months.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

We’ll give thanks for joys, big and small. Grateful in new ways for what we have.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

And we’ll encourage each other. Because we need community, now more than ever before.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Keep on hiking. The road has been long, but we’ve got this. Together.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) in late December, Lyman Woods, Downers Grove, IL.

Happy New Year!

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Hal Borland (1900-1978) was a naturalist and journalist born in Nebraska. He is the author of many books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and plays, and wrote a tremendous number of nature observation editorials for The New York Times. He was also a recipient of the John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing. I’m so grateful for his “through the year” books— I love books that follow the months and seasons! Thanks to blog reader Helen Boertje, who generously shared her copies of Borland’s books with me. I’m so grateful.

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Making a New Year’s resolution? Don’t forget Bell Bowl Prairie! Commit to doing one action on the list you’ll find at Save Bell Bowl Prairie, and help us save this rare prairie remnant from the bulldozers.

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Happy New Year, and thank you for reading in 2021. What a year it’s been! I’m grateful to have this community of readers who love the natural world. I’m looking forward to virtually hiking the prairies with you in 2022. Thank you for your encouragement, and for your love of the natural world.

13 responses to “A Tallgrass New Year

  1. Thank you for a beautiful post! You’ve been such a faithful writer and these posts have encouraged me each week. I’m grateful I’ll be able to read them no matter where I am!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Karen — I’m going to miss seeing you in person, but will love following your prairie adventures in Texas! Thanks for being such an encouragement to me this year. Happy New Years! Cindy πŸ™‚

      Like

  2. Let It Snow!! ….Let It Snow! Bring on that blanket! Happy New Year Cindy…..

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mike, I think we’re about to get your wish! Happy New Year, and thank you for reading and commenting so regularly in 2021! Cindy πŸ™‚

      Like

      • Barbara Werner

        Thank you Cindy, I have followed you for several years, commenting a few times, but have difficulty sending my thoughts because of a glitch in my
        Phone.I read you every week and enjoy your Essay and photos. I am a member of the Red Cedar chapter of the Wild Ones in
        Lansing Michigan. A Wonderful group of dedicated people the landscape, one backyard at a time. Thank you again for all you do where are the environment !

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Such gorgeous photos, Cindy!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for your beautiful words of encouragement and resilience.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a wonderful post to close out the year. See you in the new year!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cindy, thank you so much for acknowledging the ongoing struggles — yours and ours. I feel ashamed that life is such a challenge these days…the uncertainty and messiness are overwhelming for me, and it looks like everyone else is just chugging along easily. Knowing that others are struggling too makes me feel less alone, and I really appreciate your encouraging words for all of us. You’ve lifted me up when I needed it — happy new year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kim, you are such an encouraging voice in a chaotic world! It’s people like you who keep on posting about the wonders of the natural world who inspire and help me keep getting up in the morning. I’m grateful for our friendship — across the miles — someday we’re going to meet! Take care, and know this nature friend is cheering you on. Happy New Year! Cindy πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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