Category Archives: bison

B is for Bison at Nachusa Grasslands

“At once [the buffalo] is a symbol of the tenacity of wilderness and the destruction of wilderness…it stands for freedom and captivity, extinction and salvation.”—Steven Rinella

******

Let’s take a hike “where the buffalo roam.”

Bison (Bison bison).

I’m chasing dragonflies at one of my favorite preserves in Illinois: Nachusa Grasslands. Approximately two hours west of Chicago, Nachusa Grasslands is a 3,800-acre mosaic of tallgrass prairies and savannas. Woodlands and wetlands. Today, as a dragonfly monitor at Nachusa with access inside the bison unit, I hope to collect Odonate data at one of my favorite pond routes. But the bison have other plans for my morning. As I wade into the wetland surrounding the pond, admiring the dragonflies…

Common whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia).

…I hear a bellow. Uh, oh. That’s the sound of a bison bull kicking up some trouble.

Bison (Bison bison) herd.

When you’re working in a bison unit, you don’t wait around when you hear that sound. I immediately head for my car. It doesn’t take long. Here they come!

Bison (Bison bison).

Mamas. Papas. Baby bison.

Bison calf (Bison bison).

They make a beeline for my dragonfly pond, ready to join the frogs and cool off on this sunny morning.

Young green frog (Lithobates clamitans).

I enjoy watching them wade into the water and graze on the juicy vegetation. But time passes. My plans for collecting dragonfly data this morning are shot. These bison aren’t going anywhere soon.

Bison (Bison bison).

I make myself comfortable in the car, hoping they’ll eventually move on. I don’t get out. Bison are one of the most dangerous animals in North America. Males may weigh more than 2,000 pounds. And—they’re fast! I’ve watched them tear across the prairie at top speeds of 30 mph for no apparent reason. It’s important to respect these incredible animals.

Bison (Bison bison).

I only take photos of bison with a zoom lens from the safety of my vehicle. Even then, while working in the bison unit, I’m careful to keep my car a good distance away.

Bison calf (Bison bison).

Bison can jump, too! Up to six feet. They won’t let a fence keep them from something they really, really want to do. I admire that kind of determination.

I’m grateful for the bison at Nachusa—and not only because I enjoy watching them. Without them, the prairie is incomplete. They are an important piece of the prairie puzzle. As they wallow and churn through the prairie with their hooves…

After the bison came through.

…they create spaces for other members of the prairie community to thrive.

Chickweed geometer moth (Haematopis grataria)).

Bison grazing habits may also free up space for prairie wildflowers.

Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica).

They also fertilize the prairie with their dung. Bison patties! Good stuff for prairies.

Blazing star (Liatris spp.).

Time passes. The bison show no sign of leaving. Looks like it’s going to be “Plan B” today. I start the car and back up, then turn around on the gravel two-track. I’ve got plenty of alternatives besides this pond for a dragonfly-chasing hike. So many exciting areas to explore!

Summer at Nachusa Grasslands.

With so many wildflowers in bloom at Nachusa…

Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens).

…and plenty of other interesting prairie creatures around….

Short-horned grasshopper (Family Acrididae).

… my alternative hike on the prairie this morning will still be time well spent.

Summer at Nachusa Grasslands.

The bison are fun to see, but they’re only a bonus on a trip to Nachusa. There is so much else to discover!

Why not go for a hike and see it for yourself?

*****

The opening quote is from American Buffalo: In Search of A Lost Icon by Stephen Rinella (2008).

*****

All photos in this week’s blog are from Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL.

Visit Nachusa Grasslands, and see the bison herd from the road pull-offs or from the beautiful new outdoor Prairie Visitor Center. Know bison safety protocol before you go: find it here. Respect the bison, and always observe them from a safe distance outside the bison unit. Want a closer look? Join Nachusa Grasslands bison tours during the “Autumn on the Prairie” celebration Saturday, September 18 to get an inside-the-bison unit view. For more information on public hiking trails and bison, visit Friends of Nachusa Grasslands’ website.

*****

Join Cindy for a class or program this summer!

August 17, 7pm-8:30 pm —in person —“The Tallgrass Prairie: Illinois Original Garden” Bloomingdale Garden Club, Bloomingdale, IL. Please visit http://www.bloomingdalegardenclub.org/events-new/ for more information and Covid safety protocol for the event and for current event updates.

September 9, 9:30-11 am– in person–“The Tallgrass Prairie: Illinois Original Garden” Oswego Hilltoppers Garden Club, Oswego Public Library. Please visit the club’s Facebook page for guest information, event updates and Covid protocol.

New to the prairie? Want to introduce a friend or family member to the tallgrass? Check out The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction (Northwestern University Press). No jargon, no technical terms — just a fun guide to navigating prairie hikes and developing a deeper relationship with the beautiful grasslands that make the Midwest special.

The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction is available from your favorite independent bookseller.

Nachusa Grasslands in August

“There’s so much to discover! So much we don’t know.” — Sharman Apt Russell

******

Be careful what you wish for.

For the past week, I’ve hoped for rain. The garden and prairie have been crisped to a crunch. Now, I’ve added a new word to my vocabulary: Derecho. What a mighty storm passed through the Midwest on Monday! Hope this finds all of you safe and well.

After the Derecho 81020WM.jpg

Hot and muggy August has brought more than storms to this week. Blooms! Butterflies. Bison shenanigans. Let’s go for a hike at Nachusa Grasslands, and see what’s happening.

BlazingStarNG8920WM

The bison bulls are sparring, bellowing, and generally kicking up a fuss. It’s rutting season. The peaceful notes of song sparrows and chirps of crickets and other insects are punctuated by sudden snorts, followed by puffs of dust.

bisonatNachusa8520WM.jpg

Bison normally ignore people, but in August, all bets are off. When working in bison units this month, I try to stay as far away from them as possible as bulls battle for mating rights. The mamas are also in a protective mood… nachusabison8520WM

…especially if they feel their babies are threatened.

babybisonandmomNG8520WM

Despite their size (males can weight up to 2,000 lbs, females up to 1,100 lbs), bison can move invisibly through the tallgrass. Or so it seems! They can also run up to 40 mph. That’s a combination that demands respect.

Bison NG8520WM.jpg

The tallgrass prairie is incomplete without them. Learn more about Nachusa’s bison here.

On the other end of the size spectrum at Nachusa are the springwater dancer damselflies. What they lack in size, they make up for in color. That blue! In bright sunlight, this damselfly is stunning.

SpringwaterDancermaleNG8520WMWM.jpgIn the shaded tallgrass along the creek, I see springwater dancers caught in a frenzy of love; making the mating “heart” or “wheel.”

SpringWaterDancersWMTwoWheelCCNG8920

This mating between Odonates—dragonflies or damselflies—is one of the most amazing phenomenons in the natural world. As August slides toward fall, it seems to take on a new importance. The creek where they mate has seen a decline in damselfly species over the past few seasons. The next generations of Odonates depends on these pairings’ success. The springwater dancers give me hope for the future.

Along the creeks and across Nachusa’s prairies, August unfurls her blooms.

Gaura.

Guara biennial NG8520WM

Great blue lobelia, just beginning to open.

bluelobeliaNG8920WM.jpg

Flowering spurge. So delicate! It seems as if it belongs in a florist’s bouquet. The “baby’s breath” of the prairie.

FloweringspurgeNG8920WM.jpg

Along the trails, another white flower—the whorled milkweed—is in bloom. It’s often overlooked as a milkweed. Those leaves! So different than the common milkweed or the butterfly milkweed.

WhorledMilkweedNG8520WM.jpg

And yet. Look at the flowers up close. Yes! They have the unmistakable milkweed floral structure.

whorledmilkweedSPMAwm

Illinois has 24 species of milkweed; 22, including whorled milkweed, are native. How many have you planted in your yard or your neighborhood? I’ve only five milkweed species in my garden: the common, butterfly milkweed, swamp milkweed, green milkweed, and short milkweed, but it’s a good start.  In my yard and at Nachusa Grasslands, the bees are especially drawn to the swamp milkweed, sometimes called rose or marsh milkweed.

BeeonSwampmilkweedNG8920WM Milkweed has some of the best plant promotional campaigns in the world. (Just Google “Got Milkweed?”  Milkweeds are host to the larvae of the monarch butterfly, a charismatic insect that migrates from Illinois to Mexico each autumn. The first members of the migratory generation of caterpillars are emerging now! Next spring, a new generation of monarchs returns to Illinois in the spring.

monarchonswampmilkweedNG8920WM.jpg

This monarch looks a bit shopworn; doubtless it is at the end of its allotted lifespan. I remember finding monarch caterpillars on my butterfly weed in my prairie garden early this summer.

MonarchcaterpillarWM6820BackyardbutterflyweedGE.jpg

I’ve not seen any since, although I’ve seen plenty of the monarch butterflies sail through my prairie patch. And other butterflies, both at home and on the prairie.

