Tag Archives: sundog

A March Prairie Tempest

“In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” — Mark Twain

***

Tempest  ‘tem~pest’ (noun):  a violent windstorm, especially one with rain, hail, or snow.

Temperamental March comes in like a lion in Illinois, all twisters and high winds. Perhaps not a true tempest in the purest sense, but certainly leaning toward tempestuous.

The tallgrass ripples and blurs  in 50-mph gusts.

P1050700.jpg

Prairie managers consult weather forecasts. What is the wind speed? Wind direction? Humidity? March in Illinois is a season of prescribed fire.  In prairies and woodlands; savannas and wetlands, invasive plants are knocked back as the flames blacken the ground. Warming it for new life to come.

 

Up, up, up goes the smoke. Particles practice hangtime long after the burn is over. The smoke particles filter out the wavelengths of certain colors, but reds, oranges, and pinks come through. The  result? Vivid sunsets. As if the flames have leapt into space. Motorists slow, marveling at the skies.

sunset 392017.jpg

Just when spring-like weather seems here to stay, March hits the rewind button. Snow fills the  forecasts. Flakes fall overnight, covering prairies like sifted sugar. Or…

Saul Lake Bog March 3, 2017 (about 1 p.m.).jpg

… slathered on like heavy frosting.

IMG_1497

Deer move through the savannas, looking for browse.

P1050865.jpg

In the icy air, sundogs–bright patches of iridescence–tint the clouds just after sunrise and right before sunset.

P1050585.jpg

 

March is mercurial. A month of hellos and goodbyes. Farewell to the last thimbleweed seeds…

Tellabs 217 NG.jpg

…goodbye to the Indian hemp seeds.

P1050763.jpg

March is also a month of hellos. Mosses stand out in the savanna, bright green and scarlet. Chlorophyll is in the air. If you listen closely, you’ll hear a whisper: Grow! Grow!

P1040598.jpg

Small leaves spear through old grass and leaf litter. Such welcome color! We greet each new prairie plant shoot like an old friend we haven’t seen in a while.

P1050773.jpg

Try to describe the month of March on the prairie, and you may find the exact terms elude you; move in and out of focus.

P1050801.jpg

Why? The March prairie is a changeling child–the offspring of wind, fire, snow, hail, rain, and sun. Of opposites. Hot and cold; push and pull; destroy and grow.

P1050793.jpg

A prairie tempest. Within that tempest brews a new season.

Something to anticipate.

***

The opening quote  is from Mark Twain (1835-1910), whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. He was born and raised in Missouri, then later lived in New York and Connecticut. Twain’s writing was noted for its satire and humor. Among his greatest works are  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby: high winds, Nachusa Grasslands, Thelma Carpenter Unit, The Nature Conservancy,  Franklin Grove, IL; prescribed fire, wetlands around Klein Creek, Carol Stream, IL;  rush hour after a day of local prescribed burns, Glen Ellyn, IL; tallgrass with snow, Saul Lake Bog, Land Conservancy of West Michigan, Rockford, MI; snow on bee balm (Monarda fistulosa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; young white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: sundog, Lake Michigan; thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica), Great Western Prairie, Shooting Star Trail, Elmhurst, IL; dogbane/Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum), Great Western Prairie, Shooting Star Trail, Elmhurst, IL; moss in the savanna, Nachusa Grasslands, Tellabs Unit, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; spiderwort (Tradescantia bracteata), Great Western Prairie, Shooting Star Trail, Elmhurst, IL; switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Great Western Prairie, Shooting Star Trail, Elmhurst, IL; goldenrod (Solidago, species unknown), Great Western Prairie, Shooting Star Trail, Elmhurst, IL.

 

A Sense of Wonder

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. ” –Rachel Carson

***

We often talk about the five senses. But there is a sixth sense as well; rarely utilized. A sense of wonder.

How is your sense of wonder at the end of 2016? A little jaded? A bit cynical?

p1040014

If so, try this.

Go for a twilight hike on the prairie with a child.

P1040009.jpg

Let the child be your guide. See what they notice? Even dried seed capsules, like those of the evening primrose, seem touched with wonder.

P1030986.jpg

There is no need to teach or instruct. Just observe. Marvel together at the signs of prairie voles, which tunnel through the snow. Discover their “luge”chute trails fingered across the prairie. Explore the tunnel holes. How deep do they go?

P1030915.jpg

Inhale, air sharp with cold.

IMG_2542

 

Does it smell of bee balm, all pepper and mint?

P1040040.jpg

Now, look up.  At this time of day, you might see a “sundog” — those thumbprint rainbows–riding the sunset.

IMG_1845

Look down. Taste a little of the cold, clean white stuff. Let it tingle on your tongue.

p1030906

 

Twirl the brittle ribbons of big bluestem leaves, which take on new grace in last light.

P1030977.jpg

Break off a grass stem. It’s the perfect writing instrument to draw on snow.

P1040024.jpg

Queen Anne’s lace, an unwelcome intruder on prairie restorations, shocks with its eye-popping winter silhouette. A child doesn’t distinguish between invasive plants and native plants. So you are free to admire its intricate architecture together (even while you plot the weed’s demise come spring).

P1030945.jpg

Stained glass has nothing on the last crumpled leaves of figwort, backlit by the sunset. Listen to it rustle in the breeze.

P1030949.jpg

Squirrels print blue-shadowed butterflies across the prairie savanna. Where do they lead? Go, and find out.

P1030922.jpg

Paths around the prairie were mowed before the snow, ready to act as barriers for the prescribed burn come spring. The chopped grasses look like toothpicks stuck in a sparkling sandy beach. Tan cigarettes stubbed out in an ashtray? Or — what do they remind you of?

