“November is chill, frosted mornings with a silver sun rising behind the trees, red cardinals at the feeders, and squirrels running scallops along the tops of the gray stone walls”. —Jean Hersey
November marks a tumultuous halfway point. What a month!
School playgrounds are empty.
Families fear to gather. Headlines promise no quick answers.
Pewter skies. Cold drizzle. Tornado watches. 50-mph winds.
Let’s go look for hope. Peace. Beauty.
Here are five reasons to hike the November prairie.
- November’s prairie is a sea of gorgeous foamy seeds. Exploding asters loosen their shattered stars against the winds.
Boneset seeds prepare to set sail on the breeze.
Thistles are an exercise in contrast.
Thimbleweed’s wispy Q-tips hold fast against the wind. A few lose their grip, but most will hang on to their seeds through winter.
So many seeds.
So much promise for 2021. Hope for the future.
2. November’s prairie offers the solace of gray skies. Depressing? No. Curiously calming to the spirit, even in high winds, which carve curves in the clouds.
On mornings when the temperature drops below 30 degrees, the freeze softens plants; breaks them down. They crumple. Ice pierces succulent plants from the inside out.
The skies are misted and vague.
The future seems uncertain. But the skies, cycling between sunshine and steel, remind us how quickly change is possible.
3. November’s prairie is full of music. Autumn’s orchestra is fully tuned now, with winter whispering soft notes in the wings. Switchgrass and Indian grass hiss in high winds, like onions sizzling in a frying pan.
Geese cry overhead. on their way to nowhere special.
A train blows its mournful whistle.
I listen until the sound fades away.
4. Leaves are the stars of November’s tallgrass. Prairie dock leaves are topographic maps of the world.
Rattlesnake master masters the curves. I’m reminded of the Olympic ribbon dancers; rhythmic gymnastics performed in taupes and beiges.
Yet these leaves are immobile. Grace and motion frozen in high winds.
Other leaves signal surrender. Tattered and shredded by weather.
I kneel by the compass plant, trying to read its leaves for direction.
It seems as lost as I am.
5. November’s prairie is art in process. What will you see there?
Works by the impressionists.
Echoes of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World.
The prairie paints a thousand pictures every day. Sings a hundred songs. Tells stories.
Ready for more?
Jean Hersey (1902-date of death unknown) was the author of The Shape of a Year. She wrote about gardening, houseplants, herbs, grief, flowering shrubs, and penned many homespun articles for Women’s Day magazine.
All photos this week are from Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downers Grove, IL unless tagged otherwise (top to bottom): deserted school playground, Glen Ellyn, IL; common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca); Belmont Prairie in November; Belmont prairie boardwalk; panicled asters (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum); tall boneset (Eupatorium altissimum); pasture thistle (Cirsium discolor); thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica); mixed grasses and forbs; gray skies over Belmont Prairie; hard freeze (prairie planting, Glen Ellyn, IL): Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripterus); Canada geese (Branta canadensis); Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans); prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum); rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium); unknown prairie forb; unknown prairie forb; compass plant (Silphium laciniatum); mixed grasses; Belmont Prairie edges; Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) in November; Jeff hikes Belmont Prairie; trail through Belmont Prairie in November.
Join Cindy for a class—or ask her to speak virtually for your organization–now booking talks for 2021. Email Cindy through http://www.cindycrosby.com.
Literary Gardens Online: Friday, Dec.4, 1-2:30 p.m.CST– Join master gardener and natural history writer Cindy Crosby from wherever you live in the world for a fun look at great (and not-so-great) gardens in literature and poetry. From Agatha Christie’s mystery series, to Brother Cadfael’s medieval herb garden, to Michael Pollan’s garden in “Second Nature,” to the “secret garden” beloved of children’s literature, there are so many gardens that helped shape the books we love to read. Discover how gardens and garden imagery figure in the works of Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Goudge, Rumer Godden, May Sarton, Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Gilbert, Henry Mitchell, Barbara Kingsolver, and Lewis Carroll–and many more! This class is online. Register here through The Morton Arboretum.
Just released in June! Chasing Dragonflies: A Natural, Cultural, and Personal History.
Order now from your favorite indie bookstore such as the Arboretum Store and The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn, or online at bookshop.org, direct from Northwestern University Press (use coupon code NUP2020 for 25% off), or other book venues. Thank you for supporting small presses, bookstores, and writers during these unusual times.