“This life is after all a miracle and we ought to pay fierce attention every moment… .” —Brian Doyle
January on the prairie is underway, a yo-yo between freeze and thaw; snow and sun.
Walking the prairie on a gray windy morning, contrasts are everywhere.
Carrion flower still clutches its inedible fruits; some plump, others desiccated.
Prairie dock leaves evince a weathered beauty that only comes with age and time.
They are unrecognizable from the green elephant ears they were in July. The air smells of wet earth and cold. Grasses whisper in the wind. A hawk silently bullets by, rapt on its prey. The hum of traffic in the distance is the only sound. So quiet. Peaceful.
Until—-scritch scritch scritch. Up in a black walnut tree, a fox squirrel rhythmically gnaws a black walnut. The sound ricochets through the January air. How can a squirrel’s teeth grinding on a nut make so much noise?
There is so much to experience on the tallgrass prairie in winter. Here are ten reasons to hike the prairie in January.
10. The drama of winter prairie skies, changing like a kaleidoscope from moment to moment.
9. The sound of water moving through the prairie; music that is more appreciated in January than July.
8. The grace of a single seedhead such as Canada wild rye…
7. …or, the joy of massed individuals, like these large swathes of bee balm.
6. Possibilities for the future in the mowed firebreaks, ready for the prescribed burn to come.
5. The glories of prairie plants that are more interesting in seed than in bloom, such as Illinois bundleflower.
4. Small pleasures like the incredible diversity of lichens on a log in the tallgrass.
3. Large dramas, such as the sweep of the prairie under a dusting of snow.
2. The fascination of following animal tracks and trying to understand their stories written upon the landscape.
1. Ice art, in all its unexpected and temporary forms.
Welcome to a new year on the prairie.
There is so much to anticipate this month.
The opening quote is from Brian Doyle’s (1956-2017) One Long River of Song. If you haven’t read Doyle, this is a good collection to begin with. Known as a “writer’s writer,” Doyle wrote many novels, essays, and poetry collections. He also won numerous awards, including the John Burroughs Medal and four Pushcart Prizes.
All photos and video copyright Cindy Crosby and taken this week at the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (top to bottom): mosses and snow; bridge to the prairie; carrion flower (Smilax spp.); prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum); January on the prairie; eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger); prairie sky; Willoway Brook; Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis); bee balm (Monarda fistulosa); mowed firebreak; Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis); lichens on a log; prairie trail; coyote (Canis latrans) tracks; ice on the trail; bench on the prairie in the snow.
Please join Cindy at one of her upcoming classes or talks in the new year!
Nature Writing and Art Retreat, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL, February 22 (Saturday) 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Cindy will be facilitating the writing portion. Sold Out. Waiting list –Register here.
Tallgrass Prairie Ecology Online begins March 26. Details and registration here.
Nature Writing Workshop (a blended online and in-person course, three Tuesday evenings in-person) begins March 3 at The Morton Arboretum. For details and registration, click here.