Tag Archives: April

Spring Fever on the Prairie

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want— but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” –Mark Twain

****

Spring? It’s giving us the cold shoulder on the prairie.

thistleSPMA418.jpg

What a wacky, wicked April. Many prescribed burns were done late or not at all. Snowy days. Frigid nights. Wild winds. Plants stubbornly stay put under the blackened soil of the burned prairies. They know what’s good for them.

P1180093.jpg

On the edges of the prairie, the trees look dormant and colorless. What happened to the flush of green buds, the chatter of birds? Looking and listening, you’d think it was November instead of April.

It’s enough to make you weep.treesatkankakeeS41518watermark.jpg

 

There’s hope.

Look carefully, under the fallen autumn leaves moldering in the woodlands and savannas surrounding the prairie. You’ll see the seasons are changing.  Spring beauties tentatively open in the infrequent sunny hours, pinstriped with pink. Euell Gibbons, best known for his books on wild food foraging and for appearing in  Grape-Nuts commercials, lauded the joys of the edible tubers, known as “fairy spuds.” He also cautioned that they were much too pretty to eat. I agree.

springbeautiesMAEW41218watermark.jpg

Spring is in the half-dressed bloodroot blooms, unfurling cautiously, testing the air.

bloodrootSPMA41218watermark.jpg

If you look hard, you may find some blooms.  In the past, various concoctions of bloodroot have been used medicinally, including to control dental plaque, but today, those uses come with a lot of cautionary talk.

bloodrootSPVSMA2017watermark.jpg

Spring is in the hepatica blooming along the edges of the prairie, its persistent leaves worn and ragged after being nibbled during the winter. First the furry buds appear.

Hepaticabud41218MAEWwatermarked.jpg

And then…

hepatica41218MAEWwatermark.jpg

Wow, that color!

hepaticaEWMAfullflowerwatermark.jpg

We need hepatica in bloom this week! It’s a morale booster.

Spring is in the tender new leaves of Dutchman’s breeches.

DutchmansBreechesseedling41218TWOMAEW

The fringed growth promises delicate flowers, just days away.

FCSPdutchbreeches41717

Spring is in the pasque flowers which escaped the flames of a prescribed burn. The buds look furred against the cold.

PasqueflowerSPMA41218watermark.jpg

In my backyard prairie planting, shooting stars green up, ready to take off…

shooting stars 41218watermarked.jpg

…and skyrocket into bloom. Imagine that pink! Soon.

4216SPMAshootingstarwatermark.jpg

Sure, the April skies are gloomy. And we’re winter-weary.

kankakeesands41518.jpg

Hang on to hope.  Look for the clues. Bright spots in the landscape—if you pay attention.

goldfinchSPMA41218watermark.jpg

Everything is about to change. Do you feel it? Spring is coming.

Believe it.

*****

Mark Twain (1835-1910), whose quote opens this post, is the pen name for Samuel Clemens, an American writer, riverboat pilot, failed gold prospector, and inventor.  He grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, on the Mississippi River, and his pen name, Mark Twain, is steamboat slang for “twelve feet of water.” One my favorite Twain quotes: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”

****

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Pasture thistles (Cirsium discolor) in the April snow, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; just-burned Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bare trees in April with an unknown hawk, Kankakee Sands, The Nature Conservancy, Morocco, IN; spring beauties (Claytonia virginica), The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bloodroot emerging, Schulenberg Prairie Visitor Station, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bloodroot in bloom, Schulenberg Prairie visitor Station, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; hepatica (Hepatica nobilis acuta) emerging, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; hepatica (Hepatica nobilis acuta) in bloom, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; hepatica (Hepatica nobilis acuta) in bloom, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) emerging, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) in bloom, Franklin Creek Natural Area, Franklin Grove, IL; pasque flowers (Pulsatilla pantens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) emerging, author’s backyard prairie planting, Glen Ellyn, IL; shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) in bloom, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Kankakee Sands in the middle of April, The Nature Conservancy, Morocco, IN; goldfinch (Spinus tristis), Schulenberg Prairie, the Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.  Note: Please don’t pick, consume, or use wildflowers without permission and/or expert knowledge. Many are toxic and almost all are best left alone for us to conserve and enjoy. Happy spring! 

