It’s not a particularly good picture, but it’ll have to do. That’s our house up at the top, maybe fifty yards or so away from the camera and me. What’s between us is five years’ worth of sweat and toil and the glorious result of more rain than we normally get, thanks (right now) to global warming. It’s prairie, revisited.
We’ve got an acre out here, too much to mow, so we decided to take a chunk of it–about a third–and do it up with native grasses and native flowers, actually sew it, like Boaz, tossing out precious seed (it’s not cheap) with handfuls of saw dust to make the job simpler. Then, under the tutelage of a friend who knows what he’s doing, we raked the seed into the soil just a bit and let it be.
The first year I was instructed to set my mower up as high as it would go and cut down the entire plot, as if that chunk of prairie were the lawn we determined not to have. Second year, same, although I let up in August. The idea was to let those native plants grow roots because, good night! they do. Holy coneflower, they do! This pic from the Land Institute gives you a sense of the healthy roots on native perennials.
The third year I let the whole mess grow and battled the Russians all year, thistles that is, which is not to say I hadn’t the year before or didn’t once again this year. Adam had native prairie, I’m sure; but post-fall, he also had thistles and mares’ tails, scores of ’em. There is abundant sweat in that plot of prairie.
The fourth year things started popping, but an August hailstorm took out our garden and left the prairie brutally mangled. But this year, five years after casting that seed out almost biblically, we’ve got color galore and heft and density that’s plainly remarkable–and wonderfully beautiful.
Our little quarter-acre of renewed prairie is especially lovely because it reminds us of what this tall-grass eco-system, now almost entirely gone, once looked like. It seemed an ocean of grass, so many witnesses said and wrote; but at the right time of summer, glory hallelujah, it had more color and depth than any sea. And tall? No wonder people could get lost in it. It’s a jungle out there.
No eco-system on the continent is as thoroughly gone as tall-grass prairie–the system that reigned here. And no county in Iowa is as devastated as this one–Sioux. It’s almost impossible to imagine that once upon time the world looked like this.
It’s an exotic jungle that’s entirely native, a painting as new every morning as dawn itself, a cutting edge work of art that features the way things were.
And there’s music. If there were trees out here, they’d be clapping their hands. But this is prairie. Still, with all the pollinators right in our backyard, we’ve got a hymn of praise nonetheless, the murmuring of innumerable bees.
Show don’t tell–that’s the old rule of thumb, right? Take a look. It’s a flower shop of colorful old friends. I hope you’ll pardon my braying.