A heavy November snow steamrolled the prairie into submission. A 50 degree day or two then melted the snow into invisibility. What’s left behind around Willoway Brook looks as if a giant paperweight has pressed the tallgrass flat.
December on the prairie opens with a brand new look. Before the deep snow, the prairie grasses brushed my shoulders, towered over my head; a thick, vertical wall. Now, in many places, a springy carpet of grasses lies under my feet.
For most of the autumn, the prairie has been drawn by an artist who loved vertical lines.
But now, with the verticals knocked to the ground, a new shape takes prominence.
Circles. One of the simplest shapes in geometry. I see them everywhere.
The prairie dock leaves, drained of their chlorophyll, remind me of a dress I once owned made of dotted swiss material.
The globes of bee balm repeat the circular pattern; clusters of tiny yawning tubular tunnels.
Sunken balls of carrion flower catch the afternoon light.
Tall coreopsis seeds dot the sky like beads suspended on wires.
Overhead, thousands of cranes are migrating south, punctuating the quiet with their cries. They circle and loop; circle and loop.
The gray-headed coneflower seeds have half-circle pieces missing.
Crinkled round ball galls look like they’ve dropped from another planet. Anybody home? No sign of life inside.
Even the downy leaves of ashy sunflowers echo the pattern; try to loop into circles.
The compass plant leaves curl into ringlets, stippled with tiny full moons.
Freckled and fanciful.
I miss November’s bold, vibrant tallgrass, upright and waving in the wind from horizon line to horizon line. A flattened prairie seems defeated, somehow. Beaten down by the elements.
But I’m glad for the unexpected gift of seeing a prairie pattern I might have otherwise missed. Losing a familiar way of viewing the world opens up a different perspective. Today, I’m seeing the prairie in the round.
Who knows what else I’ll learn to see in a new way before the year is done?
All photos by Cindy Crosby taken at the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL except where noted (top to bottom): Willoway Brook; prairie grasses, prairie clover (Dalea purpurea, Dalea candida) , prairie dock leaf (Silphium terebinthinaceum), bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) ,carrion flower, tall coreopsis; sandhill cranes; Springbrook Prairie, Naperville, IL; gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata; ball gall; ashy sunflower (Helianthus mollis); compass plant (Silphium laciniatum); compass plant(Silphium laciniatum).