“…I looked on the natural world, and I felt joy.” — Michael McCarthy
This is the season of hot chocolate and electric blankets; library books and naps. And yet. When I spend too much time insulated at home, I find myself fretting over the latest newspaper headlines, or worrying about getting sick. Covid has left few of our families untouched.
What’s the solution? I can’t solve Covid, but I can keep my worries from circling around and around in an endless loop.
A hike outdoors goes a long way to restoring my spirits. Cold has settled into the Chicago region. A fine layer of snow has covered the grime along the roads and left everything shimmering white. The air smells like clean laundry. The ice has become manageable under a few days of concentrated sunlight.
It’s beautiful outside! Despite the chill. Consider these three reasons to brave the cold and go for a prairie hike this week.
Shadows and Shapes
Snow backdrops prairie plants and transforms them.
It backlights the tallgrass; silhouetting wildflowers and grasses.
Familiar plants cast blue-gray shadows, giving them a different dimension.
Even if you’ve seen a plant a hundred times before…
…it takes on a winter persona, and seems new.
Snow shadows lend the prairie a sense of mystery.
The spark and glaze of ice turn your hike into something magical.
Breathe in. The cold air numbs the worry. Breathe out. Feel the terrors of the day fade away.
For now. A moment of peace.
During these pandemic times its comforting to know we live in community. Small prairie creatures—usually invisible— are made visible by their tracks.
Tunnels are evidence of more life humming under the snow.
I leave my tracks alongside theirs. It’s a reminder that we all share the world, even when we don’t see each other.
Winter has a way of changing the prairie sky from moment to moment. It might be brilliant blue one day, or crowded with puffy cumulus clouds the next.
Wild geese fly by, their bowling pin silhouettes humorous when directly overhead; the clamor raucous even in the distance as they fly from prairie to soccer field to golf course.
Skies might be soft with sheep shapes on one day…
Or blindingly bright on the next stroll through.
The prairie gives us the advantage of a 360-degree view of the sky. Its immensity reminds us of how very small….so small…. our worries are in the great span of time and space.
As we hike, our sense of wonder is rekindled.
Our fear disappears. Or at least, it lessens.
Our mind rests. The well of contentment, seriously depleted, begins to fill. And then, we feel it again.
The opening quote is from the book The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy by Michael McCarthy (1947-), a long-time British environmental editor for The Independent and writer for The Times. You can listen to his interview with Krista Tippett for “On Being” here.
Join Cindy for a program this winter!
“100 Years Around the Morton Arboretum” — Wednesday, January 26, 6:30pm-8:30 pm. Watch history come to life in this special centennial-themed lecture about The Morton Arboretum. Celebrating 100 years, The Morton Arboretum has a fascinating past. Two of the Arboretum’s most knowledgeable historians, author Cindy Crosby and the ever-amazing library collections manager Rita Hassert, will share stories of the Mortons, the Arboretum, and the trees that make this place such a treasure. Join us via Zoom from the comfort of your home. (Now all online). Register here.
February 8-March 1 (Three evenings, 6:30-9pm): The Foundations of Nature Writing Online —Learn the nuts and bolts of excellent nature writing and improve your wordsmithing skills in this online course from The Morton Arboretum. Over the course of four weeks, you will complete three self-paced e-learning modules and attend weekly scheduled Zoom sessions with your instructor and classmates. Whether you’re a blogger, a novelist, a poet, or simply enjoy keeping a personal journal, writing is a fun and meaningful way to deepen your connection to the natural world. February 8, noon Central time: Access self-paced materials online. February 15, 22, and March 1, 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Central time: Attend live. Register here.
March 3–Tallgrass Prairie Ecology Online –online class with assignments over 60 days; one live Zoom together. Digitally explore the intricacies of the tallgrass prairie landscape and learn how to restore these signature American ecosystems. Look at the history of this particular type of grassland from the descent of glaciers over the Midwest millions of years ago to the introduction of John Deere’s famous plow to where we are today. We will examine different types of prairie, explore the plant and animal communities of the prairie, and discuss strategies specific to restoring prairies in this engaging online course. Come away with a better understanding of prairies and key insights into how to restore their beauty. You will have 60 days to access the materials. Register here.
Also — check out this free program offered by Wild Ones! (Not one of Cindy’s but she’s attending!)
The Flora and Fauna of Bell Bowl Prairie February 17, 7-8:30 p.m. Join other prairie lovers to learn about the flora and fauna of Bell Bowl Prairie, slated for destruction by the Chicago-Rockford International Airport this spring. It’s free, but you must register. More information here. Scroll down to “Upcoming Events” and you’ll see the February 17 Webinar with the always-awesome Rock Valley Wild Ones native plants group. Watch for the Zoom link coming soon on their site! Or contact Wild Ones Rock River Valley Chapter here. Be sure and visit http://www.savebellbowlprairie.org to see how you can help.