“This is the light of autumn; it has turned on us.”–Louise Glück
I am preoccupied with light; the number of daylight hours is slipping through my fingers. Gradually lessening.
I rise in the dark, and eat dinner at dusk. Where has the light gone?
The trees at the edge of the prairie are alight.
The year is passing quickly.
Sunday evening, as I admired my backyard prairie patch, a white-crowned sparrow appeared. Its bright white striped helmet glowed in the twilight as it sampled seeds spilled from my feeders, under the wands of the blazing star.
This tiny bird has traveled thousands of miles– up to 300 miles in a single night. Now, it’s back from its summering grounds up north in the Arctic and subartic where it nested in the tundra among the lichens and mosses.
The appearance of the white-crowned sparrow tells me winter is only a whisper away.
This world of color won’t be with us long.
The prairie dock leaves are fallen awnings of opaque dotted swiss fabric.
Indian grass surrenders to the shortening days and its inevitable fate. Death above. Life remains, unseen, underground.
Horse gentian—sometimes called “wild coffee” —throws its orange orbs into the mix of prairie seeds as its leaves crumple. Insurance for the future.
The silvered leaves of leadplant fade into oblivion.
New england asters and goldenrod dance their last tango in the tallgrass.
Sumac refuses to go quietly. Look at that red!
The heath asters offer star-shine under arches of prairie cordgrass. Their days are numbered.
Listen! Can you hear the low husky lament of the katydids for a season about to end?
No matter how we cling to what we have, it will eventually be lost to us.
Better to turn the page. Practice release.
October is a bittersweet month; a month that catches fire and burns everything to ashes as it goes.
But oh, what a fire.
And oh, what a light the burning makes.
Store up October now.
Cherish that light.
It will be solace in the months to come.
The opening line is from poet Louise Glück (1943–), who won a well-deserved Nobel Prize in Literature this past week. It’s the latest of many major prizes she’s earned for her writing including the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for The Wild Iris, a good introduction to her work. Her poems are often harsh; exploring the meaning of suffering and mortality. Read about her life and writing here, or listen to her read some of her poems here.
All photos this week taken at the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (top to bottom): view over the October prairie; little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium); sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina); bird’s nest; blazing star seeds (Liatris sp.); lichens, one is possibly gold dust (Chrysothrix candelaris) and another possibly hoary rosette (Physcia aipolia); Schulenberg Prairie in October; rose hips (Rosa carolina); prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum); leadplant (Amorpha canscens); canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and new england aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angeliae); bridge over Willoway Brook in October; heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) and prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata); one of the katydids (possibly Scudderia sp.); illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis); common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) pappus; video of leaf fall, prairie looking into savanna; staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina); ladies’ tresses orchid (Spiranthes cernua); Schulenberg Prairie Savanna; common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).
Join Cindy for a class—or ask her to speak virtually for your organization—this autumn and winter.
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.
Want more prairie? Follow Cindy on Facebook, Twitter (@phrelanzer) and Instagram (@phrelanzer). Or enjoy some virtual trips to the prairie through reading Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit and The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction.