Three Reasons to Hike the January Prairie

“…I looked on the natural world, and I felt joy.” — Michael McCarthy


This is the season of hot chocolate and electric blankets; library books and naps. And yet. When I spend too much time insulated at home, I find myself fretting over the latest newspaper headlines, or worrying about getting sick. Covid has left few of our families untouched.

Thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

What’s the solution? I can’t solve Covid, but I can keep my worries from circling around and around in an endless loop.

Snow on Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

A hike outdoors goes a long way to restoring my spirits. Cold has settled into the Chicago region. A fine layer of snow has covered the grime along the roads and left everything shimmering white. The air smells like clean laundry. The ice has become manageable under a few days of concentrated sunlight.

Prairie pond at Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

It’s beautiful outside! Despite the chill. Consider these three reasons to brave the cold and go for a prairie hike this week.

Shadows and Shapes

Snow backdrops prairie plants and transforms them.

Unknown vine; East Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

It backlights the tallgrass; silhouetting wildflowers and grasses.

Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Familiar plants cast blue-gray shadows, giving them a different dimension.

East Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Even if you’ve seen a plant a hundred times before…

Common milkweed (Asclepia syriaca), Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

…it takes on a winter persona, and seems new.

Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL.

Snow shadows lend the prairie a sense of mystery.

Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The spark and glaze of ice turn your hike into something magical.

Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Breathe in. The cold air numbs the worry. Breathe out. Feel the terrors of the day fade away.

For now. A moment of peace.

Winter Traffic

During these pandemic times its comforting to know we live in community. Small prairie creatures—usually invisible— are made visible by their tracks.

Busy intersection, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Tunnels are evidence of more life humming under the snow.

Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I leave my tracks alongside theirs. It’s a reminder that we all share the world, even when we don’t see each other.

Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Prairie Skies

Winter has a way of changing the prairie sky from moment to moment. It might be brilliant blue one day, or crowded with puffy cumulus clouds the next.

Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL.

Wild geese fly by, their bowling pin silhouettes humorous when directly overhead; the clamor raucous even in the distance as they fly from prairie to soccer field to golf course.

Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Skies might be soft with sheep shapes on one day…

Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL.

Or blindingly bright on the next stroll through.

East Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The prairie gives us the advantage of a 360-degree view of the sky. Its immensity reminds us of how very small….so small…. our worries are in the great span of time and space.

East Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

As we hike, our sense of wonder is rekindled.

Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Our fear disappears. Or at least, it lessens.

East Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Our mind rests. The well of contentment, seriously depleted, begins to fill. And then, we feel it again.



The opening quote is from the book The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy by Michael McCarthy (1947-), a long-time British environmental editor for The Independent and writer for The Times. You can listen to his interview with Krista Tippett for “On Being” here.


Join Cindy for a program this winter!

“100 Years Around the Morton Arboretum” — Wednesday, January 26, 6:30pm-8:30 pm. Watch history come to life in this special centennial-themed lecture about The Morton Arboretum. Celebrating 100 years, The Morton Arboretum has a fascinating past. Two of the Arboretum’s most knowledgeable historians, author Cindy Crosby and the ever-amazing library collections manager Rita Hassert, will share stories of the Mortons, the Arboretum, and the trees that make this place such a treasure. Join us via Zoom from the comfort of your home. (Now all online). Register here.

February 8-March 1 (Three evenings, 6:30-9pm): The Foundations of Nature Writing Online —Learn the nuts and bolts of excellent nature writing and improve your wordsmithing skills in this online course from The Morton Arboretum. Over the course of four weeks, you will complete three self-paced e-learning modules and attend weekly scheduled Zoom sessions with your instructor and classmates. Whether you’re a blogger, a novelist, a poet, or simply enjoy keeping a personal journal, writing is a fun and meaningful way to deepen your connection to the natural world.  February 8, noon Central time: Access self-paced materials online. February 15, 22, and March 1, 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Central time: Attend live. Register here.