One of the highlights of my hike this weekend at Nachusa is three yellow tiger swallowtail butterflies, nectaring on Joe Pye weed.

TigerSwallowtailJoePyeNGWMCC8920

I spot the tiger swallowtails fairly frequently, although not always in these numbers. It was more unusual for me to see a half dozen common wood nymphs. They moved quickly from clover to clover. CommonWoodNymphWMNGBluestemBottoms8920.jpg

The eyespots of the common wood nymph—which give it its nickname of “goggle eye” —- are a lovely pale gold. And look at its particular color of grayish brown! I’d love to have a woven scarf made in the same soft hues.

I’m startled by something hopping at my feet and a flash of color. More gold. The bright and glittery gold of the northern leopard frog’s stripes.  I hear them at Nachusa—and see them plop-plop-plop into ponds—but I’ve rarely had time to study one at close range.

NorthernLeopardFrogWMCROSBYPLPondsNG8920

This frog kept me company for a while, then hopped off to a pressing appointment somewhere else. As it disappears into the tallgrass, my spirits lift. August is full of fascinating creatures. There’s so much to see. So much, right in front of me.

August is passing far too quickly.

Pale purple coneflowerWMWM NG8920

Autumn will be here before we know it.AugustNachusaGrasslands8920WM.jpg

 

Why not go see?

******

The opening quote is from Sharman Apt Russell (1954-), the author of An Obsession with Butterflies, Anatomy of a Rose, and Diary of a Citizen Scientist, from which this quote is taken. Russell lives in New Mexico, where she teaches writing at Western New Mexico University. Thanks to Lonnie Morris, who shared Diary with me.

*****

All photos and video copyright Cindy Crosby, and taken this week at Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL, unless indicated otherwise: (top to bottom)  sunset over Cindy’s home and prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; blazing star (Liatris spp.); bison (Bison bison); bison (Bison bison); bison (Bison bison); bison (Bison bison); springwater dancer damselfly (Argia plana); springwater dancer damselflies in the wheel position (Argia plana); biennial gaura (Gaura biennis);  great blue lobelia (Lobelia silphilitica); flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollatta); whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata); whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) close-up of flowers taken at the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (2018); bumblebee (Bombus sp.) on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata); monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata); monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) on butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Cindy’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL; yellow tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) on Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum); common wood nymph butterfly (Cercyonis pegala) on red clover (Trifolium pratense); northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens or Rana pipiens); pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida); mixed wildflowers (native and non-native) at Nachusa Grasslands in mid-August.

Note: Bison in these photos are farther away than they appear; I use a telephoto lens.

******

Join Cindy for an Online Class this Autumn!

“Tallgrass Prairie Ecology Online” Begin a new session in September through The Morton Arboretum! Work from home at your own pace (with suggested assignment deadlines) for 60 days to complete the material, and meet other prairie volunteers and stewards on the discussion boards and in the optional Zoom session. Classes are limited to 50. Register here.

“Nature Writing Online” Begins Monday, October 5, through The Morton Arboretum. Want to commit to improving and fine-tuning your writing for six weeks? This is a great opportunity to jump start your blog, your book, or your journal writing while working from home, supplemented with three evenings of live evening Zoom classes on alternate weeks. Watch for registration information coming soon.

Just released! Chasing Dragonflies: A Natural, Cultural, and Personal History. Read a review from Kim Smith here. (And check out her blog, “Nature is My Therapy” — you’ll love it!)

Chasing Dragonflies Final Cover 620.jpg

Order now from your favorite indie bookstore such as the Morton Arboretum Store and The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn, or online at bookshop.org, direct from Northwestern University Press, or other book venues. Thank you for supporting small presses, bookstores, and writers during this chaotic time.

Want more prairie? Follow Cindy on Facebook, Twitter (@phrelanzer) and Instagram (@phrelanzer). Or enjoy some virtual trips to the prairie through reading Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit and The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction. 

Of Bison and Butterflies

Today’s prairie post is brought to you by the letter “B.”       

“B” is for bison, big, bored, and brown.

P1000429

“B” is for barns; the prairie’s “downtown.”

Barn Dixon 816

 

“B” is for butterflies that brighten the blooms.

Black Swallowtail NG816

 

Monarch 816 My backyard

 

“B” is for bugs; they “zips” and they “zooms.”

 

Bandwinged Meadowhawktwo NG16

 

“B’ is for bluestem, both big…

P1000303

…and so small.

