The late poet Mary Oliver wrote a poem, Why I Wake Early. She had the right idea, especially this week, in the heat of a Midwest summer. It’s a good poem to begin the morning. Watch now, how I start the day, in happiness, in kindness.
Sue Monk Kidd (1948-), whose quote opens this blog, is known most widely for her bestseller, The Secret Life of Bees (2002). Mary Oliver (1935-2019) whose poem link is included here, was winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. I find her poems are solace for difficult times.
Join Cindy for a class or program this summer!
Wednesdays,June 22 and June 29: “100 Years Around the Morton Arboretum” –with Cindy and Library Collections Manager and Historian Rita Hassert at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL. Enjoy stories of the past that commemorate this very special centennial. Join us in person June 22 from 6:30-8:30 pm (special exhibits on view for 30 minutes before the talk) by registering here; join us on Zoom June 29, 7-8:30 p.m. by registering here. Masks required for the in-person presentation.
If you love the natural world, consider helping “Save Bell Bowl Prairie.” Read more here about simple actions you can take to keep this important Midwestern prairie remnant from being destroyed by a cargo road. Thank you for caring for our Midwestern “landscape of home.”
“I started with surprise and delight. I was in the midst of a prairie! A world of grass and flowers stretched around me… .” — Eliza Steele
The summer speeds by. Where did June go?
Each day in June on the tallgrass prairie is another exercise in wonder.
The last days of June seem determined to bombard us with blooms.
Pearls of wild quinine wash across the prairie.
Pale pink Kankakee mallows spike through cordgrass. My, what big leaves you have!
Bright white candles of Culver’s root light up the tallgrass.
Purple sparklers of leadplant, ready for the Fourth of July.
And, tumbling across the prairie in drifts: Scurfy pea. What a great name!
June dazzles us with unexpected delights.
June puzzles us with stranger-than-strange creatures.
June wows us with wildflowers.
Even the late June skies are full of marvels from moment to moment; from storm to storm.
This month, so much vies for our attention. Each flower seems to have a tiny pollinator in residence.
Or two. Or three. Or more!
Looking back on June, it was a wonderful month to hike the tallgrass prairie.
How will July on the prairie ever measure up to June?
Impossible for July to do so, it seems. The past weeks have been so beautiful. And yet.
I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.
The opening quote is from Eliza Steele’s journal, written in 1840 as she rode to Peoria by stagecoach from Chicago. Her journal was later published as the book, A Summer Journey in the West in 1841. Interested in learning more about her journey? Check out Midewin Tallgrass Prairie’s webinar “On the Trail of Eliza Steele” July 7, 6-7 p.m. CDT, by calling 815-423-6370.
All photos this week are from the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.
Join Cindy for a class or program this summer!
Beginning Dragonfly and Damselfly ID: online Monday, July 12 and Wednesday, July 14 (two-part class) 10-11:30 am. Offered through The Morton Arboretum. The first session is an introduction to the natural history of the dragonfly, with beautiful images and recommended tools and techniques for identification of species commonly found in northern and central Illinois. Then, put your skills to work outside on your own during the following day in any local preserve, park, or your own backyard. The second session will help you with your field questions and offer more advanced identification skills. To conclude, enjoy an overview of the cultural history of the dragonfly—its place in art, literature, music, and even cuisine! You’ll never see dragonflies in the same way again. To register, click here.
Virtual Summer Prairie Wildflower Walk: online Thursday, July 22, 10-11:30 a.m. Offered through The Morton Arboretum. No matter where you live, join me on Zoom to see the amazing summer tallgrass prairie wildflowers and hear their stories of uses in medicine, folklore, poetry, and even as love charms! Register here.
“We need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer
June is underway, throwing curveballs. How about a 90 degree-plus day? A little severe drought, followed by the promise of thunderstorms? The prairie yawns. No problem.
The prairie is both fragile and resilient; broken and strong. Over years it has almost vanished, but now, with the help of volunteers and stewards, we’re seeing more prairies planted and prairie remnants cared for. Even though we can’t replicate the original remnant prairies we’ve lost, it’s a start. In June, these prairies are full of marvels. As the month unfolds, wonders unfold as well. Here are three reasons to go for a hike this week and see some of these wonders for yourself.
1) Discover who has been spitting on the prairie plants: You’ve seen it–gobs of gooey bubbles on prairie wildflower stems and leaves. This is not hiker residue! It’s a sign of the spittlebug. As the insect nymph feeds on plant sap, it blows bubbles to form a protective froth that keeps it hidden from predators. The bubbles also serve as insulation against temperature swings and keep the spittlebug moist during times of drought.
