Lesson from the Land E9: Never Barren
How many folks do you figure drive up and down Powhaton Road on a regular basis, especially in the winter, thinking that they are driving across a barren wasteland if they think about the terrain they are passing at all. Or perhaps if they think of the landscape, they firmly believe its only value comes from plowing it up and planting something in it or in planting endless housing and retail developments on it. After all, around here the gold standard for cool nature is the mountains and great river corridors. But there is nothing.ever.barren. about our beloved strip of prairie or any of the adjoining land. Quieter in winter, for sure. Less gaudy. Somewhat dormant perhaps. But never barren. And when left to be its sacred self, never a wasteland.
We do lose the wildflower’s blossoms, but not their seed. The native grasses go brown, but their improbably deep roots carry on with the alchemy of reloading for spring growth. Many birds migrate out, but many don’t. Thousands of insect species have left larvae behind. Snakes and other reptiles are in hibernation or torpor states. Yessir, the very soil we tromp around on and poke into is host to quiet miracles of winter prairie biology of a magnitude that would make your jaw drop. Make you fall on your knees in awe… it’s happened to me, more than once.
What do we gain out here in the winter? Let’s name a few names: Regal, massive ferruginous hawks, larger than Red tails and most of them with bright white undersides like prairie angels. They come down from points way north to make a winter living on these grasslands; as do their cousins the Rough-legged Hawks. The fierce northern shrike, the size of a robin, but known as the butcher bird, replaces its kin the loggerhead shrike who leaves our zone and makes like a snowbird, heading to Texas for the winter. Tree sparrows stream down from far northern nesting grounds to spend the winter with us. They take the place of their close cousins the little rusty capped chipping sparrows. Cool, huh?!
Who stays? Pronghorn, deer, coyote, badger, skunk, raccoon, mice, voles, rabbits, and our most valuable mammal the prairie dog. And the royal golden eagle, great horned owl, horned lark, meadowlark, red-tailed hawk, and the resplendent little falcon called Kestrel, hang out with us here all year long as well. Others too.
Barren? Ha! Wasteland. Nope. Unless we humans turn into one. God bless those who care for Creation. Be with us, humble us, help us love and protect what should never be wasted. Our winter prayer. Amen.