A Very Prairie New Year

“Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” — Mary Oliver


The last week of the year is a good time for reflection. I’ve been thinking about all of you; the wonderful readers who have joined me on this virtual prairie hike adventure.

Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL (January 2022).

Eight years ago this week in December of 2014, I wrote the first post for Tuesdays in the Tallgrass. About 40 people joined me for that initial post, mostly family and close friends, who encouraged me by clicking “follow” and then, reading each week.

Dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Thanks to so many of you who love prairie and the natural world, this week the “odometer” ticked over to 1,000 followers. In the world of social media, of course, that’s small potatoes. But not to me. Each of you are an important part of this virtual prairie community.

Kaleidoscope of sulphur butterflies (Colias sp.), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2015)

Each week, your readership reminds me of how many people love the natural world.

River jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx aequabilis), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL (Summer 2022).

It’s also a reminder of how important it is, as the late poet Mary Oliver said, to “tell about it.” It’s not enough to enjoy the natural world and the prairie for ourselves. Sharing it with others—or as the remarkable Dr. Robert Betz once said—making “a real effort to educate the public about (the prairie’s) importance as a natural heritage and ecological treasure” is an ongoing necessity. If you and I don’t share the wonders of the natural world with others today, how will they make the personal connections that ensure the prairie’s survival in the future?

First prairie hike for this little one, Fermilab Interpretive Trail, Batavia, IL (2018).

What a world of wonders the prairie offers us! When you count the Tuesdays over the past eight years, that’s 416 virtual hikes we’ve made together.

Female northern cardinal, (Cardinalis cardinalis) Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

It’s a lot of stories; a lot of hikes. Yet, each week we barely scratch the surface of the diversity, complexity, and marvels of the tallgrass prairie and the natural world. There is so much to see!

Chasing dragonflies at Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL (2017).

Tuesdays came no matter where I found myself. So, we’ve dreamed about prairie together as I corresponded on my travels from far-flung Sicily…

Broad scarlet dragonfly, (Crocothemis erythraea), Santo Stefano, Sicily, Italy. (2014)

… to the deserts of Arizona…

Queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus), Tucson, AZ. (2021)

…. to the mangrove swamps in Florida.

Roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, FL (2020).

But I’ve learned that I don’t need to travel the world to find marvels. The best adventures are waiting for us in our own backyards.

Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Most of our adventures together have been in the tallgrass, of course. Together, we’ve explored remnant tallgrass prairies, national prairie preserves, cemetery prairies, planted prairies in parks, and large tracts of Nature Conservancy prairies.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

We’ve investigated birds on the prairie and at the backyard feeders…

Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

….as well as turtles, snakes, butterflies, bunnies, bees, beetles, coyote, opossum, beavers, muskrats, and anything else that flies, buzzes, or hovers. As I’ve learned more about prairie pollinators and prairie plants, you’ve cheered me on, gently corrected my wrong ID’s, offered ideas on your own favorite places, and said an encouraging word or two at just the right time.

Male calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (2020).

You’ve hiked with me through some difficult times, through my cancer diagnosis and recovery; through a new knee that got me back on the prairie trails again; and through a medical issue that sidelined me for several months this fall, unable to do much more than photograph the prairie plantings and the garden in my yard. Your encouragement and comments have been an important part of the healing process.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) on non-native zinnias (Zinnia sp.) in Crosby’s garden, Glen Ellyn, IL (2019).

As a former bookseller, I couldn’t write about prairie here without also writing about the books I love. Over the years, we’ve rounded up a yearly list of favorite and new prairie books each season, a tradition I’ve come to enjoy (and I hope you have, too!). And, as I’ve penned this blog, I’ve written or co-authored three additional books, all of which took inspiration from the discipline of writing this weekly missive. Every one of you has played a role in my books, because your questions and comments informed and encouraged those writings.

Chasing Dragonflies (2020, Northwestern University Press); The Tallgrass Prairie (2016, Northwestern University Press); Tallgrass Conversations (2018, Ice Cube Press, with Thomas Dean).

As I write this note to you at the end of 2022, we continue to navigate a world-wide pandemic. Here in Illinois, during the holidays, we are experiencing a “triple-demic” of RSV, flu, and Covid-19. Another daunting aspect of life in 2022 is the lack of civility and care for each other that the news headlines trumpet daily. Sometimes, the world feels like a scary place. But whatever a week brings, I always feel the joy of knowing this little prairie community is here on Tuesday, ready to share with me in the excitement and delight of a virtual hike.

Eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience,” wrote the Irish poet and novelist Patrick Kavanagh. To know the tallgrass prairie—or even the small plantings in my suburban yard—would take several lifetimes. But what an adventure it is!

Cooper’s hawk (Accipter cooperii), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

At the end of 2022 I want to say thank you. Thank you for reading. Thank you for giving me a bit of your time each Tuesday morning. Thank you for the constant stream of well-wishes; of “shares,” and “retweets” and Facebook reposts. Especially thank you to those who take time to click the comment button from time to time and say how much you love prairie, or if you enjoyed a particular post or photograph, or that you want to recommend a book title. Maybe you sent me a link to an interesting website, or you have an idea about how to get rid of buckthorn or honeysuckle, or you wanted to share a “prairie recipe” or tip. Thank you for being a community.

Shooting star (Dodecatheon meadii), in bloom at Beach Cemetery Prairie, Ogle County, IL, on an outing with the Illinois Native Plant Society (2022).

Most of all, thank you for getting outside. If you live in prairie country, thank you for hiking the prairies. For planting prairie in your gardens. For volunteering on a prairie, or dedicating your professional life to caring for prairie, or sharing prairie with a child. Thank you for photographing prairie and sharing prairie with your friends. If you live in a different part of the country, or the world, thank you for admiring prairie and for caring for the natural world, as I know some of my readers do from across the miles. My prairie may be your forest, or wetland, or river. We are all stewards of wherever we find ourselves.

Trail over Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (2015).

As this year of prairie hikes comes to a close, thank you for caring. Knowing you are out there continues to be an inspiration to me, through the light and dark places as we hike the prairie trails, wade in the prairie streams looking for dragonflies and damselflies, watch for bison…

Bison (Bison bison), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2021)

…and explore the natural world together.

Ebony jewelwing damselflies in the wheel position, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2017)

As the poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Paying attention: This is our endless and proper work.”

Regal fritillary butterfly (Speyeria idalia), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2021)

What a joy that work can be! I can’t wait to hike the trails in 2023 together.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2016)

Happy New Year! See you next week on the prairie.


Mary Oliver (1935-2019), whose quote opens this last post of 2022, wrote compellingly about experiencing the natural world. In New and Selected Poems, she writes: “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement.” Yes.


Join Cindy for a Class or Program this Winter

The Tallgrass Prairie in Popular Culture—Friday, January 20, from 10-11:30 a.m. Explore the role the tallgrass prairie plays in literature, art, music—and more! Enjoy a hot beverage as you discover how Illinois’ “landscape of home” has shaped our culture, both in the past and today. Offered by The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL; register here.

Nature Writing Workshop— Four Thursdays (February 2, 9, 16, and 23) from 6-8:30 p.m. Join a community of nature lovers as you develop and nurture your writing skills in person. For more information and to register visit here.


Illinois Prairie needs you! Visit Save Bell Bowl Prairie to learn about this special place—one of the last remaining gravel prairies in our state —and to find out what you can do to help.

***Note to readers: All undated photos were taken this week.

19 responses to “A Very Prairie New Year

  1. Thank you for your commitment to sharing “prairie” insight and all the rest with us during those 416 Tuesdays. I look forward to the weekly education, beauty and encouragement you provide. Your writings inspire us to welcome insects, birds and other wildlife by providing home prairies and championing those around us.

    Wishing you the best health and happiness in the coming years as you continue to share your hikes with us.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I needed this! Thank you. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing your life and hikes with us, I’ve learned so much! We will be hiking at Nachusa today, enjoying the wide open spaces and whatever we find there. Thanks for introducing us to so many types of prairies and how to see the beauty there. Wishing you all the best in the year to come!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Happy New Year, Cindy! I’m looking forward to our Tuesday “hikes” in 2023!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you. Your words inspire me to share what I’ve learned in the last few years. I’ve been reluctant to do so, but with your inspiration, I’m going to try.

    Happy New Year to you and yours.