Little bluestemandfloweringspurge816 NG

 

“B” is for beaten path, the trail through it all.

Bryn NG816

 

“B” is for brave, brawny, and bold…

Bison NG816

 

And “B” is for beautiful; 

P1000395 (2).jpg

My tale is now told.

******

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby(top to bottom): bison (Bison bison) Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; old barn, Dixon, IL; black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) on gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) with flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata) in the background, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; monarch (Danaus plexippus), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; band-winged meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum) with a stink bug (Halyomorpha halys), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downer’s Grove, IL; little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) with flowering spurge in the background (Euphorbia corollata), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL;  trail through the tallgrass, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; bison (Bison bison), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Deep Prairie Purple

During Fourth of July week, the only fireworks aren’t just in the sky. There are explosions of color as the prairie pours out purple.

IMG_6062

The tallgrass sends up blooms of pale purple coneflowers…

IMG_5808.jpg

Twirls and swirls of color.

IMG_6449

Soft, fuzzy, antennae-like purple, deep in the stamens of moth mullein.

IMG_6147 (1)

Firecrackers of  deep purple lead plant, with orange embers.

IMG_6355

Bees buzzing ’round satellite spinners of purple prairie clover.

IMG_6448 (1).jpg

Lilac bee balm exploding into floral fireworks.

IMG_6440

Tick trefoil and germander dot the tallgrass with occasional ooohs! and aaahs! of  lavender.

 

Violet dancer damselflies send purple aloft, darting here and there in surprising directions; then come to rest in the morning sunshine.

SPMA-violetdancerjune2016

Vervain spikes light purple sparklers along the paths.

IMG_6459

Unlike the noisy fireworks on July Fourth, these purple fireworks explode against a soundtrack of birdsong and wind. A bit of a rest after all that night time noise, isn’t it?

 

IMG_3173

Why not see for yourself? Go for a hike today — enjoy the quiet, and the magic of the color purple.

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): mother bison and baby bison (Bison bison)  Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; the prairie in July, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; moth mullein (Verbascum blatteria), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.; lead plant (Amorpha canescens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.; purple prairie clover  (Dale purpurea) and a bee, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.; monarda  or wild bergamot, (Monarda fistulosa) Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Illinois tick trefoil (Desmodium Illinoense) and germander (Teucrium canadense), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.; violet dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis violacea), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.; hoary vervain (Verbena stricta), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  prairie in July, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL.

Tolkien’s Prairie

Although they weren’t written about a prairie, these hopeful words from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring,  part of “The Lord of the Rings” epic trilogy, seem especially fitting.
All that is gold does not glitter,
IMG_0482.jpg

full moon 9:14.jpg

IMG_0906.jpg
Not all those who wander are lost,

IMG_9237.jpg

 

The old that is strong does not wither,

IMG_0596.jpg

IMG_8966.jpg

 

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
IMG_3773 (1).jpg
From the ashes a fire shall be woken
IMG_3893.jpg

 

prairiesmoke-mortonarbmeadow52114.jpg

 

A light from the shadows shall spring;
IMG_8180.jpg
eastern amberwing sp 715.jpg
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
IMG_6629.jpg
The crownless again shall be king.
IMG_6594.jpg

 

All photographs copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): October on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; full moon over author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; grasses at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, New Mexico; visitors to Autumn on the Prairie, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) east side prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie grasses in the early morning fog, Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Forest Preserve of DuPage County, Downer’s Grove, IL; pasque flowers (Pulsatilla patens)  blooming after the prescribed burn, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) blooming after a prescribed burn, Meadow Lake, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; blue dasher dragonfly on ashy sunflower (Helianthus mollis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; eastern amberwing dragonfly, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL:  eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea) Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; bison at Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Quote is from The Fellowship of the Ring, from “The  Lord of the Rings” trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Stories from the Tallgrass

Walk with me on the prairie.

IMG_6457.jpg

 

Listen. For the prairie is a storyteller.

IMG_5756

 

After a baptism by fire each spring…

IMG_3760.jpg

 

 

…it appears to be defeated. And yet.

 

IMG_3741.jpg

 

It reminds us that resurrection from the darkest night of the soul is possible.

IMG_3745.jpg

IMG_7329.jpg

 

We learn from the prairie about reliance. The grasses and flowers depend on prescribed burns each season to keep the tallgrass open. The frequent fires make make the prairie the best it can be: over the long haul.

IMG_5759.jpg

 

The prairie tells us stories of resilience.

