Tag Archives: Hike

To Know a Prairie

“A walk is only a step away from a story, and every path tells.” –Robert Macfarlane

How do you begin to know a prairie?

You walk it alone, in the late summer sun.

August 21, 2016 NG


Wait for the mist to rise, after the rain.



You sit quietly, doing nothing at all. Suddenly, the  focus becomes what is small.



And the big things as well, a foil for the small. You notice the bison, formed and shaped by the land;  their bodies echoed in the knobs and the trees.

Bison bison 2

And you stop for a while, and marvel.

How do you begin to know a place?

Your skin is scraped raw by the roughness of grass. Then soothed by the silk of the Canada rye.



You watch the sun light the grass as it sinks out of view.


And the darkness throws all into impossible relief.

Grasses and shrubs…



…and wildflowers pink; catching the last light before going to sleep.


You reflect on what you know, and what you realize  you don’t.

IMG_7818 (1)


There will always be mystery, here in the grass.


You absorb what you can; you listen and learn.

And let the rest wash over you. Too much to take in.


The story continues with each step that you take. And like a good book, you don’t want it to end.  You pull on your boots the next morning, and hike it again.

That’s how you begin.

To know a place.


The opening quote is from The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by British writer Robert Macfarlane (1976-), about the shaping of people and places.

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby: (top to bottom): road through Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; mist on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; common pondhawk dragonfly female (Erythemis simplicicollis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bison (Bison bison), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; Canada wild rye, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  sunset with big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  sunset with shrubs, Russell Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL; gaura (Gaura biennis), Nachusa Grasslands, the Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; cattails (Typha latifolia) on Silver Lake, Blackwell Forest Preserve of DuPage County, Warrenville, IL; mist, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; clouds, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL.

Twilight in the Tallgrass

“Twilight drops her curtain down and pins it with a star.” — Lucy Maud Montgomery

Come with me. Let’s take a hike on the prairie at twilight.


See how the slant of sunlight shapes shadows on the leaves.


How the prairie dock forms a backdrop for wild hyacinths; a contrast of  leather and lace.


Soft impressionistic clouds of prairie dropseed light up as the sun slips beyond the horizon.



At twilight, you notice the beauty of the back of a wild geranium, which looked so ordinary earlier in the day.



You stand, astonished. And then, one by one, the stars come out, casting their star-shadows…



You wait, and see a shooting star, or two, or three…




Crazy constellations of flowers twirl across the grasses….



…and galaxies of petals swirl their pollinating passengers.



You think about your life, as you contemplate the play of light and dark.



So much to see and think about, if you hike the tallgrass at twilight.

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby, taken at the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle,  IL:  trail through the prairie; prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) and wild hyacinths (Camassia scilloides); prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis); wild geranium (Geranium maculatum); starry Solomon’s seal (Smilacina stellata); shooting stars, (Dodecatheon meadia); golden Alexander (Zizia aurea); wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis); prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum).

The opening quote is by Lucy Maud Montgomery, the beloved author of Anne of Green Gables and its numerous sequels. She did most of her writing at twilight.

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?


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.



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



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.



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



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



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.


Like badminton birdies, aren’t they?


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



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.




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.



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.



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.


The goldenrods join the chorus of goodbyes each autumn.



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.



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.


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