Category Archives: silence

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.

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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.

 

The Silence of Emptiness

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There’s a quietness in the tallgrass; the silence of emptiness.

Hike in the tallgrass in the spring, and you’re overwhelmed by the green shoots of new growth and pretty wildflowers. Summer is a riot of colorful blooms; the air full of dragonflies and unusual birds. Fall is all about waves of grasses and fat seedheads.

Then comes winter, and January.

At first glance, it appears that all life has fled the prairie. The once-lavender blooms of wild bergamot, or bee balm as gardeners like to call it, are now globes of hollow papery tubes. Each tunnel was once filled with tiny black seed grains that I could shake like pepper into my hands. Now, I try to rattle them and come up empty. Someone has beat me to it. Birds and small prairie creatures, likely, looking for breakfast.

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Not much here that seems worthwhile on the surface. The tallgrass colors have gradually bleached out with age and cold. No blossoms and nectar remain for bees and butterflies to linger over.

Queen Anne’s lace is stripped of everything but the basics.

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The blown-out stars of the asters take on a different personality in winter. Without the blooms, I’m free to admire the infrastructure.

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The gift of January is this: the comparative emptiness of the winter season allows us to see the scaffolding upon which the prairie is built. It reminds us that rest is as important as activity; that looking at things over time gives us a different perspective on what we thought we knew well. New ways of seeing open up. If we pay attention.

The prairie is pared away to the bare essentials. It rests, quietly, waiting for the emptiness to pass and a new season to come.

(All photos by Cindy Crosby at the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL)