“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ The Little Prince
Take a prairie hike on a December day, and it’s easy to forget some of the essentials. No, not gloves and a hat.
The prairie essentials. Those now-invisible, dimly-remembered elements of the prairie; those moments in the tallgrass that first caught your heart.
Have you forgotten? How lush the prairie is in the spring! A thousand different possible greens.
Do you remember? The moment when you first saw the lupine blooms in the spring. You stood on the path, stunned.
In December, when the prairie lies still and silent, immobile in the freezing temperatures, it’s easy to forget…
…the sound of the frogs in the wet prairie, vocalizing so loudly you couldn’t hear yourself think. The deep “moo” of the bullfrog, reminding you of where its name comes from. The strummed comb of chorus frogs. The sleigh bells of spring peepers.
So, that spring day, you let go of trying to think. You just listened by the side of the pond. Remember?
Those essential moments. Those essential images. Out of season. Waiting to be taken out and enjoyed.
In December, when the snow suffocates the grasses, then melts everything into a cauldron of mud… and the stark seed heads of false sunflowers stand naked in the frigid air…
…you begin to recall… How, one spring, the lone bison stood silhouetted against the aluminum sky like a buffalo nickel.
Or how you sat for hours by the bluebird house, watching for small chips of feathered sky to fly by in the warmth of late summer.
In December, when your eyelashes are rimmed with snowflakes, and your hands are numb with cold…
…you suddenly remember the day you stumbled across the fringed gentians, nestled deep in the fall grasses.
Have you forgotten? The butterfly you glimpsed, gently tasting the prairie cinquefoil with its slender feet?
The sounds of the woodpecker drumming in December… does it conjure up the memory of the dickcissel calling its own name in July?
The prairie essentials. Dimly remembered in December; triggered by sights, smells, sounds. You believe — although you can’t see them — that you will encounter them again.
You know the deep roots of grasses and forbs continue to plunge more than 15 feet into the earth, even if you can’t see them. They are there, keeping the prairie grounded.
While on the surface, small tracks speak of invisible things, temporarily hidden.
You believe that the scrim of ice along the stream that runs through the prairie, holding it in its inexorable, prison-like grip…
…will give way — soon enough — to the freely-flowing current in July.
I love the prairie in all its rhythms; marvel at its winter wonders. But when I see the prairie in December, I see more than what my eyes tell me.
My heart remembers the prairie essentials; no matter what the season.
All photos by Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Prairie Visitor Station, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bridge over Willoway Brook, SP; lupine (Lupinus perennis), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; bison in the snow, NG; bullfrog, NG; false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), SP; bison, NG; bluebird house, NG; fringed gentian (Gentianopsis crinita), NG; red admiral on prairie cinquefoil (Potentilla arguta), NG; dickcissel, NG; sun and snow, SP; animal tracks, SP; Willoway Brook SP; Clear Creek, NG; bridge in the snow, SP.
The opening quote: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye” is from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Thanks to Jeff Crosby for first introducing me to the book, many years ago.