Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Prairie Evening

Yesterday a few friends and I journeyed in time, to the grasslands that once rolled like ancient seas from the river to the mountains, to a refuge for rare native plants, to a resounding moment of presence at the heart of the prairie. We walked a paved trail, stopping often to identify and photograph plants and insects.

Rattlesnake master,
Eryngium yuccifolium
Blackberries and black raspberries lined the path just before it passed into the shade of a red cedar grove. Climbing out of the shadows, we watched the meadows open before us. Sections of this prairie are maintained by mowing. The fragrance of new mown hay spilled over us. Rattlesnake master raised its white globes, and gayfeather gathered butterflies. Bluestem grass waved at the sky.

The university maintains this land as part of a biological reserve. Some sections are mowed; others are burned or grazed. Some are left untreated. Old fields have been reseeded with warm and cool season grasses. In a garden a few miles down the road, ethnobotanists and chemists study the medicinal properties of native plants. Public trails lead hikers into secret worlds.

Liatris pychnostachya
The trail ends at an overlook with a long bench designed to roll like the prairie. We spread out a picnic on its hills and valleys. We ate and talked and gazed across the river valley toward the town. We finished as the sun was setting. The crescent moon emerged from shining clouds.

On our way back, the two fastest walkers went on ahead. As they followed the turning trail, they seemed to wade to their knees in long grass until they vanished. A few minutes later we watched two ethereal figures returning. Our friends appeared transformed, barefoot with flowing skirts and swirling hair, tall nymphs of the wilderness conversing in musical voices on the wind. Two strangers said hello as they passed us on their way to the overlook. 

There are moments like this if you pay attention: For the space of a few heartbeats, strangers on a path embody a glimpse of immanent magic. Spirits of the Meliades tend the pastures, and Nephelai shepherd the wild clouds. Demeter and her daughter wander through swaying grasses. The moon rides in dusk and cloud above the shimmering prairie.