March 3Tallgrass Prairie Ecology Online –online class with assignments over 60 days; one live Zoom together. Digitally explore the intricacies of the tallgrass prairie landscape and learn how to restore these signature American ecosystems. Look at the history of this particular type of grassland from the descent of glaciers over the Midwest millions of years ago to the introduction of John Deere’s famous plow to where we are today. We will examine different types of prairie, explore the plant and animal communities of the prairie, and discuss strategies specific to restoring prairies in this engaging online course. Come away with a better understanding of prairies and key insights into how to restore their beauty. You will have 60 days to access the materials. Register here.


Also — check out this free program offered by Wild Ones! (Not one of Cindy’s but she’s attending!)

The Flora and Fauna of Bell Bowl Prairie February 17, 7-8:30 p.m. Join other prairie lovers to learn about the flora and fauna of Bell Bowl Prairie, slated for destruction by the Chicago-Rockford International Airport this spring. It’s free, but you must register. More information here. Scroll down to “Upcoming Events” and you’ll see the February 17 Webinar with the always-awesome Rock Valley Wild Ones native plants group. Watch for the Zoom link coming soon on their site! Or contact Wild Ones Rock River Valley Chapter here. Be sure and visit to see how you can help.

11 responses to “Three Reasons to Hike the January Prairie

  1. I appreciate that with your photographs you continue to honor Russ Kirt, former Biology professor and expert botanist at College of DuPage. He devoted many years to restoring the tallgrass prairie and savanna on campus that now bears his name. Russ was part of a group on a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina in 1992 sponsored by the Morton Arboretum that I also was a part of. It was a gift to have him in the group – as you can imagine!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a lovely memory, Paula! I am so grateful for his legacy of prairie to Glen Ellyn and to College of DuPage. I was fortunate enough to process seeds in his garage, back when he still lived in the area. He has a lovely guide to prairie plant ID; check it out online if you haven’t seen it (I think it is out of print now). Thanks for reading and for sharing your story! So grateful. Cindy 🙂


  2. Cindy, thank you for showing us how you find joy in the winter landscape…I loved this! I looked up from my kitchen window a little while ago to find a bald eagle flying in graceful loops above my neighborhood…and I felt my body relax as I was briefly taken put of my own busy mind. Joy, indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • *taken OUT of my own busy mind.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for reading, Kim, and for taking a moment to share about the eagle !!!!! Wow!!! That would clear out the bird feeders pretty quick! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in my neighborhood — lucky you! Keep putting those beautiful words and images out in your blog — I always look forward to reading “Nature is My Therapy” (readers, you should check it out too!). Enjoy the week! Cindy 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. For those who do hard work outside this is the best season. It is a great time to cut up and haul wood. Temperatures in the 20 to 30 degree Fahrenheit range means if you get over heated all you need to do is remove a layer. In the sun the temperature feel a lot warmer. Another plus is there are no mosquitoes or ticks. While you are taking care of business, it is nice to look around and see the tracks of animals in the snow.

    If I was just visiting a prairie, I’d take spring/early summer over any other time of year. However, for getting work done winter is great.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Cindy, for including the link to your Foundations of Nature Writing course. After reading your blog and at least one of your books so far, I’m so happy to let you know how much you’ve inspired me to learn the art of nature writing. I’ll be working diligently in the coming weeks to get organized for it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so delighted you are taking the course! I can’t wait to meet you online, and to share writing together. See you soon online, and thank you so much, Esther. We’ll have fun! Cindy 🙂


  5. Cindy:
    Thanks for a great post and for encouraging people to visit the winter prairie, where one can read the comings and goings of many creatures not seen.
    One question, is that last photo a snow angel or a bird/raptor imprint?


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Ed, and thank you for reading, and for taking a moment to ask a question. I need to caption that snow angel! Someone else told me they thought it was an owl. Or maybe it is better left to the imagination? Hmmmm…. I’m grateful for your note. Take care, and happy hiking! Cindy 🙂


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