Skeletons of plants, once in bloom, line the driveway and on into the expanse beyond. At first glance they meld into brownish sameness but there are as many variations of hue and girth and height as there are in people.
The spindly switch grass always catches my eye with its long sturdy spine, minute seeds and pale, gracefully arching foliage. This amazing plant often stands upright even through winter’s snow. The big bluestem still towers but its characteristic crows feet are more like tufts, without their dangling seeds. In their old age they seem to have lost some height. Most of the thousands of feathery seeds have flown from the little bluestem but the stalks take on an almost maroon glow. In the summer I could hardly find Canadian rye but now that all green is gone, I see the heavy seed heads bending beautifully. The Indian grass stalks have also lost their seeds but continue to look regal, especially when the early morning light gives them a bronze hue.
Most wildflowers are only little button heads denuded of their seeds but the milkweed pods retain their skeletal remains. I love the way the brittle tear-shaped pods twist on the stem, making artistic arrangements.
I don’t know what goes on within the dying stalks or what’s happening to their long roots below the ground past the frost line. Do they have capillary systems like trees? How do they store the nutrients needed to grow again? But after ten years in this place, I know this much: the flowers and the tall grasses are really only hibernating within their seeds—ready to grow again when warmth, moisture and sun usher them back in spring.