Our family prairie has been a place of tremendous refuge for me lately. The world seems to be going crazy and taking many of my friends and neighbors with it. I can’t even express the gratitude I have toward my extended family for the opportunity to own and manage the quarter section of land (including 100 acres of prairie) only 15 minutes from our house. The simple act of walking through our prairie fills me with a complicated mixture of emotions, including both peace and pride.
The peace comes from being able to quietly observe life and interactions that have nothing to do with swirling vortex of hate, argument and anxiety that otherwise pounds at my consciousness. I can sit still and lose myself in the earnest and vigorous foraging of a bee on a flower or reflect upon how much the plant community has changed in the days since my last visit. By the time I leave to return to my other sanctuary – my family – I’m much better suited to deflect and/or process the current unpleasantness in the human world.
The pride comes from watching the prairie continue to thrive and increase in beauty and complexity as our restoration and management work bear fruit. A visiting botanist might scoff at the rarity of ‘conservative’ plants – species found primarily in unbroken and ‘pristine’ prairies. In response, I could walk them to many populations of plants in that category and describe how the populations of each has spread over the years I’ve been familiar with the site. I could then point out the diversity of pollinators and other insects (including some at-risk species) thriving in the ever-increasing plant diversity and the number of grassland bird species responding to the shifting mosaic of habitat structure we provide annually. And I’d try to describe the immense sense of accomplishment and pleasure I get from every sighting of a cicada, badger, tree frog, or any other animal that calls our prairie home.
When I was a full-time land steward for The Nature Conservancy, early in my career, any sense of accomplishment was always tinged with anxiety related to invasive species threats or other challenges looming in front of me. For some reason, I’ve never felt that stress at our family prairie, despite a consistent and long list of tasks still to accomplish. Instead, I chip happily away at encroaching trees, harvest and broadcast seeds to boost plant diversity, and spray patches of reed canarygrass around the wetland – all blissfully free of worry. It’s as if the prairie and I have reached an understanding. We’re in this together. What comes will come and we’ll deal with it as we need to. In the meantime, look at all those butterflies!
I’ve said many times, here and elsewhere, that I acknowledge the enormous privilege associated with land ownership, especially when it’s accompanied by the kind of gratification and serenity I find in our prairie. Through this blog and other means, I try to share fruits of that privilege with others, spreading as much of the peace and pleasure as I can. More importantly, I hope anyone reading this can find access to a prairie or other natural area – large or small – that provides similar refuge. Goodness knows we can all use a little refuge right now.
Please be safe and be kind to each other.