Category Archives: seeds

A Prairie Thanksgiving

“I can stop what I am doing long enough to see where I am, who I am there with, and how awesome the place is.” —Barbara Brown Taylor

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Late November.

Sandhill cranes cry high above the prairie, scribbling indecipherable messages in the sky. They’re on the move south.

Sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis), Glen Ellyn, IL (Spring 2021).

I’ll scan the skies the next few weeks, admiring them as they leave. The prairie skies will be emptier this winter when they’re gone. Months from now, I’ll see them again, heading north in the spring. What will the world look like then? It’s impossible to know.

The prairie in November.

I hike the prairie, deep in thought. It’s so easy to focus on what is being lost. November, with its seasonal slide into long nights and short days, seems to invite that. I have to remind myself to pay attention to what is in front of me. What the season offers. Seeds. Everywhere, the prairie is an explosion of seeds.

Silky seeds.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

Flat seeds.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum).

Silvery seedheads.

Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).

Seeds like pom poms.

Savanna blazing star (Liatris scariosa nieuwlandii).

Seeds born aloft, in spent flower heads, like so many antenna.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa).

Seedheads are skeletal. Architectural.

Sweet joe pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum).

Seeds are impressionistic.

Bridge over Willoway Brook.

Seeds reflected.

Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis).

Seeds wind-directed.

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).

Bird-nibbled seeds.

Gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata).

Seeds feathered.

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).

Seeds flying high in the prairie sky.

Prairie dock (Silphium terabinthinaceum).

Seeds caught in mid-fall. Almost there. Almost.

Black walnut (Juglans nigra) in American bladdernut shrub (Staphylea trifolia).

The pandemic has dragged on and on. Just when I thought we’d turned a corner—almost!—it feels like we’re headed in the wrong direction again. Seems we’re not out of the woods yet.

Schulenberg Prairie Savanna.

It’s easy to get distracted, worrying about the future. Sometimes my mind turns over my fears in a relentless cycle. Reading the newspaper over breakfast just fuels the fire. I forget to remind myself of all I have to be grateful for.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum.

Family. Friends. Food on the table. A roof over my head. This prairie to help care for.

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

It helps me to list these things. And then, to remind myself what’s good and lovely in the world.

Bridge over Willoway Brook.

I’m thankful to see the prairie seeds.

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii).

They remind me that another season has passed.

Oak (Quercus spp.) leaves, Schulenberg Prairie Savanna.

A new season is just months away. Seeing the prairie give its energy to creating life through its seeds fills me with hope. Such a cycle! What a marvel.

The prairie in November.

Here, in the tallgrass, I see a world full of color. Motion. Sound. Beauty. The only tallgrass headlines are “Wow!”

The prairie in November.

How wonderful it is to be alive.

Schulenberg Prairie Savanna.

I walk, and I look, and I walk some more. How amazing to have the luxury of going to a beautiful place, with time just to think. How grateful I am to have a strong knee now, to take me down these trails that just three years ago gave me tremendous pain to hike.

Prairie two-track.

How overwhelmed with thanks I am that my body is cancer-free, after two years of uncertainty and fear. How grateful I am for this reprieve. There are no guarantees. We can only, as the late writer Barry Lopez wrote, keep “leaning into the light.”

Stiff goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum).

Your list of worries is probably different than mine. So, I imagine, is your list of what you’re thankful for. I hope this week finds you in a good place. I hope you have your own list of what brings you joy, in the midst of whatever you are dealing with.

The prairie in November.

This week I’m going to put aside my worries about the future. I’m going to focus on joy. There’s a lot to be thankful for. The prairie reminds me of this. I hope you can go for a hike, wherever you find yourself, and be reminded, too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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All photos this week unless otherwise noted are from the Schulenberg Prairie at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

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The opening quote is from Barbara Brown Taylor’s (1951-) An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. She is also the author of Learning to Walk in the Dark and many other books.

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Join Cindy for a program or class!

Winter Prairie Wonders: Discover the December Delights of the Tallgrass! Dec. 3 (Friday) 10-11:30 am (Central): Make yourself a cup of hot tea, snuggle under a warm afghan, and join prairie steward and writer Cindy Crosby virtually for this interactive online immersion into the tallgrass prairie in winter. See the aesthetic beauty of the snow-covered grasses and wildflowers in cold weather through colorful images of winter on the prairies. Follow animal tracks to see what creatures are out and about, and see how many you can identify. Learn how birds, pollinators, and mammals use winter prairie plants;  the seeds for nourishment and the grasses and spent wildflowers for overwintering, protection, and cover. Then, listen as Cindy shares brief readings about the prairie in winter that will engage your creativity and nourish your soul.  This is scheduled as a Zoom event through The Morton Arboretum. Register here.

Just in time for the holidays! Northwestern University Press is offering The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction and Chasing Dragonflies: A Natural, Cultural, and Personal History (with watercolor illustrations by Peggy MacNamara) for 40% off the retail price. Click here for details. Remember to use Code Holiday40 when you check out.

Please visit your local independent bookstore (Illinois’ friends: The Arboretum Store in Lisle and The Book Store in Glen Ellyn) to purchase or order Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit for the holidays. Discover full-color prairie photographs and essays from Cindy and co-author Thomas Dean.

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Save Bell Bowl Prairie! Visit the website to find out how you can help keep this critical remnant from being bulldozed in Illinois. One phone call, one letter, or sharing the information with five friends will help us save it.

Beginnings

Morning dawns on the prairie.

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A lone red-winged blackbird calls. No breeze rustles the brittle, bleached out stands of little bluestem; the dry stalks of prairie switchgrass. The seedpods of of St. John’s wort and other bloomers have long since cracked open and dropped their seeds. There’s the promise of something new ready to germinate.

