Category Archives: sunset

August’s Opening Day on the Prairie

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.” Natalie Babbitt

***

You can feel summer pause for a moment, catch its breath.

July is over.

P1110193.jpg

August is here.

The fireflies wink their Morse Code at night. On. Off. On. Off. They’re abundant this summer. People talk about it, wonder out loud. Speculate: “I haven’t seen this many fireflies since I was a kid. Must have been the wet spring? Maybe all the rain?”

Clear Creek Nachusa Grasslands 7:17.jpg

The fireflies light up the yard, the old field by the railroad tracks, the parks after dark.  Listen! The soundtrack for the fireflies is the buzz saw and hum of the invisible cicadas, crickets, and other fiddling insects tuning up in the dark.

 

We sit on the back porch and watch the fireflies twinkle in the prairie patch. Remember catching them as kids? The mason jars with a bit of grass tucked in and holes punched in the lids. Fireflies. We’ll enjoy them while they last.

On the bigger prairies, the more delicate wildflowers back off a bit as the grasses push themselves skyward and elbow them out of the way.

P1110054.jpg

Some of the heavyweight bloomers are tough enough to compete with the grasses:  stocky cup plant, rough-and-tumble rosin weed,  bristly compass plant.

P1110148.jpg

The curiously smooth prairie dock stems throw periscopes of flowers across the prairie eight feet high.  Its fists of blooms uncurl at last. They vie with the compass plants for supremacy.

IMG_7329.jpg

If it wasn’t for its eye-popping purple color, you might miss the low-growing prairie poppy mallows.

purplepoppymallowkickapoonaturecenter72917.jpg

Also short but eye-catching is the bright white whorled milkweed. Doesn’t look much like milkweed at first glance, but check out the individual flowers. Yes! That’s milkweed, all right.

P1100003 (1).jpg

The bison move slower in the heat, graze a little, then look for a shady spot to cool off. The spring babies are getting bigger. They seem to put on weight as you watch.

P1090490.jpg

The prairie ponds shimmer under the August sun. July rains have filled them to overflowing. Dragonflies fly across the water in a frenzy. It’s now or never for laying eggs to make future generations happen. Everywhere, it seems, there are insect hook ups; winged romance on the fly.

The purple and white prairie clover has gone to seed and created perches for the eastern amberwing dragonflies.

P1110020.jpg

Blue dashers, too.

P1110052.jpg

The wings and bodies of the widow skimmer dragonflies take on a blue-ish powdery look that indicates age, called “pruinosity.” Old age, for a dragonfly, is a matter of weeks. If they are lucky, a few months. And with age and pruinosity, the widow skimmers become more beautiful.

P1100980.jpg

Flowering spurge has gone crazy this summer.

IMG_7367

It fills in the spaces between the grasses like baby’s breath in an FTD floral arrangement.

IMG_7364.jpg

The first breath of silky prairie dropseed grass in bloom scents the air with the smell of buttered popcorn.

IMG_7332.jpg

Blazing stars spike across the prairie. With their flowers comes a sense of inevitability.  Asters and goldenrods will be right on their heels, and with them, the close of the warm weather season.

P1000033.jpg

Everything on the prairie is poised for the downward plunge into autumn. But for now, summer in the tallgrass reigns supreme.

P1110135.jpg

August’s opening day on the prairie is here.

***

The opening quote is from “Tuck Everlasting,” a novel by Newbery Medal Award-winning children’s book writer and illustrator Natalie Babbitt (1932-2016). It’s worth reading the lines in context, reprinted here: “The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.”

***

All photographs and audio clip copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): sunset on Russell Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL; flood debris on a tree by Clear Creek, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; crickets and other fiddling insects audio clip, author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL;  grasses, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), Schulenberg Prairie, author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL: purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) , Kickapoo Nature Center, Oregon, IL: whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; herd of bison (Bison bison),  Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL: eastern amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  blue dasher dragonfly (female) (Pachydiplax longipennis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata) in the tallgrass, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; blazing star (Liatris spp.), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; tallgrass prairie, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL.