IMG_3738.jpg

 

The prairie grasses and wildflowers plunge their roots deep into the black soil. Anchored and nourished through drought, wind, fire, and flood, they survive–and thrive.

IMG_6459.jpg

 

The prairie tells us about the value of diversity. That nothing is too small, ignored, or overlooked to be important.

IMG_3206.jpg

 

We need every grass and flower.  Each shaggy mammal.

IMG_6359.jpg

 

Every tiny insect. 

IMG_6889.jpg

 

There is violence and suffering on the prairie…

IMG_6042.jpg

 

but we see the bigger picture. Redemption.

IMG_6137

 

 

Listen to the prairie. Draw from it strength and the courage to keep moving forward.

IMG_0346

 

Discover what stories the prairie has for you. 

IMG_6472.jpg

 

And in the listening, find comfort and peace.

IMG_3174.jpg

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): bridge with Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum),  Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; meadow anemone (Anemone canadensis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prescribed burn, Glen Ellyn, IL; after the burn, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; after the burn, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  wild white indigo (Baptisia alba macrophylla), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie willow (Salix humilis humilis), Schulenberg Prairie right before the burn, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie plantain, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; regal fritillary, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; bison, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; , Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  12-spotted skimmer, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; storm over the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; cloud break over the author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; boardwalk over prairie fen, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; path through the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Ghosts of the Tallgrass

“Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” George Washington Carver.

It’s an unseasonably warm day in December. Fog shrouds the prairie. Everything softens. Fades. Blurs.

IMG_1916

Bison haunt the tallgrass, elusive and half-hidden.

IMG_1921 (1)

Illinois once had more than 22 million acres of prairie.

IMG_1914

Today, only 3,000 original acres of  tallgrass remain.

A ghost of what once was.

IMG_1925 (1)

When we went looking for what was left of the prairie, we found only scraps. Prairie was found  in pockets and corners of land where the farmer’s plow and development could not reach.

Around rocky outcrops.

IMG_1680

Along old railroad right of ways.

unnamed

Tucked into neglected graveyards.

IMG_1946

Isn’t it ironic that these neglected, overlooked places were virtual time capsules? That the  cemeteries of the dead became a repository for the living? For hope?

IMG_1929 (1)

A springboard for rebirth. Resurrection.

IMG_8605

It takes vision to imagine a better future. To remember — and believe —  that hope for the future may be found in the most unexpected places. Where will you look?

All photos by Cindy Crosby except where noted (top to bottom) : prairie in the fog, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; bison in the fog, NG;  misty December evening, NG; stand of trees in the tallgrass, NG; rocky knob, NG;  railroad tracks, Bosque del Apache, San Antonio, New Mexico — photo by Jeff Crosby;  tombstone, Chapel Hill Cemetery, just outside Rochelle, IL; CHC:; road through the bison unit, NG.

 

Finding Peace in Wild Things

So much fear in the world right now.

It’s catching. I find myself jumpy, anxious. Feeling like nothing will change. Up against a wall of doubt.

IMG_1316

When the world seems like an impossible place, I go to the prairie. This time, instead of going alone, I go with friends. I need the reminder of how much we need each other.  A reminder that we’re not alone in the world.

The late summer and early autumn greens and reds of the grasses are draining away, creating a new palette of rusts, tans, and browns.

IMG_1279

It’s quiet here.

IMG_1389

Until, suddenly, pheasants fly up – two, three – six! One lands in a tree.

IMG_1361

I admire their vibrant colors — that scarlet head — even while acknowledging that pheasants aren’t native to this place. But there’s room here for them.

We have so much.

A Cooper’s hawk settles in near the black plastic mulched plant nursery, where plants are going to seed, which will be used for future restoration efforts. I love the plant nursery, with its sturdy rows of prairie plants. It’s a visual reminder of how we deliberately cultivate hope for change in the future.

The hawk stares me down. Even when we think we’ve got the way forward all figured out and organized, there’s always a wild card.

IMG_1306

Look! Just around the corner,  a herd of bison spill over the grassy two track.

IMG_1357

One blocks our way.

IMG_1376

We keep a respectful distance. The bison stay together, tolerating our presence.

IMG_1359

I admire their shaggy chocolate coats; their heft and muscle. Their coats gleam and shine in the late afternoon light.

They know where the juiciest grasses are, even now.

IMG_1281

We watch them for a long time before we move away.

The slant of the November sun backlights the prairie like a false frost.

IMG_1309

The milk-washed sky brightens; the smell of old grass and decaying chlorophyll  lifts in the autumn chill. I inhale. Exhale. The autumn prairie is changing, seemingly dying.

It’s not the end. Just a transition to the next season.

IMG_1301

Fur and feathers…and a sea of grass. My fears are not gone, but they begin to dissolve in the late afternoon light. There is so much to be grateful for.

So much in this world that gives us reason to hope.

IMG_1384

All photos by Cindy Crosby from Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL (The Nature Conservancy) 

There is a beautiful (copyrighted!) poem by Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things, that I find a good antidote to difficult times. Find it at The Poetry Foundation: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171140.

Remembering A Prairie Poet

From: The Prairies by William Cullen Bryant

The prairies. 

IMG_0443

Lo! they stretch, in airy undulations, far away…

IMG_0483

As if the ocean in his gentlest swell, stood still, with all his rounded billows fixed, and motionless forever.  

IMG_0464

Motionless? No — they are all unchained again…

IMG_0456 (1)

The clouds sweep over with their shadows…

IMG_9071

 And, beneath, the surface rolls…

IMG_0521

And fluctuates to the eye.

IMG_0535

Dark hollows seem to glide along and chase the sunny ridges.

IMG_0497

In these plains, the bison feeds no more.

IMG_8591

Still this great solitude is quick with life;

IMG_9219 (1)

Myriads of insects, gaudy as the flowers…

IMG_0360

And birds, that scarce have learned the fear of man are here.

IMG_2305

The graceful deer bounds to the wood at my approach.

IMG_7903

The bee, a more adventurous colonist than man, with whom he came across the eastern deep…

IMG_8794

Fills the savannas with his murmurings.

IMG_0530

William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) was a keen observer of the natural world. He was editor of the New York Evening Post, and one of the first American writers and romantic poets to be recognized internationally at that time. Martin Luther King, Jr., quoted this immortal phrase from Bryant, “Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.” The above excerpts are all taken from his poem, The Prairies.

All photos by Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Autumn on the Schulenberg Prairie at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; October, SP; little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) seedheads, SP; compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), SP; clouds, SP: prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum); grasses, SP; grasses, SP; bison, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; grasshopper, SP; milkweed bugs, SP; red-tailed hawk, SP; fawn, SP; bumblebee in cream gentian (Gentiana flavida), SP;  savanna, SP.

Splendor in the Grasses

They came from the East, a land of trees and streams.

IMG_9329

When the early white settlers  first moved out of the shadows of the woodlands and forests, into the  blinding prairie light and sky…

IMG_8540

…they didn’t know how to respond to what they saw.

IMG_9221

James Monroe, who later went on to become our fifth president, initially disparaged a land full of grass and flowers.

blazingstar-tellabs2014

In 1786, he toured “the west,” which to Easterners, meant places like Illinois. In a letter written to Thomas Jefferson, he said:

“A great part of the territory is miserably poor, especially that near lakes Michigan & Erie & that upon the Mississippi & the Illinois consists of extensive plains which have not had from appearances & will not have a single bush on them, for ages.”

IMG_0412

Little did you know, James Monroe.

While some would find the prairie frightening, and return to the East, shaken and homesick…

IMG_8605

…and others would stay, but try to recreate the woodlands they’d left behind…

IMG_9328

…there would be those who found the prairie perfect: just as it was.

IMG_8843

For these settlers, the prairie grasses moved like waves in the sea.

IMG_8961

IMG_1720

…or, like herds of buffalo, “galloping, galloping,” as Willa Cather once imagined.

IMG_1257

cindy-doublebison2014 (1)

There was scope for the imagination in the wide prairie sky and changing tallgrass.

IMG_8440 (1)

These prairie settlers saw beyond the comfort of the known. Their ideas of the world expanded in new directions as they crossed the tallgrass and grew to appreciate what it had to offer.

IMG_9215

They were willing to think outside of conventional understandings of what was beautiful.

IMG_9312

They recognized the splendor in the grasses.

All photos by Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Willoway Brook on the Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; SP; horses at Autumn on the Prairie Event, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; blazing star (Liatris spp.), Tellabs Unit, NG;  preying mantis, SP; prairie and two-track at NG;  spotted Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), Schulenberg Prairie Savanna; grasshopper, SP;  big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), SP; prairie, NG; sumac (Rhus glabra) and grasses, NG; bison, NG; compass plants (Silphium laciniatum) in autumn, SP; switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), SP.

Bison reference is from Willa Cather’s My Antonia.