A friend who is a recognized geologist suggested from the lay of my prairie that this may have been the shoreline of a glacial lake. It does have the slope, and there are decent ghost-like wetlands during the spring melt. Plus, just over the rise is a very nice wetland frequented by thousands of ducks and geese during the spring migration. It takes very little imagination to envision all of this adjacent land as being the bed of an ancient lake.
So, yes, there is slope, though only a true flatlander would suggest this a hill. Having just climbed from the bindings of my cross country skis, the thought of this being a “hill” is simply outrageous. My eight acres of former tillable is now embraced with a layer of fresh, new snow … the first real snow of the winter. With new bindings screwed into place, skiing over the mowed trails provided a fine winter exercise good for both the heart and eyes. The heart for exercise, the eyes for catching special messages hidden within the forbs and grasses!
My neighbor, Lance Lindeman, comes over about once a week in the summer for lawn meditation, or what we jokingly call “yard yoga.” Away from his job as a union organizer, he cuts winding trails through the prairie with a rider mower. His winding paths are wonderful for three of the four seasons. Not now. Not in the winter with a decent covering of snow … which is now a rarity with the change in climate … when one seeks a good, long satisfying glide. Apparently I have little to complain about!
No, this really isn’t all that troubling since the idea is to combine a little nature with the exercise, and that can be done without driving away from the farm to one of the area state parks or nature areas. Also nice is being able to take a camera into the prairie, for you can come across special messages hidden in the forbs and grasses.
Most of all is my love of catching sight of “wind poems.” These “poems” are etched in the snow by the tips of the prairie grasses, aided by the wind, and some are just beautiful. Yesterday I came across a heart-shaped “valentine” written in the snow, and I’m pleased I had the camera for on my loop through the prairie moments ago the heart was erased by the same winds that had created it. Tomorrow, with another covering of snow and a nice breeze, we’ll seek new poems and messages created by the wind and prairie grasses. Among my favorite grasses is the side-oat gamma, and I’ve yet to see a side-oat creation. When it happens it will surely be surreal.
My farm sits in an area described as the Prairie Pothole Biome. The prairie grasses are a major part of that ecosystem. Some 99 percent of the Biome was lost to “progress” and “civilization” through ditching, cultivation and eventual drainage. Big Stone County, Minnesota, is rather unique, for it is one of the areas still counting a number of potholes. They’re also called “wetlands” by government entities, or “sloughs” by the locals. Same thing, sunken relics left behind in the prairie by the melting of the last glacier thousands of years ago. Winter graces these wetlands (my favorite name for them), adding seasonal grace to the shallow earthly depressions. Yes, you can find messages here as well. Winds and aquatic plants create interesting ice and snow dune formations. Yes, a different poem … poems less delicate and boldly stated.
Ah, but there is more! The third natural feature of the Prairie Pothole Biome are the burr oak savannas, and yes, Big Stone County has a fair share of these on the shady sides of hills. A beautiful and huge savanna is found on the weathered bluffs along the old river … now Big Stone Lake. I love sitting in the wooded savanna at the nearby Bonanza area of Big Stone State Park during a slow, drifting snow, or even hiking or skiing along the trails hugging the lake shore. Snow in the savannas adds an entirely different layer of beauty and mystery, a poetry of striking beauty and grace, often times haunting.
Yes, I look at the prairie differently than many. That’s okay. We each have our own creativity and ways of interpreting nature. When I find messages left by the wind, the grasses and forbs, the trails left by mice, pheasants and coyotes, the icy sculpturing the wetlands, the oaken arms ladened with silhouetted snow, I’m pleased. If I don’t find them, will you? Will you read them the same way? Does it matter? In winter, prairie poems come to life, etched as they will by wild winds. This poetry provides hope and warmth on a wintry, snowy day.