P1030929.jpg

Discover small, colorful things: a jumble of fungi, moss, and lichens blurred together on a broken branch.

P1040073.jpg

 

Guess who made tracks at the edge of the stream? Hmmm.

P1040046.jpg

A mink… I think. Getting a drink?

No matter how much you hike the tallgrass prairie, there is always more to discover; to see, touch, smell, taste, and listen to. Every time you spend time there, you’ll experience something new. Something wondrous.

sun halo with sandhill cranes 3:15:16

As you hike, reflect. What road will you choose to travel in the new year? The way of cynicism about people, and disappointment in the world you find yourself in? Fear and anxiety about the future? Or the way of anticipation and wonder at the marvels all around?

p1030844

It’s up to you.

****

The opening quote was written by marine biologist Rachel Carson (1907-64), and comes from her book, The Sense of Wonder, which inspired this essay. Carson is best known for Silent Spring, which helped spark the conservation movement. The Sense of Wonder chronicles how Carson introduced her adopted son, Roger, (orphaned when her young niece died unexpectedly) to the marvels of nature. Carson overcame many discouraging professional obstacles–and heartbreaking personal tragedies–to create meaningful work on behalf of the natural world and to inspire us to pay close attention to its marvels. If you haven’t read The Sense of Wonder, it takes less than 30 minutes. A good investment of time, and a simple New Year’s resolution to keep.

***

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): sunset, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: hiking at twilight, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: vole tunnel, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bee balm (Monarda fistulosa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; sundog over author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL;  snow drifts, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; big bluestem leaf (Andropogon gerardii), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; drawing with grass stems, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  late figwort (Scrophularia marilandica), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; fox squirrel (Sciurus nigertracks, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; mowed grasses, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; lichens, moss, and fungi, Schulenberg Prairie savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; mink (Neovison vison) tracks along Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; sun halo with sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) over author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; road to Thelma Carpenter Unit, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. 

Sun, Surf, and Tallgrass

Like many Midwesterners, I migrated south this week. I’m temporarily trading tallgrass for beaches and waves, warmth, and a change of pace.

Florida sunsets are legendary.

IMG_2675.jpg

 

No more exotic, however, than prairie sunrises. So much color! From tangerine, rose, and purple …

IMG_1401.jpg

 

…to solid gold.

IMG_9381.jpg

 

Prairie sunsets are also in a class of their own. Often, they close the day with a smooth pastel coda.

IMG_1300

 

Other evenings, they bring the day to an end with texture and movement.

IMG_9454.jpg

 

Between sunrise and sunset, the prairie skies are a prime canvas to thumbprint a sundog.

IMG_1845.jpg

 

A sundog’s fleeting rainbow luminescence is a pleasant, unexpected bonus; especially after a bone-chilling February day hiking the tallgrass.

IMG_2645

 

This week, I’ll walk the beach each night, enjoying the light show over the Gulf of Mexico.

On one evening the spectacle is in neon …

IMG_3687.jpg

 

… on another, the display may be more subdued.

IMG_2710.jpg

 

But—for a Midwestern girl like myself—nothing beats the winter kaleidoscope of Illinois’ prairie skies.

IMG_4959 (1).jpg

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): sunrise, Captiva Island, Florida; sunrise, author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; sunrise, Hidden Lake, Forest Preserve of DuPage County, Downers Grove, IL; sunset with tent, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; sunset, Hidden Lake, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Downers Grove, IL;  sundog, Cook County Forest Preserves; sundog, Russell Kirt Prairie East, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL; sunset, Sanibel Island, Florida; sunset, Captiva Island, Florida; sunset, author’s prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

A Prairie Solstice

If you love light, today is not your day.

IMG_4636

It is the winter solstice.

IMG_2527

The shortest day of the year. Following the longest night.

No other day will have less light.

IMG_4585

It’s the first tick of astronomical winter’s clock. But in the Chicago area, the only thing that says “winter” is the date on the calendar.

It’s been a month full of talk about El Niño, a warming trend. Spring shrubs, deluded by cold nights and daytime temperatures fluctuating into the upper 60s, push out flowers. Lilacs hint purple. Forsythia opens its blooms.

IMG_1961

Listen! Look up! The sandhill cranes migrate over us by the thousands, belatedly waking up to the realization they’ve been lulled into lollygagging up north. They dallied a little too long in Wisconsin.

IMG_4237

The bison wonder why they bothered with their shaggy overcoats.

IMG_1347 (1)

 

The warm temperatures this month belie the lack of light that drains inexorably away; minute by minute, hour by hour.  In the morning, we drive to work in darkness; arrive home for dinner under cover of night. But we dimly remember the sunrises…

IMG_9377

…and the sunsets….

IMG_9439

… the light we took for granted, that turned the savanna edges and prairie misty and luminescent.

We long for the light.

IMG_0042.jpg

As I’ve felt the darkness brush against me, surround me, and submerge me this month, I’ve thought about what’s coming. Christmas. A day dedicated to light.

IMG_1847

This year, Christmas morning will dawn with a “Full Cold Moon” or “Long Nights Moon” as Native Americans once called it. It’s the first full moon on Christmas since 1977 — more than 35 years ago.  We’ll wake up to it when it rises at about 6 a.m.

On this darkest day, after a string of dark weeks, in a world that so desperately needs it…

Send the light.

IMG_1599 (1)

We’re ready.

All photos by Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): storm over author’s prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL;  full moon with Venus rising over author’s prairie, GE; partial moon over author’s prairie, GE; forsythia flowering December 18, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; sandhill cranes over Springbrook Prairie, Naperville, IL;  bison herd at Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; sunrise, Hidden Lake Forest Preserve of DuPage County, Glen Ellyn, IL; sunset, HL, GE; prairie edge, NG; December morning sundog, Chicago, IL; full moon, GE, IL.