Prairie Endings and Beginnings

“Each moment is a place you’ve never been.” — Mark Strand

****

May slides toward its inevitable conclusion. New wildflowers open each day. Grasses concentrate on becoming fuller, lusher.

Golden Alexanders, looking other-worldly, finishes a spectacular bloom season. Bravo!

P1070772.jpg

The first flowers of prairie smoke open.

P1070484.jpg

The remains of last year’s grasses and dry seedheads still patch the unburned prairie in places.

kentfullerprairie517.JPG

Just as the native dwarf dandelions begin to bloom…

P1070337.jpg

…the small white lady’s slipper orchids wither; ghosts of their once bright selves.

P1070793.jpg

Damselflies emerge.

SP51817malemimic easternforktail female.jpg

Fringed puccoon blooms, low in the grasses.

FringedpuccoonNG517.jpg

Nibbled by insects and small animals; ragged and worn by temperamental spring weather, the last prairie violets contemplate setting seed.

P1070554.jpg

A female orchard oriole arrives. She’s looking for a mate; ready to raise a brood. She’ll weave a grassy pouch, sling it onto a forked branch, then fill it with half a dozen blue-gray, splotchy eggs.

She seems pretty calm about the hard work ahead.

P1070758 (1).jpg

Wild hyacinth flowers open from bottom to top. The seeds, like crazy punctuation marks, form close behind.

P1070778

Beginnings and endings on the prairie. Every spring day brings more.

glenviewprairiekentfullerairstationtwo517 (1).jpg

They’re worth watching for.

****

Mark Strand (1934-2014), whose quote from “Black Maps”  (Collected Poems) opens this post, was a Poet Laureate of the United States (1990). He won many awards for his writing, including a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry collection, “Blizzard of One.”

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): golden Alexanders (Zizea aurea), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; sunset, Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL;  dwarf dandelion (Krigia virginica), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; small white lady’s slipper (Cypripedium candidum), The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; male mimic female eastern forktail (Ischnura verticalis ), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; fringed puccoon (Lithospermum incisum), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; prairie violet (Viola peditifida), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; female orchard oriole (Icterus spurius), Schulenberg Prairie Visitor Station, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; sunset, Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

Sun, Surf, and Tallgrass

Like many Midwesterners, I migrated south this week. I’m temporarily trading tallgrass for beaches and waves, warmth, and a change of pace.

Florida sunsets are legendary.

IMG_2675.jpg

 

No more exotic, however, than prairie sunrises. So much color! From tangerine, rose, and purple …

IMG_1401.jpg

 

…to solid gold.

IMG_9381.jpg

 

Prairie sunsets are also in a class of their own. Often, they close the day with a smooth pastel coda.

IMG_1300

 

Other evenings, they bring the day to an end with texture and movement.

IMG_9454.jpg

 

Between sunrise and sunset, the prairie skies are a prime canvas to thumbprint a sundog.

IMG_1845.jpg

 

A sundog’s fleeting rainbow luminescence is a pleasant, unexpected bonus; especially after a bone-chilling February day hiking the tallgrass.

IMG_2645

 

This week, I’ll walk the beach each night, enjoying the light show over the Gulf of Mexico.

On one evening the spectacle is in neon …

IMG_3687.jpg

 

… on another, the display may be more subdued.

IMG_2710.jpg

 

But—for a Midwestern girl like myself—nothing beats the winter kaleidoscope of Illinois’ prairie skies.

IMG_4959 (1).jpg

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): sunrise, Captiva Island, Florida; sunrise, author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; sunrise, Hidden Lake, Forest Preserve of DuPage County, Downers Grove, IL; sunset with tent, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; sunset, Hidden Lake, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Downers Grove, IL;  sundog, Cook County Forest Preserves; sundog, Russell Kirt Prairie East, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL; sunset, Sanibel Island, Florida; sunset, Captiva Island, Florida; sunset, author’s prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.