Category Archives: sky

Oh Beautiful, For Spacious (Prairie) Skies

“…there don’t seem to be words, let alone colors, to do justice to the land and sky-scape that surrounds me.” — Kathleen Norris

***

In the prairie state of Illinois, the talk this week of August revolves around the solar eclipse.

IMG_9601.jpg

It may take an epic solar event  to turn Americans’ eyes skyward. Yet, truth be told, there are wonders above the prairie 24/7. If only we would take time to look.

IMG_3159.jpg

Sunsets are an easy sell. Who doesn’t love one?

IMG_3172.jpg

P1110178.jpg

But how about the way the clouds float in August, when the tall pink gaura casts silhouettes against the sky?

P1110276.jpg

Or the building cumulonimbus clouds, with big bluestem’s turkey-footed trinity of seed heads against it?

P1110211.jpg

Consider the contrast and play of milky cirrus clouds with a few low cloud puffs.  They show us that the harsh mid-day light has its own enchantment.

P1110274.jpg

Sure, sometimes the prairie skies just seem like a foil for the landscape…

IMG_3445.jpg

…or even a backdrop for birds like this dickcissel.

P1090970.jpg

But without the 360-degree, horizon-to-horizon, ever-changing kaleidoscope of vast prairie sky, the tallgrass wouldn’t seem nearly so rich and intriguing.

P1110207 (1).jpg

Why not go out right now and take a look at the sky, wherever you find yourself?

And the next time you take a hike in the tallgrass, don’t forget. Look up.

P1110203.jpg

You might be surprised at what you see.

***

The opening quote is from Kathleen Norris’ introduction to On the Plains by Peter Brown. Norris (1947-) is a poet and essayist who writes compellingly about a sense of place. If you haven’t read her books, try Dakota: A Spiritual Geography.

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom) moonrise over author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; sunset over farms and prairies near Shabbona Lake State Park, Shabbona, IL;  sunset over prairie in Shabbona Lake State Park, Shabbona, IL; sunset behind big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Russell Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL; gaura (Gaura biennis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; mid-day sun on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: road across Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; dickcissel (Spiza americana), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; sunset, Russell Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL;  sunset, Russell Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL.

A Prairie Kaleidoscope

“Life would be dull if we had to look up at cloudless monotony day after day.” –-Gavin Pretor-Pinney
****

If April showers bring May flowers, my little corner of Illinois is going to be a blaze of blooms next month. So much rain! The skies have been gray more than blue.

The western chorus frogs at Nachusa Grasslands are one of my favorite soundtracks to gray, drizzly days like these. Can you see the bison in the distance in the video  above? They don’t mind the rain much. And look! Scattered among the bison dung are…

P1060059.jpg

…pasque flowers! Wildflowers are beginning to pop up on the prairie, creating pastel spots of color.

P1060039.jpg

When you think of a prairie, you may imagine colorful flowers like these, tallgrass, and perhaps a herd of bison grazing.

Path-SP2016.jpg

Bison and wildflowers are two prairie showstoppers. But what you may not think about is this. Look at the photo above again. One of the joys of a prairie is the seemingly unlimited view overhead. The prairie sky! It’s a kaleidoscope; a constant amazement of color, motion, sound, and of course—clouds.

Sometimes the sky seems dabbed with cotton batting.

IMG_8093

Contrails made by jets are teased out into thumbprinted fuzzy ribbons.

P1020259.jpg

Other afternoons, the sky is scoured clean of clouds and contrails and burnished to an achingly bright blue.

Fermi in January 2017.jpg

You can’t help but think of the color of old pots and pans when the clouds boil over in a summer storm.

IMG_6042

Look up! The prairie sky is full of wonders. Scrawls of sandhill cranes by day…

IMG_8879 (1).jpg

… the moon by turns a silver scimitar or golden globe at night.

IMG_7341.jpg

You may catch amazing light shows like sun haloes…

sun halo with sandhill cranes 3:15:16

Or sun dogs…

P1050585

The changeable prairie sky offers something new to view each moment.

P1000872

Will you be there to see what happens next?

****

Gavin Pretor-Pinney, whose quote opens this blog post, is the  author of The Cloudspotter’s Guide and The Cloud Collector’s Handbook. He writes with wry British humor and a love for all things cloud-like.  In 2004, Pretor-Pinney founded “The Cloud Appreciation Society” (https://cloudappreciationsociety.org/) to “fight the banality of blue sky thinking.”

All photos and video copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): western chorus frogs singing (Pseudacris triseriata) with bison (Bison bison) in the distance, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; pasque flowers (Pulsatilla patens) and bison (Bison bison) dung, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; pasque flowers (Pulsatilla patens), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; cloudy with a chance of bison (Bison bison), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Fame Flower Knob, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; Fermilab prairie, Batavia, IL; summer storm, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis) over author’s backyard prairie; full moon over author’s backyard prairie; sun halo and sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis) over author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL;  sundog over Lake Michigan, Benton Harbor, MI; Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL.