Dear Prairie Enthusiast,
A few days ago I went seed picking. I don’t get out to pick much anymore—most of my time is spent tending the prairie garden and processing the seed that other volunteers have picked—-over 100 species to date.
The prairie divas assigned me to pick 1/3 of a large bag of Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (narrowleaf mountain mint—-the stuff that makes great peppermint tea) from the back 40 (well, 240 actually.) To me that translated into ½ a bag as the divas are known to jam their bags full when picking. I’m more of a fluffer—-it gives me a sense of accomplishment.
I got up early to beat the heat and was chomping at the bit by 6:15 a.m.—-waiting for it to get light enough so I could see where I was going. The hubby, who was assigned to pick Desmanthus illinoensis (Illinois Bundle flower) said he would wait until it ‘warmed up’ (it was 70 degrees at 6 a.m.!) Bundle flower is one of my favorite prairie plants. It has such fragile-looking flowers that turn into lovely brown seed pods reminiscent of roses. Such a study in contrasts.
By 6:30 I was in the car and on my way to the minty motherlode. There is a portion of the prairie here at Lonetree Farm that we call ‘The Washboard’ because the ground is corrugated—-probably from long-ago farming activity. It’s a gentle uphill climb but has treacherous gullies that cascading water has made over the years. The gullies are hard to see under the dense vegetation, so it’s good to follow deer trails whenever possible. How do the deer know to avoid these sinkholes? I needed to be careful; I’d left my phone at home and no one would come to my aid if I twisted an ankle.
I flushed a pair of Great-horned Owls as I worked my way uphill and they must have settled in a copse not far away—-the crows let me know of their displeasure at having to accommodate these two invaders! I noted other prairie plants growing where I walked; some Gentiana alba (white gentian) here, some Rosa Carolina (Carolina rose) there. Bumblebees almost exclusively pollinate the gentians—-they are the only insects strong enough to pry the petals of the flower apart to access the nectar at the bottom.
Other than the steady drone of insects and the chittering of a few goldfinches, all was quiet on the prairie. I was alone with my thoughts. This is where the pleasure of seed picking kicks in. I thought about many things: the amount of work needed in the prairie garden after an absence of three weeks; the drying seed on the tables in the shed that would require my attention; the bags of seed that had accumulated at my workstation and would need percentage calculations. I thought about my son’s retirement at the end of the year. Would the siren call of new opportunities lure him out of retirement before he’s had a chance to savor it? I thought about my grandchildren. Will my grandson continue to be the carefree boy we think of as ‘the ambassador’ because he gets along with everyone? Will my granddaughter stop wearing black and—like Greta Garbo—quit insisting that she “vants to be alone”?
I’ll tell you what I didn’t think about. I didn’t think about the upcoming election; I didn’t think about the evil in the world; I didn’t think about all the problems we have created for ourselves and the negative impact we, as a species, have on so many other living things. For these few hours I only thought about maintaining my footing, filling my bag with seeds and how enjoyable the breeze was on my sweaty brow. It’s a wonderful way to spend time. If you’ve never picked prairie seed you should definitely try it and for those of you who volunteer on a regular basis, we thank you!
Regards, Rickie Rachuy
The Northwest Illinois Prairie Enthusiasts
Protecting, Restoring and Managing the Driftless Areas of Illinois