Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Being there for #phenology

Tuesdays in the Tallgrass [see sidebar] has a wonderful posting today, titled The Perils of Reading About Prairie. It's a valuable reminder that words are important as handles on, but not as substitutes for, the real world. Reading it this morning brought to mind one of my all-time favorite short essays, Gene Hill's Being There. Here's a sample:
I just like being there--wet, cold or a little bit lost. I'm there, like you, to listen to the promises on the wind. To watch the soaring of the hawk, to catch the evening call "bobwhite, bobwhite," to see a sunset that I've never seen before or to have the day unfold and offer some small adventure I've never had.
prairie restoration at Wild River State Park
prairie restoration at Wild River State Park
Photo by J. Harrington

I was born and raised in New England, which is not prairie country, neither tallgrass nor shortgrass, nor anything in between. And yet I am attracted to prairies much more so than to the North Woods. I think it has to do with the fact that the places in New England where I was raised were always within easy reach of the Atlantic Ocean. There's a similarity in distant horizons, whether on land or at sea. There's a shared openness, an airyness to the surroundings. Whether on the ocean or the prairie, you can see a storm coming from a long way off. Except for large mamals like bison or pronghorns, it's as difficult to see creatures hidden in prairie grasses as it is to see fish or schools of fish under the water's surface. I find the similarities comforting and satisfying.

thimbleweed on Wild River State Park prairie
thimbleweed on Wild River State Park prairie
Photo by J. Harrington

It is too easy to be lulled inside during Minnesota's Winter, or, for that matter, to escape into air conditioning on a hot, humid Summer day; to read about prairies, oceans or rivers instead of being there, to read about life instead of living it. Finding the balance and the skill to live, write, read  and enjoy it all may be the challenge to which we're each suppose to rise while we're here. If we're up to it, and lucky enough, that way we'll reap many rewards in this world before we even get to the next.

Now that I'm on record of having predicted six more weeks of Winter, a blast of Spring is locally forecast for the day after tomorrow and a number of days thereafter. "Being there" includes responding to and taking advantage of unanticipated opportunities. I'm looking forward to whatever small adventures I can arrange during our upcoming warm spell. Stay tuned.

Prairie Sure

By Carol Light

Would I miss the way a breeze dimples
the butter-colored curtains on Sunday mornings,
or nights gnashed by cicadas and thunderstorms?
The leaning gossip, the half-alive ripple
of sunflowers, sagging eternities of corn
and sorghum, September preaching yellow, yellow
in all directions, the windowsills swelling
with Mason jars, the blue sky bluest borne
through tinted glass above the milled grains?
The dust, the heat, distrusted, the screen door
slapping as the slat-backed porch swing sighs,
the hatch of houseflies, the furlongs of freight trains,
and how they sing this routine, so sure, so sure—
the rote grace of every tempered life?

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