“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.”—Isak Dinesen
To refer to the tallgrass prairie as a “sea of grass” is almost cliché.
And yet, when you juxtapose sea and prairie, you understand why the image comes so readily.
Like many suburban Chicago prairie lovers, in the mud season of the year—late February to mid-March—I do my best to migrate south for a few days. Sunshine, salt water, and sandy beaches are restorative.
The sky over the Gulf of Mexico reminds me of the sky of the tallgrass prairie; open, limitless.
The flattened waves of prairie grasses and wildflowers, weathered by wind and rain…
…with blue-shadowed pockets of snow…
…are in my mind as I watch waves slap the shore.
Funny, isn’t it? Even when we leave the landscape we call home, it haunts us.
It’s not that everything is similar—far from it! The birds are different from those of the prairie in so many ways. The food they eat.
The way they move.
Even their attitude.
Many of the Gulf Coast birds I see are readying themselves for a long flight north. Soon, migration will bring them and others through the flyways of the Chicago region.
No matter where I look in Florida, I find unexpected reminders of my life as a prairie steward.
As much as I enjoy getting away from the Midwest in early March, my mind keeps wandering from the beach back to what’s going on in the tallgrass up north. Am I missing out on a prescribed burn? Has the skunk cabbage leafed out yet? What new birds are singing along Willoway Brook?
After five days in Florida, I’m ready to dive back into my prairie work.
One great thing about traveling: At the end of the day…
…sometimes a little displacement makes you appreciate the place you call home.
Isak Dinesen (Baroness Karen Blixen) (1885-1962) authored Out of Africa and Babette’s Feast. Both were adapted as movies, and won Academy Awards.
All photos and video copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; Captiva Island sunset, Florida; Captiva Island beach, Florida; Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Schulenberg Prairie at the end of February, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; blue-shadowed pockets of snow, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; waves on the beach, Captiva Island, Florida; willet (Tringa semipalmata) eating a crab (species unknown), Sanibel Island, Florida; video of sanderlings (Calidris alba) and other shorebirds, Sanibel Island, Florida; great black-backed gull (Larus marinus), Sanibel Island, Florida; sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Buckthorn Lane street sign, Sanibel Island, Florida; brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) diving for fish, Sanibel-Captiva causeway, Florida; sunset with birds, J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Sanibel Island, Florida.