    From the Prairie’s Edge – eastern foothills of the Colorado Rockies! Julie

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Congratulations on 8 years of your wonderful posts and photos, Cindy. I always enjoy reading them and seeing the world of the prairie through your eyes, particularly now that I am in the hills and woodlands of western PA. Thank you! Wishing you a healthy, happy and successful 2023.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Over these eight years I’ve marveled at your knowledge, your ability to put it into words for the novice like me and mostly just for your heart. I’m still amazed every Tuesday. Thank you for sharing with us each week, no matter what was or is going on in your life. And thank you for showing me I can hike from my armchair… and learn more about the birds at my feeders and pileated woodpeckers at my neighbor’s. You are amazing! This world is amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Cindy, it’s so wonderful of you to acknowledge and thank your readers. As one of them for several years now, I want to thank you for your consistency in writing for us and helping us to see the prairie through your observant eyes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at one of your photos and thought, “Why haven’t I ever noticed that?!,” and then been motivated to go out for a prairie walk myself. Wishing you a healthy and happy 2023!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Cindy, a big thanks right back at you. Reading you every Tuesday both educates me about prairie flora and fauna as well as grows my appreciation for prairie. You are an inspiration, always in praise of the Creator – without explicitly saying so. Wishing you many blessings in the new year – joy, health, and new adventures!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for your beautiful, thoughtful reflections each week Cindy! Grateful to have you as a friend and champion of The Prairie.


    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi, Cindy, As I began to read today’s Tallgrass, I had a sinking feeling that you were saying goodbye.  Now that you’ve converted me into a prairie lover, my 90 year old legs complain when I take them to Belmont, or Lyman, or Hidden Lake whenever the bridge is finished.  But I will continue to sign up for Beacon Hill trips, and I will continue to enjoy my virtual visits on Tuesday.  I may be better on Wednesdays as you’ve pointed me in several reading directions. Greet Jeff and Mary and I wish you both a Happy New Year.  If your travels take you back to Minnesota, you can still get Caribou coffee. Love,  Sara

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hello Cindy,

    I’m a volunteer with the Kane County Forest Preserve District. I co-steward at one site and regularly volunteer at 3 others. One of my friends recommended your column to me a couple of years ago and I’ve been reading it ever since. Before today’s letter it never occurred to me to reach out to you. But today I want to tell you that your column is very important to me, and to thank you! Thank you and Happy New Year!

    Best regards, Dale Swanson North Aurora, IL

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for a most informative and inspirational blog. I don’t remember how long I’ve been following it but it’s been a few years, after I discovered it after attending one of your dragonfly talks at the Arboretum. It has opened my eyes to new ways of seeing and appreciating the nature that is all around us.
    I’ve read all your books and love them.
    Happy New Year. May it be filled with health, happiness and hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Mary Ann Crayton

    Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy New Year. I love your column, I share it often. I am currently reading a book that I think you would enjoy, “Beauty of the Wild: A Life Designing Landscapes Inspired by Nature” by Darrel Morrison.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Wonderful book recommendation, Mary Ann! Thank you! Darrel Morrison is also a respected scholar on the great landscape designer Jens Jensen (several Chicago parks, estates of the wealthy, The Clearing Folk School in Door County,Wisconsin, and so much more!). Jensen fell in love with the beauty of the prairie, and literally brought the prairie to the city so that the poor immigrant population on the west side of Chicago could have easy access to the natural environment in public parks. (For an excellent biography on Jensen, Robert Grese (University of Michigan professor and also a Jensen scholar) see his book Jens Jensen: Maker of Natural Parks and Gardens. Also the DVD “The Living Green.”

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Cathy Montgomery

    Happy New Year 2023 to you. I look forward to reading your blog each week & always play catch-up if I happen to miss it! I enjoy your books & book recommendations, too. You’re in my thoughts whenever I see a dragonfly or damselfly. Thank you for bringing nature and the prairie alive with your photos & writing!!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I never tire of “Tuesdays”! Amazed at how each of your posts come with a fresh look, and usually something beautiful and new to learn. Looking forward….

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you so much, Cindy! Your writing and teaching and photography inspires me, delights, amazes and entertains me. Wishing for you and all of us the best we can imagine for ourselves and our beloved natural places and creatures in 2023 and beyond. Gratefully, Barbara

    Liked by 1 person

  18. The biggest Thank You goes to you, Cindy! I don’t know how you come up with such thoughtful posts week after week, but it’s wonderful that you do and we all get to see them. I hope you are feeling well and had a nice Christmas. Happy New Year! See you in a few weeks! Jane

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s