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Few flames from prescribed burns have touched the tallgrass here in Illinois … yet. But there is the rumor of fire.

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The temperatures have warmed. The wind whispers “it’s time.”

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Time for everything to begin again.

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To burn off the old; to spark something new.

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With the flames will go our memories of a season now past. What waits for us  …

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…will build on what went before, but is still unknown.

There is a sadness in letting go of what we have.

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Yet to not move forward– to shy away from that which that will seemingly destroy the tallgrass– is to set the prairie back. To keep it from reaching its full potential.

So we embrace the fire.

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We accept that things will change.  IMG_7100

 

We realize there will be surprises. Things we don’t expect.

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We strike the match. Say goodbye to ice and snow.

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Watch the prairie go up in flames.

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We wait to see what will appear.

On the other side of the fire.

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All photos copyright Cindy Crosby: (top to bottom) sunrise, Meadow Lake prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie grasses and Great St. John’s Wort (Hypericum pyramidatum), Meadow Lake prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prescribed burn, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; Willoway Brook, The Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL; eastern cottontail, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;   prescribed burn, The Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prescribed burn sign, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Meadow Lake prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prescribed burn, The Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; July on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  twin fawns, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Meadow Lake prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prescribed burn, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; two-track through Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. 

 

Seeding the Snow

Early January can’t make up its mind between rain or snow. Water droplets cling to plants…

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…then begin to freeze.

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A squirrel, oblivious to the precipitation, snuggles into the crook of a walnut branch. Its scritch, scritch, scritch, of teeth against hull breaks the silence.

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I find her cast-off walnut hulls in the tallgrass.

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The prairie, once plump with seeds of every sort in October, is in the throes of letting go. Partially-nibbled or mostly gone is the rule  for seeds now. Birds, insects, and wind have done their work.

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Carrion flower fruits wrinkle in the cold.

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Its deep purple berries are a welcome bit of color. The January prairie is more about structure than bright hues.

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The colors of the tallgrass are muted.

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…in a veil of drizzle turning to snow.

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Tree limbs, battered by winter weather, fall into the tallgrass. Their soft wood will become a nursery for fungi, moss, lichens, and insects.

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White wild indigo seed stalks snap off at the base. The wind tumbles them across the prairie into the  brook. They pile up like a dam. Their seeds are now scattered through the tallgrass, waiting to sprout in the spring.

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All across the prairie, seeds loosen their grip on stalks; drop onto the waiting frozen ground. The cold and snow begin to work their magic, readying the seeds for the moment in the spring when everything shouts……

GROW!

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Bright colors are in there — invisible. Tucked into the dull, lifeless looking seeds.

Michigan Lily 2015 NG

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We believe in what’s coming. The miracle of hard, dry seeds dropped onto ice and mud that will transform the prairie and seed the snow.

Until then, we watch. Wait for miracles…that will come out of the snow.

All photos by Cindy Crosby (top to bottom)  figwort (Scrophularia marilandica) with water drops, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; squirrel with walnut, SP: black walnut hull, SP; grey-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) seedhead and Illinois bundleweed (Desmanthus Illinoensis) seedhead, SP; carrion flower (Smilax herbacea) seedhead,  SP;  gray skies, SP;  prairie in the drizzle, SP; grasses, SP:;  bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) seedheads; white wild  indigo (Baptisia alba) plants, SP ; tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris)  Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; Michigan lily (Lilium michiganense), NG; black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) with katydid, SP; bottle gentians (Gentian andrewsii), NG.

Abbreviations SP, NG: Schulenberg Prairie, Nachusa Grasslands.

 

Prairie Endings and Beginnings

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” –T. S. Eliot

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October recedes in the rear-view mirror.

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Hello, November.

On the edge of the prairie, ruby-leaved maples still spill their colors into the cold, blue air.

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An Asian beetle scrambles along a wooden beam, then slows.

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Grasshoppers flip and turn on the bridge through the tallgrass, then pause, as if asking: “What’s next?”

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It’s the end of one cycle. And the beginning of another.

The season of seeds.

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The prairie explodes with a seed extravaganza.

Asters shake their pom poms.

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Milkweeds breathe out tendrils of silk.

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Cattails wave their batons to the rhythm the wind commands.

Seeds, seeds, seeds.

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The prairie tosses its curls full of Canada wild rye, punctuated with thistle.

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Enchanter’s nightshade casts its spell over the prairie savanna.

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One by one, the seeds ripen, then loosen.

And so, they begin their journeys. Some by wind…

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Some by water…

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Some lifted by the hands of volunteers, who spend hours in the tallgrass picking prairie seeds into buckets;

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spread them out in trays to dry.

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The seeds wait, ready to be sown on winter’s first snow. The cold, damp conditions will ready them for germination in the spring.

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The end of one chapter; the beginning of another.

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The promise of something new to come.

All photos by Cindy Crosby: (top to bottom) Leaves, Springbrook Nature Center, Itasca, IL; bridge, SNC; maple (Acer spp.), SNC; Asian beetle, SNC; grasshopper, SNC; wild plum (Prunus americana), Songbird Slough Forest Preserve of DuPage County, Itasca, IL; asters (unknown species) , SS;  milkweed pod (Asclepias syriaca), SS; cattails (Typha latifolia), SS; Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis), NG; beebalm with milkweed seed (Monarda fistulosa and Asclepias syriaca), author’s backyard in Glen Ellyn, IL; Springbrook Creek by the prairie at SNC; seeds collected on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  native prairie seeds drying in the headhouse, SP;  little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), SP; goldenrod (Solidago spp), SS.

The opening quote is from T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.”