A Prairie Season on the Brink

“To everything, turn, turn, turn; there is a season, turn, turn, turn… .” —Pete Seeger


Now the mercury in the thermometer slips below 30 degrees, although the sun may shine bright in a bright blue sky. Leaves from the savanna float along on Willoway Brook, which winds through the Schulenberg prairie. It’s a time of transition. A time of reflection.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

The first substantial snowfall arrived last night in the Chicago region. This morning, it turned the world blue and black in the dawn light.

Early morning, first snowfall, Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The projects we’ve put off outdoors seem more urgent now. No more procrastinating.

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

Winter is on the way. And this morning, we feel it’s already here.

Snow on prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), early morning, Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

In the garden, the garlic cloves are tucked into their bed of soil with leaves mounded over them as protection against the cold. Next July, as I harvest the sturdy garlic bulbs and scapes, I’ll look back and think, “Where did the time go?” It seems after you turn sixty, the weeks and months just slip away.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I notice the hard freeze Sunday night has marked “paid” to the celery…

Celery (Apium graveolens), Crosby’s backyard garden, Glen Ellyn, IL.

…and also to the bok choy I’ve let stand in the garden, hoping to harvest it over Thanksgiving.

Bok choy (Brassica rapa subspecies chinensis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Both will take a light frost and flourish in cooler temperatures. But, they didn’t survive the the dip into the 20s very well on Monday morning. I should have covered them! Ah, well. Too late, now. Although I clean up my vegetable garden beds, I leave most of the prairie plants in my yard standing through winter; little Airbnb’s for the native insects that call them home over the winter. The prairie seeds provide lunch for goldfinches and other birds. I think of last winter, and how the goldfinches and redpolls clustered at the thistle feeders while snow fell all around.

Rare irruption of common redpolls (Acanthis flammea) in March, 2022, feeding with American goldfinches (Spinus tristis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL. Jeff and I counted hundreds of redpolls congregating at a time.

A few miles away on the Schulenberg Prairie, the tallgrass is full of seeds. The prairie tries to see how many variations on metallics it can conjure. Gold…

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.


Common Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.


Cream gentian (Gentiana alba), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

…dull aluminum and copper…

Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.


Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.


White wild indigo (Baptisia alba macrophylla), in Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

…all here, in the bleached grasses and wildflowers.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

It’s a season on the brink. A turn away from those last surges of energy pumping out seeds to a long stretch of rest.

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

Look at those November skies! You can see change in the shift of weather. You can feel it in the cool nip of the wind.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

On the Schulenberg Prairie, Willoway Brook still runs fast and clear. But it won’t be long now until it is limned with ice.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Transitions—even seasonal ones—bring with them a little tension. A need to reframe things.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

There’s a sense of letting go. Walking away from some of the old…

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

…looking forward to something new.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Transitions wake us up. They force us to do things we’ve put off. They jolt us out of our complacency.

Gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Transitions demand that we pay attention. Expend a little energy.

Sure, they can be rough.

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

But bring on the change.

Hello, snow. I’m ready for you.


The song “Turn, Turn, Turn!” was written by American folk singer Pete Seeger (1919-2014) and performed in the 1950s, then made popular by The Byrds in 1965. If you’re familiar with the Book of Ecclesiastes, in the old King James Version of the Bible, you’ll see the lyrics are almost verbatim from the third chapter, although in a different order. The Limeliters (1962), Pete Seeger (1962), Judy Collins (1966), Dolly Parton (1984), and others have also performed the song. According to Wikipedia, the Byrds version has the distinction in the United States of being the number one hit with the oldest lyrics, as the words are attributed to King Solomon from the 10th Century, BC.


Join Cindy for her last program of 2022!

Wednesday, December 7, 2022 (6:30-8:30 p.m.) 100 Years Around the Arboretum. Join Cindy and Library Collections Manager Rita Hassert for a fun-filled evening and a celebratory cocktail as we toast the closing month of the Arboretumโ€™s centennial year. In-person. Register here.


Watch for the annual “Reading the Prairie” book review round-up next week! Just in time for the holidays.

23 responses to “A Prairie Season on the Brink

  1. I have enjoyed your Tuesday prairie poetry so much… thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a dramatic blast of winter we have had! Just last Thursday (5 days ago!) it was 75 degrees and sunny โ˜€๏ธ with blue skies – followed by freezing temps, and today, a few inches of snow. Your photo of Prairie Dock is gorgeous.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good Morning Cindy! Mid MI
    Here…sitting by kitchen window,watching
    lots of birds at the feeders. I planted native bushes in my back yard
    15 years ago. They have been shelter and food
    for birds since. Pure pleasure for my enjoyment.
    Enjoyed your thoughts and photos this morning as we have snow also.
    Change is all around us. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Barb — I loved imagining your scene! What a gift you have given yourself by planting those native bushes —- and what a gift for the birds! Sending you a hug across the miles….Happy Thanksgiving! Cindy ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. “The projects weโ€™ve put off outdoors seem more urgent now. No more procrastinating.” I chuckled at this as I remembered myself running around putting the last of my garden ornaments in the shed as our first significant snow came down on my head the other day. Thought I had more time, LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Some beautiful close ups. Marj PIM vice president Crane Centre vice president cell # 630-888-0341

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cindy:Joe and I won’t be ableย  to be at your 100 Years Around the Arboretum class on December 7.ย  We will miss being there in person so we want to offer a toast:ย Here’s to 100 years of the Arboretum, to 60 years of the Schulenberg and especially to you and to Rita.ย  We celebrate your knowledge, your support and the valuable contributions you two make in so many ways.Susan and JoeSent via the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G, an AT&T 5G smartphone

    Liked by 1 person

    • I will miss you both! Thank you for all you do for the Schulenberg Prairie, and for prairie in general — what a beautiful legacy you are creating! Happy Thanksgiving and hope to see you in the new year. Thank you also for your ongoing encouragement — it means so much! Cindy ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. Bummer, you lost your bok choy and celery. I just harvested and processed my celery into broth for soups all winter the day before the 20-degree overnight temp…and I have a healthy stash of stalks for crunchy eating too! It will be a reminder of the goodness you can produce in between your habitat at home.

    I enjoyed learning about the Book of Ecclesiastes being used as the basis for the quote/song lyric and love your reference to Airbnb’s for insects in the remaining stems and leaves left in place. Always plenty to learn and value in my inbox on Tuesday thanks to you.

    Blessings to you and your family during this thankful time of year…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathy, it is because of you I went out and checked my celery and bok choy once again and although it was frozen stiff, I found it was delicious in soup! Thank you for the garden tip! I had given up on using it for anything. So grateful for your kind compliments — you are such a kind encourager. Happy Thanksgiving! Cindy ๐Ÿ™‚


  8. What a lovely post, Cindy! I’m curious – what larger stream does Willoway Brook feed? Are its headwaters on the Schulenberg Prairie or does it rise somewhere else?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great question, Suzanne! It’s my understanding that the headwaters for Willoway Brook are in Itasca, but what a long and winding journey it makes. Willoway eventually runs to the DuPage River (East Branch). Thank you for reading, and for your kind compliment! Happy Thanksgiving! Cindy ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I just wrnt back to look at your lovely photos again. They are absolutely brilliant.
    Many thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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