Rumors of Spring

“Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up…” –Woody Guthrie

*****

There’s a rumor in northern Illinois that it’s spring. But not a lot of anecdotal evidence to support it. Talk to anyone and you’ll hear the usual early April grouching about gray days, unexpected snow, and temps barely nudging 30 degrees.

fermiclouds32818watermarked (1).jpg

Natural areas managers scramble to get in their last prescribed burns before spring commences in earnest.

East WoodsMA4218 watermarked.jpg

On most prairies,  fire has kissed the tallgrass and gone, leaving the earth stripped and covered with ash. If you don’t look closely, it can all seem a bit melancholy.

But look again.

The prairies are awakening. You can see it in the juxtaposition of what was lost, and what is green and new.

snailshellfermi32818watermarked copy.jpg

Listen as April releases her icy grip on the tallgrass and wakes up the streams and springs.

The prairie knows it’s time to get moving.

Wake up, wood betony!

woodbetonyFermi32818.jpg

Just one glimpse of your crinkly maroon leaves reminds me that your lemon-colored blooms are not far behind.

Come on, April wind and rain! Topple the old compass plant stalks that escaped the fires; let them meld with the earth, covered by new growth.

compassplantFERMIwatermarked318.jpg

Wake up, Virginia bluebells!

bluebellsWestSideMA4218.jpg

I can’t wait until you color the woodlands around the prairies with your impossible blue.

MAbluebells2017watermarked.jpg

Pincushion the burned ground with green, prairie dropseed.

SPMAprairiedropseed2017watermarked copy.jpg

Let’s get this season underway!

I want a front row seat…

fermibench32818watermarked.jpg

…as the prairie swings into a slow crescendo…

switchgrassfermi32818watermarked.jpg

… as the spring frogs chorus their approval…

…as from the ashes, the prairie is renewed.

NG-fameflower33018watermarked.jpg

It’s time. Wake up!

*****

“Wake Up,” the lyrics of which open this post,  was written in 1954 by folk musician Woodrow “Woody” Wilson Guthrie (1912-1967). During his Oklahoma childhood, Guthrie’s older sister died in an accident, his family became bankrupt, and his mother was institutionalized. These tragedies—and later, the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl—gave him empathy with people who suffered, and heavily influenced his music. Guthrie, who died of Huntington’s Disease, wrote everything from children’s tunes to political protest songs. Read more about him here.

*****

All photos and videos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): gray skies on the prairie, Fermilab Interpretive Trail, Batavia, IL; prescribed burn, East Woods, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; video–the prairie greens up, Fermilab Interpretive Trail, Batavia, IL; snail shell and unknown green sprout on the prairie, Fermilab Prairie Interpretive Trail, Batavia, IL; video–water running through the prairie, Fermilab Prairie Interpretive Trail, Batavia, IL; wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis) leafing out, Fermilab Prairie Interpretive Trail, Batavia, IL; compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Fermilab Prairie Interpretive Trail, Batavia, IL; Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) leafing out, West Side Woodland, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) in bloom, Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bench on Fermilab Prairie Interpretive Trail, Batavia, IL; switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL; frog calls at Crowley Marsh, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Nachusa Grasslands at the end of March, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL.

Spring’s Contrasts on the Prairie

“April golden, April cloudy, Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy...”–Ogden Nash.

***

Spring on the prairie is a showcase of contrasts at the end of April.

Jacob’s ladder.

P1060859.jpg

Sand phlox. So small! Like a paper snowflake carefully cut out with scissors.

P1060912.jpg

Tiny blooms. Balanced by rough-and-tumble bison, the heavyweight champs of the prairie.