In my part of the tallgrass prairie region, I discover, our species is the “meadow spittlebug” Philaenus spumarius. You might also hear folks call them “froghoppers.” The bubbles are composed of air mixed with excess sap, which the nymph blows out its… er…. backside. According to University of Wisconsin-Madison, the tiny insect can blow out as many as 80 bubbles a minute! That’s a lot of bubbles.
If you don’t want spittlebugs on your garden prairie plants, the Illinois Extension suggests hosing them off. It will slow the little bubble-makers down a little—but of course, they’ll still hang around. . In my backyard prairie patch, I’ve never had enough of them to worry much. I enjoy seeing these “tiny bubbles” (sing it with me!) on the prairie, and thinking about yet another unusual and memorable citizen of the diverse prairie community.
2) Frequent Fliers are Out: Skippers, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies are showing up in larger numbers now on the prairie. I’ve had my Illinois skipper ID book out for the first time this year, trying to ID some orange-tan look-alikes. This one appears to be the “Hobomok Skipper”, although I’m never 100 percent sure with these little critters.
I have more ID confidence with the female common whitetail dragonfly; a frequent sighting on the prairie in June.
Ditto for the first calico pennants, one of my favorite prairie fliers.
Even though the male eastern forktails are one of the most numerous damselflies in the Chicago region, they always awe me with their bright blue abdominal tip; their vibrant neon green thorax stripes. And those eyes and eyespots! “The better to see you with”—indeed!
3) New wildflowers open each day: I know I keep saying it each week — but there are so many new blooms on the prairie to discover! Seeing the first pale purple coneflower on my workday June 1 was a great way to usher in the first day of meteorological summer. Have you seen them yet?
I enjoy the different prairie pairings, such as the way the giant prairie dock leaf mingles with this not-yet-blooming pale purple coneflower.
And I wonder. Why do the stems of the pale purple coneflower twist and turn? One of my prairie volunteers asked me this question—and—I have no idea! But I love the sense of motion they bring to the tallgrass; almost as if they were swaying underwater.
They seem to be dancing to some unheard music that only coneflowers can hear. If you picked a song for coneflowers to dance to, what would it be?
Insects and spiders have been hard at work, doing June tasks on the prairie. How did this spider capture a golden alexanders plant so completely? I’ve been on this particular prairie for more than two decades, and have never seen a weaving quite like this one.
One of the joys of the June prairie is finding the panic grass in full “bloom.”
And these “bugs” and blooms are only a few of the wonders unfolding. The grasses are complex—and already, making their presence felt among the wildflowers.
Spending time on the prairie—walking it in all weathers, touching the leaves, admiring the wildflowers and grasses, marveling at the spiders and insects — is a way to come into relationship with a small part of the natural world. As one of many volunteers who love and care for this prairie through acts of restoration, I feel satisfaction helping heal a system that has been broken.
And, as I hike, I find that the prairie helps heal some of what has been broken in me.
Good reasons—all of them—to go for a hike on the June prairie.
Robin Wall Kimmerer (1953-) is the author of the bestselling book, Braiding Sweetgrass. My favorite of her books is Gathering Moss. If you haven’t read both books, you’re in for a treat.
Join Cindy for a program or class this summer!
Literary Gardens Online: June 8, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Join master gardener and natural history writer Cindy Crosby for a fun look at gardens in literature and poetry. From Brother Cadfael’s medieval herb garden, to Michael Pollan’s garden in “Second Nature,” to the “secret garden” beloved of children’s literature, to poetry, there are so many gardens that helped shape the books we love to read. Discover how gardens and garden imagery figure in the works of Mary Oliver, Henry Mitchell, Barbara Kingsolver, Lewis Carroll–and many more! See your garden with new eyes—and come away with a list of books you can’t wait to explore. Registration through the Downers Grove Public Library here.
Plant A Backyard Prairie:Online, Wednesday, June 9 and Friday, June 11, 11am-12:30pm CST–Bring the prairie to your doorstep! Turn a corner of your home landscape into a pocket-size prairie. If you think prairie plants are too wild for a home garden, think again! You can create a beautiful planted area that welcomes pollinators and wildlife without raising your neighbors’ eyebrows. In this online class, you will learn: how to select the right spot for your home prairie; which plants to select and their many benefits, for wildlife, and for you; creative ways to group plants for a pleasing look, and how to care for your prairie. Plus, you’ll get loads of inspiration from beautiful photos and stories that will bring your backyard prairie to life before you even put a single plant in the ground. Offered through The Morton Arboretum. Register here.
The Wild Garden’s Frequent Fliers: Dragonflies and Damselflies:Online, Thursday June 17, 7-8:30 p.m. CDT, Rock River Valley Wild Ones. Discover the wild and wonderful lives of these fascinating insects with the author of “Chasing Dragonflies” in this hour-long interactive Zoom program (with Q&A to follow). To join Rock River Valley Wild Ones and participate, discover more here.
By any reckoning, it’s a new season on the prairie. Aldo Leopold wrote, “In June as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them.” I want to “heed” them all! But how to choose what to see? A hundred species—animal, vegetable, mineral—clamor for attention. The bumblebee pushing its way into the American vetch blossom over here….
…or the tiny immature female eastern forktail damselfly, clinging to a grass blade…
…or the insect hiding in the spiderwort. Sort of ironic. (Even if spiders aren’t insects.)
You can’t miss the red-winged blackbird, its wing tattooed with floral shadows.
What a racket he makes! No doubt a nest is nearby. Nearly everyone has a story about being dive-bombed by a protective red-winged “daddy” bird. I give him plenty of space.
Blooms, blooms. It’s a wildflower extravaganza.
Marvel at the architecture of stem, leaf, and flower.
Each bloom is a wonder.
The colorless wildflowers…
…are no less beautiful than the colorful ones.
Look for the unusual, in structure and hue.
In each stage of bud and bloom is the opportunity to see a familiar wildflower with new eyes.
The buds may seem more intriguing than the blooms.
Many wildflowers are easy to miss. Unless you slow down and pay attention.
I love the infinite variety of wildflowers just past their prime; the tension between what has been, and what is yet to come.
The transitions are as delightful as the blooms themselves…and sometimes more so.
Watch for the flowers to go to seed, ready to set sail on the slightest puff of wind.
Just think! Each seed holds the secrets of next year’s prairie.
Change is happening, so fast that I can’t keep up with it.
Standing on the threshold of June, anything seems possible.
Rumi (1207-1273) was a scholar, poet, and theologian born in what is today known as Afghanistan. The opening quote is from his poem, “A Great Wagon.”
Join Cindy for a program or class this summer!
The Tallgrass Prairie: Illinois Original Garden Online: June 2, 7-8:30 p.m. Illinois’ nickname is “The Prairie State.” Listen to stories of the history of the tallgrass prairie and its amazing plants and creatures –-from blooms to butterflies to bison. Discover plants that work well in the home garden as you enjoy learning about Illinois’ “landscape of home.” Presented by Sag Moraine Native Plant Community. More information here.
Literary Gardens Online: June 8, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Join master gardener and natural history writer Cindy Crosby for a fun look at gardens in literature and poetry. From Agatha Christie’s mystery series, to Brother Cadfael’s medieval herb garden, to Michael Pollan’s garden in “Second Nature,” to the “secret garden” beloved of children’s literature, there are so many gardens that helped shape the books we love to read. Discover how gardens and garden imagery figure in the works of Mary Oliver, Henry Mitchell, Barbara Kingsolver, Lewis Carroll–and many more! See your garden with new eyes—and come away with a list of books you can’t wait to explore. Registration through the Downers Grove Public Library coming soon here.
Plant A Backyard Prairie:Online, Wednesday, June 9 and Friday, June 11, 11am-12:30pm CST –Bring the prairie to your doorstep! Turn a corner of your home landscape into a pocket-size prairie. If you think prairie plants are too wild for a home garden, think again! You can create a beautiful planted area that welcomes pollinators and wildlife without raising your neighbors’ eyebrows. In this online class, you will learn: how to select the right spot for your home prairie; which plants to select and their many benefits, for wildlife, and for you; creative ways to group plants for a pleasing look, and how to care for your prairie. Plus, you’ll get loads of inspiration from beautiful photos and stories that will bring your backyard prairie to life before you even put a single plant in the ground. Offered through The Morton Arboretum. Register here.
The Wild Garden’s Frequent Fliers: Dragonflies and Damselflies: Online, Thursday June 17, 7-8:30 p.m. CDT, Rock River Valley Wild Ones. Discover the wild and wonderful lives of these fascinating insects with the author of “Chasing Dragonflies” in this hour-long interactive Zoom program (with Q&A to follow). To join Rock River Valley Wild Ones and participate, discover more here.
Cindy Crosby is the author, compiler, or contributor to more than 20 books. Her most recent is "Chasing Dragonflies: A Natural, Cultural, and Personal History" (Northwestern University Press, 2020). She teaches prairie ecology, nature writing, and natural history classes, and is a prairie steward who has volunteered countless hours in prairie restoration. See Cindy's upcoming online speaking events and classes at www.cindycrosby.com.