“For a relationship with landscape to be lasting, it must be reciprocal.” —Barry Lopez
I heard the cardinal’s spring song this week for the first time this year. Maybe it was practicing. Maybe it was dreaming. Snow is still piled on the ground and my little pond is frozen, but now I listen for that cardinal song anytime I step outdoors. February is half over. There is plenty of snow and cold ahead. Yet the thought of spring persists.
Spring! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Winter in the Midwest has a lot to recommend it.
Oh yes. Let’s get outside and discover three reasons to hike the February prairie.
- Interesting Plants
Hike the prairie in February, and you’ll be aware of the temporal nature of life.
Everywhere are remnants of what was once a vibrant wildflower, now aged and gone to seed.
Along the trail is wild bergamot, still redolent with thymol.
Dried grasses are broken and weighted with snow.
And yet, life is here, under the ground. Emergence is only weeks away.
Pollinators are a distant memory. What will a new season bring?
These are the prairie’s closing chapters. The hot breath of prescribed fire whispers. Soon. Soon. When conditions are right. By April, this will have vanished in smoke.
Take in every moment of winter. While it lasts.
2. The Joy of Tracking
Who moves across the winter prairie? It’s not always easy to tell.
Follow the streams and you’ll see signs of life. I know a mink lives along Willoway Brook—are these her prints?
Who took a frigid plunge?
The freeze/thaw freeze/thaw over the past week has blurred and slushed the tracks, adding to the mystery.
Who is it that prowls the tallgrass prairie in February? Who swims its streams?
I’m not always sure, but it’s enough to know that life persists in February.
3. The Exhilaration of Braving the Elements
Hiking the prairie in February involves a little bit of risk, a little bit of daring.
See these prairie skies, how they change from moment to moment? Bright—then dim—then bright? What a joy to be outside!
Sure, the temperatures are in the teens. Wrap that scarf a little tighter around your neck. Breathe in that cold, clarifying prairie air.
Sometimes, you may arrive, only to turn back when the trail has iced beyond acceptable risk.
But isn’t it enough to be there, even if only for a few minutes?
I think so. Why not go see? It won’t be winter much longer.
Barry Lopez (1945-2020) was an American writer who loved the Arctic and wolves, and wrote 20 books of fiction and non-fiction exploring our relationship to the natural world. The opening quote for today’s blog is from his National Book Award winner, Arctic Dreams (1986), which is still my favorite of his works.
Join Cindy for a class or program in February!
February 26 — Plant a Little Prairie in Your Yard for Citizens for Conservation. Barrington, IL. (10 am-11am.) Open to the public with registration. Contact them here.
February 26 ––Conservation: The Power of Story for the “2022 Community Habitat Symposium: Creating a Future for Native Ecosystems” at Joliet Junior College. Tickets available at (https://illinoisplants.org/). (Afternoon program as part of all-day events)