The last three weekends my wife and I have attended events hosted on nearby prairies. One is just minutes from our house and is almost 700 acres, the other is 20 minutes away and is nearly 1,000 virgin acres. Some day the city may construct a prairie corridor between the two landscapes, for biking and walking, but I try to imagine what it looks like from a bird’s or butterfly’s vantage point.
Up there a few hundred feet, or a mile, these small patches of land that could take an hour or two for me to walk between, are held in view by another species as if they were one prairie. Scattered between are lawned-over small acreages with large homes, fields of corn and soybeans, gravel roads and asphalt highways. But I like to imagine for a monarch or franklin’s gull migrating through, it’s something whole and complete.
And so I step out back to my relatively small 1,500 square foot garden, watch the sulphurs and red admirals and bumblebees and flies. The insects maybe don’t travel but a few hundred feet to get here, maybe a mile or so, but it’s a good place to be. New England and smooth aster bloom, goldenrod and sunflower too, the last of the year calling like searchlights into the sharp blue sky. But it’s such a small space — it’s not a 700 acre prairie. Is it possible that from the air, the prairie less than a mile south is joined at the hip by my garden?
When I walk from my car to the building where I teach at the University of Nebraska I follow the concrete sidewalks until I get wistful and walk the lawn. There are several small lawn patches, ranging from something like 2,000 square feet to a hundred, all striped in parallel mower lines. What a waste. No one uses these small areas — you can’t hold events on them or modestly sun yourself. Why aren’t they bursting with asters and goldenrod right now? This “cash strapped” public institution could save big bucks converting a few small lawn patches to mixed or tallgrass prairie. And it would extend east from my house, which extends east from the 700 acre prairie. How marvelous.
It is a simple thing — prairie. These last three weekends as I walked through the wild folds I knew that I, too, could be so complexly simple. I am made of grass and blooms, the same carbon, the same sunlight. Denying that world is like denying my own life. I have a feeling the shovel and the lawn will meet again very soon in my small landscape.
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