“My cathedral is…the prairies… . ” —Neil Young
What a week! Prairie prescribed burns are wrapping up…
…and a visit to central Indiana this past week was a glimpse of spring woodland wildflowers in full bloom, a little bit ahead of ours in the Chicago region. The yellow trout lilies, intriguing from the side…
…and from the back.
False rue anemone is in full bloom in the Hoosier state.
And spring beauties there are, well, beautiful as their name suggests.
Driving home to the Chicago suburbs from Indianapolis, a brown sign lures Jeff and me off the highway: “Prophetstown State Park.” I do a quick Google search, and see there is a tallgrass prairie. Prairie! Put the turn signal on. We follow the directions and pull into the parking area.
And what a prairie it is,
It stretches far and wide, much larger than anything we anticipated. In my mind, I’ve now dubbed this the “Bluebird Tallgrass Prairie” for the number of sapphire feathered sprites that kept us company on our hike.
We watched them fly around the nest boxes scattered along the trails. Here, the mama bird does a doublecheck; maybe on a brood of baby blues?
The males flying out and about gather insects for their hungry families. This bluebird below looks put out with the state of his box, perhaps damaged in the recent tornados and storms in Indiana a week or two ago. Looks like a trip to Home Depot or Menards is in his future.
Don’t let that look fool you, however. Even though he’ll contribute some nest material to his new home, female bluebirds are the primary nest-builders. She may use the same nest for up to three clutches in a season; each clutch will have two to seven eggs.
We hike the wide mown grassy trails and admire the prairie grasses and dried wildflowers. Some of the prairie’s acres, close to the structures of a replicated Native American village, have been mowed, rather than burned. Maybe to keep the buildings from harm.
Near the houses and barns, a 13-lined ground squirrel darts through the backlit grasses.
Blue haze hangs in the distance.
As we hike the trails, I notice some old plant friends.
Canada wild rye.
Purpletop tridens, a native perennial bunchgrass.
Mountain mint, looking haggard after a long winter.
Rich colors brighten the little bluestem, glowing in the late afternoon slant of sunlight.
As we point out the prairie plants to each other, a red-winged blackbird serenades us with his Oka-leee!
Another one of the numerous bluebirds makes it a duet.
A tree line marks the prairie’s far boundaries.
The grasses, bent and broken by a long winter, seemed to wash against the trees like waves against the shoreline, emphasizing the constant tension between woodland and prairie.
With all these wonders, it was difficult to get back in the car and head for Chicago. What a respite a prairie hike can be! Such solace.
Prophetstown’s prairie was a serendipitous break from the mind-numbing traffic, a reminder of the tranquility that can be found a few miles from a busy freeway.
A moment to breath, to rekindle our sense of wonder.
Thanks, Prophetstown State Park prairie. And thanks to the staff and volunteers who keep it flourishing.
The opening quote is an excerpt of one by Grammy Award-winning Neil Young (1945-), a Canadian-American songwriter, musician, film director, and activist. Young has twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; once as a solo artist, once as a member of the group Buffalo Springfield. Fun fact: Neil Young was a studio session guitarist for the Monkees in 1968. Young has only had one hit in his career—can you guess what it was? Click here to find out.
Tonight! Literary Gardens — In Person — April 11, 7-8:30 p.m., Glenview Garden Club and Glenview Public Library. Free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Join us! Register here.
Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers — Monday, April 17, 5-6 p.m., Rock River Garden Club, Dixon, IL. (Closed event for members)
The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction — Tuesday, April 18, Algonquin Garden Club, 12:30-2 p.m. (Closed event for members)
Spring Wildflower and Ethnobotany Walk—Thursday, April 20, 8:30-10:30 am or Saturday, April 29, 8:30-10:30am at The Morton Arboretum. Registration information here. (Both walks SOLD OUT, ask to be put on a waiting list)
The Tallgrass Prairie in Popular Culture –Sunday, April 23, 2-5 p.m. The Land Conservancy’s 32nd Annual Celebration, High Tea at the McHenry Country Club, Woodstock, IL. Tickets are $45-$70 — available here.
I’m excited to moderate “In Conversation Online with Robin Wall Kimmerer,” June 21, 2023, 7-8 pm via Zoom . Brought to you by Illinois Libraries Present. Numbers may be limited, so register here soon!
More classes and programs at www.cindycrosby.com