When the River City Wild Ones (www.rivercitywildones.orgasked to come for a prairie tour in September, I hesitated.  The fields of wildflowers had already shed their blooms as the tall grasses began to tower over them.   Early morning sights are best, with sun over the dew-covered plants, all going to seed.  As far as mid-day, eye-catching beauty is concerned—there was not much.  In the same way as I had done in early spring (See "Only a Snapshot, 7/5/10) I hoped that visitors could see the land I love—dressed in its Sunday best. We set the date but several times before the appointed time, I resisted my husband’s pleas to “call this off; there is nothing to see.”

The tour evening came with more unpredictability: the sky overcast, gusty winds pushing the tall stalks back and forth, and light rain.  I doubted anyone would come.  I should not have doubted the Wild Ones! Almost 30 strong arrive right on time eager to explore.  They brought a little roving microphone, which allowed everyone to hear whatever we could add to their observations.  They brought abundant knowledge of native plants and enthusiasm for the wild things at Flat Iron Lake.  We were blessed by their presence.

The evening concluded with eats on the deck overlooking the lake, while folks meandered back from the beehives, the vegetable garden and the fields.  We should not have worried about presentation.  Part of nature lore is the natural progression from birth to death of all growing things.  It is easy to identify wildflowers by their blooms, but much harder from new, budding growth or from drying stalks.

I began All Nature Sings in November—the hardest month to be stirred by thoughts of love.  But seeing the cycle of months and seasons is vital to getting the whole story—not just the most exciting part.  As I walk down the drive today, watching the milkweed pods burst with silver seeds and seeing the bronze glow on the Indian grass, an old song runs through my mind: “Darling, I am growing old—silver threads among the gold…”  True lovers know that old age has a purposeful loveliness all its own.
Big bluestem going to seed

When I get discouraged over climate change and the lack of enthusiasm for working against its effects, I watch two guys at work at Flat Iron Lake Preserve.  One gets up early so he can catch fish on the lake at their morning feeding time.  He is tall and often stands in the boat, so I know he isn’t your typical fisherman.  He may like the sport of catching bass and blue gills but his real interest is learning about the lake’s ecology by understanding the habits of the fish.  He tags them and throws them back into their natural habitat.  Only rarely does he catch one twice.  Occasionally he takes one to the lab to analyze its stomach content.  He’s beginning to understand this inland kettle lake and what has kept it healthy for so many years.
    The other guy can be seen traversing the prairie with his backpack filled with notebooks, GPS, wildflower books and camera.  When I can no longer see him, I suspect he is sitting amid the flowers and grasses, examining them closely.  What do they need to thrive and propagate?  The soil, the moister than usual days, the precocious growth of certain species—there are so many factors at work.  This is the first year that neither large section of the prairie was burned in the spring.  How does that effect growth?  What explains the reappearance of some invasives like crown vetch and the abundance of Queen Ann’s lace?
    The two young men are summer research students from Calvin College.  They were chosen among other hopefuls for the chance to live and work at Flat Iron Lake.  They get a small stipend and a notch for their résumé’s but mostly it is a labor of love.  These two follow three men and two women who went before them in other summers.
      The students’ sense of wonder has inspired me.  They help me understand a little more but perpetuate awe of the intricacies of God’s creation.  I am only scratching the surface; they are going a lot deeper.  Even at twenty-something each sees his/her role in creation care.  They are only a few of many in their generation who sense that what they do today will have lasting impact into the future. 
      Now back to my generation.  Perhaps we took natural wonders for granted; we thought they would always be there just for our use.  We did not sense the consequences of our action or lack thereof.  So I’m pinning my hope on young people like these to lead the way in showing the rest of us how to honor God’s gift by preserving the planet and all contained therein.  Today, I look out at the big bluestem already going to seed, thankful that together with the students we can have small part in restoring this tall grass prairie.