Tag Archives: bloom

Rumors of Spring

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Wake up, Virginia bluebells!

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

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Pincushion the burned ground with green, prairie dropseed.

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Let’s get this season underway!

I want a front row seat…

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…as the prairie swings into a slow crescendo…

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… as the spring frogs chorus their approval…

…as from the ashes, the prairie is renewed.

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It’s time. Wake up!

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“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.

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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.

A Corner Turned

Have you heard them? Listen. The crickets sing a rhythmic “shhh—shhh–shhh–shhh” like an oscillating yard sprinkler. Cicadas tune up.

Summer hears the sounds and begins to exhale.  July ends with a blue moon; the traditional name for the rare second full moon in a single month. August opens hot and stormy.

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The prairie — responding to temperature, the slant of light, a million unseen signals it has tuned into since the dawn of time —begins to count down the days toward autumn. Urgently, it pumps out surges of color: yellows, purples, whites.

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The first goldenrod bursts into bloom.

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Rattlesnake master seedheads glow pale and prickly. The fragrance of prairie dropseed permeates the air. Mmmmmm. Smells like buttered popcorn.

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Prairie dock punches its flower bud fists into the sky, 12 feet high. All the plants on the prairie shout — “make seeds!”

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Compass plant sap drips in the daytime heat, then crystalizes in the cool  August evenings. Native American children chewed the sap like Wrigley’s Spearmint gum.

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Dusk begins to fall. The hummingbird moths blur their way through lush stands of bee balm, fueling up for the night.

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The first big bluestem seedheads unfurl, turkey-footed against the sunset.

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Turn the corner into the savanna and admire the Joe Pye weed, Queen Anne’s lace, and woodland sunflowers as they spread their tall carpet under the oaks.

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The grasses and trees become a little pixelled, a little grainy as the sun drops over the horizon. The cool breath of twilight rises up from the trail to meet you. Somewhere, a seasonal switch is flipped. A corner turned.

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Summer, we’re not ready to let you go.

Please. Stay a little longer.

(All photos by Cindy Crosby. Top to bottom: Full “blue” moon, Glen Ellyn, IL; James “Pate” Philip State Park Prairie, Bartlett, IL; stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida), Schulenberg Prairie at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; rattlesnake master, (Eryngium yuccifolium) SP; prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) SP;  compass plant sap (Silphium laciniatum), SP; hummingbird month on bee balm (Monarda fistulosa), SP; big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) , SP; oak savanna, SP; oak savanna trail, SP.)