“Even then, I sensed that the buffalo signaled something profound….”–Dan O’Brien
We followed the sandhill cranes south this weekend…
…as we traveled to central Indiana. The morning skies were an ever-changing source of awe, from the moment we started our drive at sunrise…
…to the beautiful morning cloud formations over the corn fields of the northwestern corner of the Hoosier state.
And a lunar eclipse! Still to come.
A favorite stop when we travel this way is Kankakee Sands in Indiana’s northwest corner. This past Saturday, we celebrated “National Bison Day” honoring our official United States mammal, so it seemed like a no-brainer to carve out a few extra miles to see if we could get a glimpse of this charismatic megafauna.
Kankakee Sands is a beautiful mosaic of wetlands and prairie, part of a greater conservation effort that includes about 20,000 acres. Within its acres are 86 rare, threatened, and endangered species.
We don’t always see the bison when we stop, but this time, we were in luck.
What awe-inspiring creatures! Two young bison stuck close to their mama, while keeping an eye on us.
We watched another part of the herd run by in the distance. Bison can attain speeds of up to 35 mph. How can animals that can weigh more than 2,000 pounds move so quickly? What made them hurry to the other end of the prairie?
No idea. But they were fun to watch.
We took a few moments to walk the hiking trail at less-than-bison speed…
…and stretched our legs after the long car journey. From the trail, we could observe some of the prairie plants in their full fall glory.
Little bluestem is at its peak.
What a glorious grass! Those rust hues. Those seeds, which spark the sunlight! It’s a lovely grass for home plantings, as well as on the larger landscape of the tallgrass prairie. I was reminded that I have three little bluestem plugs still waiting to be planted at home, sitting on my porch. Ha! Better get those in soon.
Tufted thistle swirled its seeds into the wind as we watched.
The wind had also broken off mullein’s tall spikes…
The native—but weedy—seedheads of evening primrose swayed in the breezes.
On the hill at the end of the trail, a tall tree, denuded of most of its leaves, loomed in the dying light. Very November-esque.
In the distance, white tailed deer mingled with the bison. They seemed content to share the prairie. Although we didn’t hear birdsong, we saw evidence of birds that were long gone south.
And then suddenly…a northern harrier cannonballed out of the grasses. Wow!
We watched it soar over the prairie; a fast-moving blur. It was quickly lost in the dying light.
While we were startled by the owl-like northern harrier, the mama bison and her young ones placidly grazed in the tallgrass. For them, it was just another part of a normal evening on the prairie.
What a peaceful scene, yet full of surprises. I felt myself relax. The prairie has a way of reminding me what contentment feels like.
The most difficult part of going to Kankakee Sands is making the decision to leave, and face the last leg of traffic entering Chicago. So much beautiful prairie here, all around. What an worth-while place to stop for a hike.
On the drive home, closing out our Sunday, we watched an almost-full moon rise over the 34-acre Biesecker Prairie as we waited at a stoplight for the light to change in St. John, Indiana. The prairie is right at the intersection.
It was a sneak preview of the moon marvels ahead. Early this Tuesday morning, before we headed out to vote, we watched the “Beaver Blood Full Moon Total Lunar Eclipse” .
It was worth setting the alarm for. Pretty spectacular.
Bison. A lunar eclipse. Prairies. What a wonderful way to begin the week. Who knows what other treats are in store?
I can’t wait to find out.
The opening quote is from Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O’Brien (1966-). The New York Times notes O’Brien has a “keen and poetic eye” as he writes about his struggles to raise bison on a Black Hills ranch. Read more about his life and work here.
Close out 2022 by Joining Cindy for a Class or Program
Saturday, November 12, 2022 (1-2:30 p.m.) Add a Little Prairie to Your Garden, hosted by the Antioch Garden Club, Antioch, IL. In-person. Free and open to the public, but you must register. For information and to inquire about registering for the event, visit the garden club’s website here.
Wednesday, December 7, 2022 (6:30-8:30 p.m.) 100 Years Around the Arboretum. Join Cindy and Library Collections Manager Rita Hassert for a fun-filled evening and a celebratory cocktail as we toast the closing month of the Arboretum’s centennial year. In-person. Register here.
A very happy birthday to Trevor Dean Edmonson, site manager at Kankakee Sands, whose birthday is today! Thank you for the work you do!