“In wildness is the preservation of the world” —Henry David Thoreau
This past week, I enjoyed mingling with more than 2,000 other like-minded folks at the Wild Things Conference here in the Chicago region. The synergy created was a radiant spot in a cold, gloomy February. So many people invested in the natural world! So many who gave up their Saturday to learn and share more about wild things. It gives me hope for a brighter future.
This February, I find myself needing reasons to hope. I enjoy winter. But I’m ready for spring. The signs are beginning to pop up. Lately, as we sleep with our window cracked open to the frigid air, I wake to cardinals singing their spring songs. They drop in for breakfast at our backyard feeders.
The first sandhill cranes are winging their way high over the region, heading north. It’s a sure sign that despite the brutal temps and snow, change—spring— is coming.
The birds always know, don’t they?
After the Wild Things conference, Jeff and I did a reverse migration and headed south to spend a few days on the Florida beaches. We left 50-mph winds and zero temps, shaking snow off our boots, and stepped into another world of sandals and sunshine. It was appropriate that a “mackerel sky” was starting to form on our arrival.
Are you familiar with this old rhyme?
Mackerel sky, mackerel sky, sometimes wet and sometimes dry.
Or a slightly different version:
Mackerel scales and mare’s tales, make tall ships carry low sails.
Supposedly, seasoned sailors know when a “mackerel sky” forms—-cirrocumulus or altocumulus clouds (the puffy ones) in rows, sometimes with mare’s tales (the wispy cirrus clouds) showing high winds aloft, a weather change was on the way.
So, we weren’t surprised when storm clouds moved in a few hours later. The birds knew! There was a frenzy of activity beforehand, including a beach-combing blue heron, looking for lunch.
The skies over the Florida sands are full of wings. Some birds, like the osprey, we have back home. In the warmer months. I occasionally see them high over the prairies and hear their unmistakable cries.
Gulls, like this one below, are familiar Chicago residents as well. Only the backdrop is different.
I always struggle with gull ID. I brought my old battered National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America with me, but there are pages and pages of gulls. I squint at the gull on the beach in the bright sun, then thoughtfully turn the pages of the guide. Ring-billed gull, perhaps? What do you think?
Other birds here, like the white ibis, remind me that no matter how many birds I recognize from the prairies back home, this is a different world. At least the ibis is an easy ID. The beak is a give-away. And look at those baby blues!
When I think of the wildflowers of the prairie in February….
… and contrast them with Florida’s February blooms…
…it might seem like hands down, Florida would have my heart. Here the February air smells like sweet flowers. We’ve been sniffing all the blooms, but have yet to find the particular flower source. Hibiscus? Nope. Bougainvillea? Nope. A mystery.
At home on the Illinois prairies, the winds smell of snow. Color is a distant memory.
But as much as I enjoy the heat and the sun, I miss the wild things of home. “We can never have enough of nature,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. True whether we’re in a convention center with 2,000 people talking about mosses and birds at Wild Things, hiking alone on a prairie in winter, or puzzling over a gull ID on a beach in Florida.
I’m grateful for the wild things —wherever I find myself. You too?
Henry David Thoreau (1817-62) is best known for his classic, Walden. His words, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…” are some of the most famous lines in nature literature.
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downer’s Grove, IL; male and female northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), author’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL; sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis), Jasper Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area, Medaryville, IN; sky, clouds, and sand, Captiva Island, FL; great blue heron (Ardea herodias), Captiva Island, FL; osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Captiva Island, FL; possibly ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis), Captiva Island, FL; white ibis (Eudocimus albus), Captiva Island, FL, round-headed bush clover (Lespedeza capitata), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downer’s Grove, IL; hibiscus (Hibiscus, species unknown), Captiva Island, FL; the invasive Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.
Join one of Cindy’s Classes This Week!
Nature Writing–online and in-person, The Morton Arboretum. Begins Tuesday, Feb.26 online! Register here.
History of Wilderness in America –Feb. 28, The Morton Arboretum, part two of two classes. (Closed)
Dragonfly Workshop, March 2, 9-11:30 a.m., Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. Free and open to the public, as well as for new and seasoned monitors. Pre-registration required: Email firstname.lastname@example.org.