“Winter is an opportune season in which nature’s legions have time to ready themselves for a new debut come spring and beyond.“–Allen Young
February can’t make up her mind. Freezing temps and blustery winds? Hot sunshine and snowmelt? Every morning is a weather package to unwrap, full of surprises.
On a brutally cold afternoon with abundant sunshine this week, I trek through the snow on the Schulenberg Prairie. I’m a steward here so I’m excited to see the fence along the north edge of the prairie has been taken down. The new 18 acres purchased for natural areas is being cleared. It’s satisfying to see an overgrown area, full of buckthorn and honeysuckle, in the process of restoration.
Ten degrees. Five bluebirds hang around the edges of the prairie in the savanna, their sapphire plumage startling against the bright snow.
It’s our deepest snow of the year. Three inches? Four?
I’m glad for the fluffy stuff. Snow will help replenish the prairie’s groundwater.
As I hike toward the bridge, I hear a sound, like the sizzle of hot oil in a skillet. Water running! Willoway Brook isn’t completely frozen.
I hang over the bridge railing. Yes, there is open water. But look at that ice!
So many winter patterns…
…and ice crystals.
How astonishing! I forget my frozen nose and fingers as I look for other marvels in the water. A fallen angel in the center of the stream, or a flying bird?
Reed canary grass conjures ice sculptures by the stream’s edges.
In other areas along the shoreline, the ice lays on the water surface like plastic wrap on Jell-O.
Wonder after wonder. I imagine the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, waiting under the ice for spring. I think of them, and their bright colors aloft in only a few months.
Soon. Very soon.
I feel joy thinking of the dragonflies to come. And delight in the ice and snow of the prairie today. One prairie. Many facets over the seasons. Always something interesting going on.
Just think. I almost stayed home by the fireplace today, with my stack of library books and warm afghan. I would have missed all this.
However, the fireplace sounds good now, as my toes are frozen and my face chapped from the Arctic breezes blowing through the tallgrass.
I give the prairie a last look. Then shiver. Brrrr! Despite the sunshine, the wind is unstoppable. You can feel its bite and snap against exposed skin.
Time to head home.
I hike through the savanna to the parking lot. Will my car start? Fingers crossed.
Thankfully, it does. The heater full blast feels good, and as I sip hot peppermint tea from my thermos I begin to thaw. But what a joy it has been, to hike the prairie in February.
The prairie and its wonders are out there, waiting for you.
Why not go see?
The opening quote is from Allen M. Young from Small Creatures and Ordinary Places. These are thoughtful essays, celebrating katydids, butterflies, bats, odonates, cicadas, mice, hornets and more. I particularly enjoyed his passages on winter. Young also revised the “Golden Guide to Insects” for today’s readers—remember those little Golden Nature Guides you had as a kid? I still have one or two on my shelf. Young is the curator of zoology and vice-president of collections, research and public programs at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Check out Small Creatures here.
Winter Prairie Wonders — Tuesday, February 7, 10-11:30 a.m. Discover the wonders of the prairie in winter as you hear readings about the season. Enjoy stories of the animals who call the prairie home. Hosted by the Northbrook Garden Club in Northbrook, IL. Free to non-members, but you must register by contacting NBKgardenclub@gmail.com for more information.
Dragonflies and Damselflies: The Garden’s Frequent Fliers –— Wednesday, February 8, noon-1:30 p.m. Hosted by Countryside Garden Club in Crystal Lake, IL. (Closed event for members)
The Tallgrass Prairie: Grocery Store, Apothecary, and Love Charm Shop— Thursday, February 9, 12:30-2 p.m. Hosted by Wheaton Garden Club in Wheaton, IL (closed event for members).
Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers— February 20, 7:15-8:45 p.m. Hosted by the Suburban Garden Club, Indian Head Park, IL. Free and open to non-members. For more information, contact Cindy through her website contact space at http://www.cindycrosby.com.
See Cindy’s website for March programs and classes.
Bell Bowl Prairie in Rockford, IL, needs your help! Find out more on saving this threatened prairie remnant at SaveBellBowlPrairie.