P1060705.jpg

Delicate spreadwing damselflies emerge from ponds to tremble in the sun.

P1060794.jpg

Furry beavers coast by, on their way to ongoing construction projects.

P1060786.jpg

There’s evidence of egrets. Their pale feathers a contrast to…

P1060775.jpg

…the bright buttery sunshine of marsh marigolds, with a lipstick red beetle.

P1060846.jpg

The beetle seems minuscule until a spider wanders into the scene. The line it throws is deceptively fragile looking. Yet, it’s strong enough to capture supper.

P1060779.jpg

There is life high above, in the flight of a blue heron scared up from the fen.

P1060864.jpg

While below, tossed carelessly in the grasses, are souvenirs of death.

P1060863.jpg

Life cut short.

P1060881.jpg

Beauty and terror co-exist, side-by-side.

P1060883.jpg

But the stars still come out –shooting stars! Make a wish.

P1060870.jpg

Life, death, rebirth. It’s all here…

P1060736.jpg

…at the end of April on the prairie.

***

The opening quote is from the poet (Frederic) Ogden Nash (1902-71) and his poem, “Always Marry an April Girl.” Nash is known for his humorous rhyming verse, and his nonsensical words. An example: “If called by a panther/don’t anther.”

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby at Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL (top to bottom): Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans), sand phlox (Phlox bifida bifida); bison (Bison bison); possibly sweetflag spreadwing (Lestes forcipatus) (ID uncertain); beaver (Castor canadensis); egret feather (Ardea alba); marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) with an unknown beetle;  unknown spider; blue heron (Ardea herodias); bones in the grasses;  possibly red-winged blackbird egg (Agelaius phoeniceus) in nest; shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) with nest; shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia); violet sorrel (Oxalis violacea) with an unknown pollinator. Thanks to Bernie Buchholz for showing me the sand phlox, and John Heneghan, for help with the nest ID.

Fire and Rain

“I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain… .” –James Taylor

Those relentless March rains! Now it’s April—pushing the envelope for fire.

The prairie waits.

SPbeforeburn4817.JPG

Wildflowers and grasses, urged to life by spring showers, push up through the damp earth. Oblivious to the fire still to come.

P1060134.jpg

The prescribed burn crew gathers. Light the match! The drip torch ignites.  A crackle and pop… the dry grasses catch.

SPburn4817.JPG

Smoke rises; smudges the sun.

PVSburnSP4817 (1).jpg

Trees are cast into sharp relief;  wraith-like shadows haunt the grasses.

CINDYCROSBYfireSPvisitorstation4817 (1).jpg

Flames devour the prairie; lick the savanna. Whispering. Growing closer.

CINDYCROSBYfirespsavanna4817.jpg

Listen. Can you hear the fire advancing? A sound like rain.

 

Last year’s prairie vanishes in moments. Becomes only memories.

P1060162.jpg

More rain falls. The prairie fizzes over, all chocolates and emeralds.

P1060139.jpg

Life-giving fire. Life-giving rain.

P1060167.jpg

The beginnings of something new emerge.

P1060182.jpg

Hope. Anticipation. Wonder. So much is on the way. Right around the corner.

***

James Taylor (1948-) is a five-time Grammy Award winner who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. His albums have sold more than 100 million copies. Although it only went to #3 on pop charts (1970), his single, “Fire and Rain,” is considered Taylor’s breakthrough song.

All photos and video copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; Schulenberg Prairie and Willoway Brook, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Schulenberg Prairie Visitor Station area, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Schulenberg Prairie Visitor Station, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Schulenberg Prairie and Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; video of Schulenberg Prairie and Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Russell Kirt Prairie in my side view mirror, College of DuPage Natural Areas, Glen Ellyn, IL; Fame Flower Knob, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; sunset over Russell Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage Natural Areas, Glen Ellyn, IL;  red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) on marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris), author’s backyard prairie pond, Glen Ellyn, IL.

A 2015 Prairie Retrospective

May you never forget what is worth remembering; May you never remember what is best forgotten. — old Irish blessing

Every prairie year has its own personality. Every season in the tallgrass is full of surprises.

Thank you for hiking the prairie with me on Tuesdays in 2015. I hope you’ll enjoy this retrospective of the Illinois prairie, month by month.  Who knows what wonderful things are in store for us in 2016?

January

Winter is a good time for naps, as these shaggy bison know. Bringing buffalo to Nachusa Grasslands in Franklin Grove, IL,  was a culmination of a dream for many prairie restorationists. In 2015, we watched the herd grow and a new bison unit open.

IMG_2168

February

Windy winter skies bring their own motion to the prairie, rattling the brittle grasses and seedheads.

IMG_1616

March

Fire is to prairie as water is to life. Because we suppress wildfires, prairie restorationists must used prescribed burns to ensure the prairie regularly goes up in flames. Only a few weeks after all is soot and ashes, the prairie turns emerald with new growth. It’s a resurrection of sorts. A chance for new beginnings that inspires even the most jaded and cynical observer.

sp-burn2013

April

A great egret keeps watch over a wet prairie, scanning for small frogs and fish.

IMG_5731

May

As spring breezes ripple prairie ponds and streams, the sounds of insects, frogs, and birds add their notes to the tallgrass soundtrack. Dragonflies emerge.

IMG_4715

June

Pale purple coneflowers  open, heralding the beginning of summer on the prairie. Once revered for their medicinal value, today we appreciate them for their verve and color.

IMG_5804

Like badminton birdies, aren’t they?

IMG_6008

Moist conditions helped queen of the prairie have a banner year in 2015.

IMG_7033

July

Dragonflies are all around us in the warmer months. In July, they clamor for our attention with their numbers and bejeweled colors.  Here, a blue dasher looks out at the prairie with its complex eyes. Below, an American rubyspot hangs over a stream rushing through the tallgrass.

bluedasher-sp2015

IMG_9012

August

Bee balm rampaged across the prairie in 2015; monarchs sipping beebalm nectar approved. There was good news for monarch butterflies this year — from the tollroads in Illinois which will fund milkweed plantings; to increased numbers of monarchs this season.

beebalmsp2014

September

Without volunteers, the prairie restoration efforts in the Midwest would be a moot point. Here, a volunteer from an Illinois church group collects seeds on one prairie that will be used to plant a different site.

IMG_9090

October

Asters are the floral bon voyage to the prairie blooming season. It’s bittersweet to see their purples, whites, and golds across the prairie. We know winter is just around the corner.

IMG_9511

The goldenrods join the chorus of goodbyes each autumn.

IMG_9217

November

Milkweed, including this common milkweed, got a lot of attention in 2015 for its value to monarchs. Did you plant some? If not, there’s always next year.

IMG_0696

December

Who says December has to be colorless? In some years, the prairie palette seems to catch fire as winter begins its slow drain of colors from the tallgrass. The oranges, yellows, and reds are a reminder of the prescribed fires that will burn in the spring; waking the prairie up to a new season of life.

IMG_1369

I began my first blog entry this year with the image above; it seems fitting to close out this prairie season with it.

Looking forward to hiking the tallgrass on Tuesdays with you in 2016.

Happy New Year!

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): bison in the snow, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; winter sky, NG; prescribed burn, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; after the fire, SP; great egret, NG; pond life, NG; Echinacea pallida, SP; Echinacea pallida, SP; queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra); blue dasher dragonfly, SP; American rubyspot, NG; bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) and monarch butterfly; volunteer, SP; smooth blue asters (Symphyotrichum laeve), SP; New England asters (Symphyotrichumnovae-angliae) and goldenrod (Solidago spp. — there were several species represented in this particular patch where I photographed, and the IDs are uncertain) SP; common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) DuPage County Forest Preserve; late December grasses, NG.

Old Irish Blessing: original source unknown