“If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” —Lucy Larcom
I’ve been looking up words in the thesaurus to describe the Chicago region’s prairie temperatures this week.
Here’s what I’ve found so far: Chilly. Freezing. Icy.
Piercing. Numbing. Sharp.
Glacial. Wintry. Raw.
Penetrating. Hypothermic. And did I say…. cold?
And….refreshing. These temperatures are a wake-up blast that jolts you clear down to your toes. Until you can’t feel your toes anymore.
What do you think? How would you describe the cold this week?
After I hiked the prairie this weekend in the snow, rising temperatures and a misty rain laid an icy glaze across the sidewalks and driveways; shellacked the front steps to our house. It looked as if Mother Nature got down on her hands and knees and buffed the snow to a high gloss.
Monday’s sunshine helped melt it a bit. Now everything is slick with ice. It’s treacherous out there.
I can see my backyard prairie patch from the kitchen window. What solace! The prairie dock leaves are brittle and brown; the compass plants curl like bass clefs. Wild bergamot satisfies my need for aesthetics as much in winter as it does in full bloom during the summer. Rattlesnake master’s spare silhouette is more striking now than it was in the warmer seasons.
Along the side of the house, prairie dropseed pleases in its mound-drape of leaves. What a pleasure this plant is. Every home owner should have it. So well-behaved.
But it’s the rough and tumble of joe pye, goldenrod, asters, swamp milkweed, cup plant, culver’s root, mountain mint and other prairie community members as a whole that I appreciate as much as parsing out a single species.
I’m reminded that underneath the snow is a world of color and motion and growth, just waiting to happen at the turn of the temperatures toward warmth. These bitter temperatures are a necessary pause in the life of the prairie.
Meanwhile, I’ll wait for the ice to melt…
… and remind myself that one of the reasons I planted prairie in my yard is for days just like this one. Is my backyard prairie good for the environment? Absolutely. Essential for pollinators? You bet. And…
…it’s a winter pleasure that warms my spirits, as I look through the window on a brutally-cold, iced-in day.
Lucy Larcom (1824-1893) was a writer, abolitionist, and teacher. As one of nine children, whose father (a sea captain) died when she was eight, Larcom worked with her mother to run a boardinghouse to keep the family afloat in Lowell, Massachusetts. She worked in Lowell’s mills at eleven years old, where the “mill girls” established a literary circle and she became a friend of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who was a support and encouragement. At twenty, she moved with an older sister to the Illinois prairies, where she taught school. She later moved back East and wrote for such magazines as the Atlantic. Her poetry collections include Similitudes, from the Ocean and Prairie (1853). She is best known for her autobiography, A New England Girlhood, Outlined from Memory which the Poetry Foundation calls “a richly detailed account of gender, and class in mid-nineteenth century New England.”
Join Cindy for a program in January!
“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 in person, or tune in via Zoom from the comfort of your home. (Please note changes in venue may be made, pending COVID. Check the day before to ensure you know the most current details of this event). Register here.