Tag Archives: Allen M. Young

A Tallgrass Prairie Freeze

“Winter is an opportune season in which nature’s legions have time to ready themselves for a new debut come spring and beyond.“–Allen Young

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February can’t make up her mind. Freezing temps and blustery winds? Hot sunshine and snowmelt? Every morning is a weather package to unwrap, full of surprises.

Sunrise from Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

On a brutally cold afternoon with abundant sunshine this week, I trek through the snow on the Schulenberg Prairie. I’m a steward here so I’m excited to see the fence along the north edge of the prairie has been taken down. The new 18 acres purchased for natural areas is being cleared. It’s satisfying to see an overgrown area, full of buckthorn and honeysuckle, in the process of restoration.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. New acreage is at the far treeline, center.

Ten degrees. Five bluebirds hang around the edges of the prairie in the savanna, their sapphire plumage startling against the bright snow.

Eastern bluebird (Sialia silalis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2019)

It’s our deepest snow of the year. Three inches? Four?

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I’m glad for the fluffy stuff. Snow will help replenish the prairie’s groundwater.

Tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

As I hike toward the bridge, I hear a sound, like the sizzle of hot oil in a skillet. Water running! Willoway Brook isn’t completely frozen.

Bridge over Willoway Brook, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I hang over the bridge railing. Yes, there is open water. But look at that ice!

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

So many winter patterns…

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

…flat discs…

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

…and ice crystals.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

How astonishing! I forget my frozen nose and fingers as I look for other marvels in the water. A fallen angel in the center of the stream, or a flying bird?

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Reed canary grass conjures ice sculptures by the stream’s edges.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

In other areas along the shoreline, the ice lays on the water surface like plastic wrap on Jell-O.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Wonder after wonder. I imagine the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, waiting under the ice for spring. I think of them, and their bright colors aloft in only a few months.

Calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (undated).

Soon. Very soon.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I feel joy thinking of the dragonflies to come. And delight in the ice and snow of the prairie today. One prairie. Many facets over the seasons. Always something interesting going on.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Just think. I almost stayed home by the fireplace today, with my stack of library books and warm afghan. I would have missed all this.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

However, the fireplace sounds good now, as my toes are frozen and my face chapped from the Arctic breezes blowing through the tallgrass.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I give the prairie a last look. Then shiver. Brrrr! Despite the sunshine, the wind is unstoppable. You can feel its bite and snap against exposed skin.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Time to head home.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I hike through the savanna to the parking lot. Will my car start? Fingers crossed.

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

Thankfully, it does. The heater full blast feels good, and as I sip hot peppermint tea from my thermos I begin to thaw. But what a joy it has been, to hike the prairie in February.

Unknown asters and prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

The prairie and its wonders are out there, waiting for you.

Why not go see?

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The opening quote is from Allen M. Young from Small Creatures and Ordinary Places. These are thoughtful essays, celebrating katydids, butterflies, bats, odonates, cicadas, mice, hornets and more. I particularly enjoyed his passages on winter. Young also revised the “Golden Guide to Insects” for today’s readers—remember those little Golden Nature Guides you had as a kid? I still have one or two on my shelf. Young is the curator of zoology and vice-president of collections, research and public programs at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Check out Small Creatures here.

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Winter Prairie Wonders — Tuesday, February 7, 10-11:30 a.m. Discover the wonders of the prairie in winter as you hear readings about the season. Enjoy stories of the animals who call the prairie home. Hosted by the Northbrook Garden Club in Northbrook, IL. Free to non-members, but you must register by contacting NBKgardenclub@gmail.com for more information.

Dragonflies and Damselflies: The Garden’s Frequent Fliers –— Wednesday, February 8, noon-1:30 p.m. Hosted by Countryside Garden Club in Crystal Lake, IL. (Closed event for members)

The Tallgrass Prairie: Grocery Store, Apothecary, and Love Charm Shop— Thursday, February 9, 12:30-2 p.m. Hosted by Wheaton Garden Club in Wheaton, IL (closed event for members).

Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers— February 20, 7:15-8:45 p.m. Hosted by the Suburban Garden Club, Indian Head Park, IL. Free and open to non-members. For more information, contact Cindy through her website contact space at http://www.cindycrosby.com.

See Cindy’s website for March programs and classes.

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Bell Bowl Prairie in Rockford, IL, needs your help! Find out more on saving this threatened prairie remnant at SaveBellBowlPrairie.

A Very Merry Prairie Christmas

“Life regularly persists through winter, the toughest, most demanding of seasons.” –Allen M. Young

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It’s the Winter Solstice. Light-lovers, rejoice! Tomorrow, we begin the slow climb out of darkness.

Sunrise over Cindy’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

There is still no significant snowfall here in the Chicago region. Jeff and I joke that we know the reason why. We’ve shoveled our driveway by hand the past 23 years, but after three back-to-back heavy snow events last winter we said, “No more!” This summer, we bought a small snowblower. We figured our purchase should guarantee a snow-free winter. (You’re welcome).

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Glen Ellyn, IL.

But…I miss the snow. Despite December 21st being the first official astronomical day of winter, the prairies and natural areas around me seem to say “autumn.” The upside? Without that blanket of white thrown over the prairies, there are so many visible wonders. Plant tendrils…

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

…and their swerves and curves.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Ice crystals captured in a shady river eddy.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

The bridges we regularly hike across are geometry lessons in angles and lines.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Look closely.

Possibly blue-gray rosette lichen (Physcia caesia), Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

There is life, even here. The lichens remind me of the tatted lace antimacassars so beloved by my great-grandmothers. It also reminds me I need to learn more lichen ID. Winter might be a good time to focus on that.

The soundtrack of the prairie in late December is the castanet rattle of White Wild Indigo pods…

White Wild Indigo (Baptisia leucantha), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

…and the wind’s sizzle-hiss through the grasses. This December in the Midwest, wind has been a significant force. Harsh. Destructive. Here in the Chicago region, we’ve escaped most wind damage. Yet wind makes its presence known. When I’m hiking into it, my face goes numb. My eyes water. Brrrr. But I love the way it strokes and tunes the dry tallgrass, coaxing out a winter prairie tune.

Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

I admire the seed-stripped sprays of crinkled switchgrass wands…

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

…the bright blue of a snow-less sky, feathered with clouds…

Skies over Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

…the joy of spent winter wildflowers.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

I spy the mallard and his mate.

Mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos), Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Feel delight in the murmur of an ice-free stream.

East Branch of the Dupage River, Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

The way December puts her mark on grasses, leaves and trees leaves me in awe… and happy.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

All these wonders! All available for any hiker passing through the prairies or woodlands at this time of year—without a single snowflake in the repertoire.

Frost at Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Sure, I still check the forecast. Hoping to see snow on the radar. But who needs the white stuff when there are so many other surprises? What a treasure trove of delights December has on offer!

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Why not go out and see them for yourself?

You’ll be glad you did.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Happy holidays and Merry Christmas!

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The opening quote is from Allen M. Young’s Small Creatures and Ordinary Places: Essays on Nature (2000, University of Wisconsin Press). This lovely book includes dragonflies and damselflies; fireflies, silk moths, butterflies, and cicadas—just a few of the many insects he investigates. Several of his essays first appeared in the Sunday Magazine of the Chicago Tribune. Young is Curator Emeritus of Zoology at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

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Need a New Year’s Resolution? Help Bell Bowl Prairie, one of Illinois’ last remaining native prairie remnants, which is about to be destroyed by the Chicago Rockford International Airport. Please go to www.savebellbowlprairie.org to discover easy ways your actions can make a difference.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my readers! Thank you for (virtually) hiking with me in 2021.