“It is the life of the crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it. “
It’s about that time of a new year when social media and newspapers take up stories about the blues. No, not the music. Rather, seasonal affective disorder; the general malaise of cold, gray days that dampens mood and motivation.
Got the blues? Forget that trip to Florida to soak up sunshine.
Instead, consider the prairie.
In January it offers its own particular brand of blues; a little antidote to blues of a more melancholy kind.
Tune up with these “blues” for a moment or two; see if they chase the other blues away. Follow me to the tallgrass.
See how the mice stitch their tracks across the blue tint of the snow?
Consider the pale blue glints of ice crystals that briefly frost the grasses; vanishing in the hot breath of the morning sun.
Marvel at the blue shadows in the snow, which form a background for the legato ripple of big bluestem leaves.
Look up. Blue-gray clouds patch the prairie sky, filter sunlight. Trees and grasses change focus as blue sky appears, then disappears: Fade, then sharp. Fade, then sharp.
A turkey flashes its iridescent feathers, shot through with silky blues. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
Notice a jet contrail or two faintly striped in misty white overhead. Moments ago, there were people suspended in space here, headed for who knows where—and who knows why. Their story is traced across the wide blue sky. It only calls for your imagination to spin it.
There is even a home for the littlest “blues” –those feathered harbingers of happiness.
The tallgrass rolls out the carpet, all blue and white sparkles.
Embossed with blue shadows that pool in tracks across the snow; a promise of adventure and new beginnings…
…and, a reminder that the “blues” can be beautiful. Who knows? You may even come to love them.
The prairie blues, anyhow. The best kind.
John Lee Hooker (1912-2001), whose quote opens this post, was a Grammy-award winning blues musician from Mississippi. The youngest of eleven children, he ran away from home at age 14 and eventually made his way to Detroit, where he found success as a guitarist, vocalist, and lyricist (although he was unable to read). He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1991) and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2000). Listen to clips of his music on YouTube, including this rendition of “Blue Monday”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNl2wXE90vk&index=318&list=PLu_npSo2nvWSIjcaewEUE9O-gk3W1xnfS
John Burroughs (1837-1921), whose quote from his book, “Winter Sunshine,” also opens this post, is honored as the father of the modern nature essay. The seventh of 10 children, he grew up in the Catskill Mountains of New York where he learned to love the outdoors. Burroughs later taught school in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, until he returned east to marry and work in banking. He continued writing, and eventually authored more than 30 books. He was a contemporary of the poet Walt Whitman, and kept company with John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt as well as other notables of that time period. Since 1926, the John Burroughs Association, founded in his honor, has awarded the John Burroughs Medal to the author of a book of natural history almost every year. Some of my favorite award winners include: Gathering Moss (Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2005); The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (Elizabeth Tova Bailey, 2011); Wind (Jan DeBlieu, 1999); The Control of Nature (John McPhee, 1990); and the classic, A Sand County Almanac (Aldo Leopold, 1977).
For a complete list of winners, see: research.amnh.org/burroughs/medal_award_list.html
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): on the way to Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; beach umbrellas on Sanibel Island, FL; blue sky with big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downers Grove, IL; ice crystals, interpretive trail, Fermilab, Batavia, IL; big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; sky over the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), Curtis Prairie at The University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, Madison, WI; interpretive trail, Fermilab, Batavia, IL: eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) nesting box, Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; sparkly snow with bee balm (Monarda fistulosa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; people (Homo sapiens) tracks, Schulenberg Prairie savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; heart-shaped deer (Odocoileus virginianus) track, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.