Our Glorious Grasses ~ Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem ~ Colorado County, Texas

Neither so stolid and stout as Bushy Bluestem, nor so light and ethereal as Gulf Muhly, Little Bluestem is a practical and self-effacing grass; throughout the growing season it fills the prairies with hardly a notice until autumn’s shorter days and cooler nights turn its color to a lovely and recognizable rust.

Backlit Little Bluestem ~ Diamond Grove Prairie, Missouri

Together with Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), and Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Little Bluestem  (Schizachyrium scoparium) is considered one of the ‘big four’ of the tallgrass prairie. Big Bluestem and Indian Grass typically grow to a height of five or six feet — or even more — while Little Bluestem, the shortest of the grasses, averages three feet.

Native in almost every state, Little Bluestem is well adapted to tallgrass, mixed, and shortgrass prairies. In Kansas, home to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, it can be found in every county. Outside of the preserve, a multitude of Flint Hills roads lead into open range, where walking out into the grasslands, reveling in the sights, sounds, and smells of an earlier time, is possible.

Open range ~ Chase County, Kansas

The roots of Little Bluestem help to keep soil  secure from the wind, and its stems’ ability to hold rain and snow close to the ground allow moisture to be absorbed rather than quickly evaporating. The decaying grasses also add organic matter to the soil.

Its sturdy, closely-packed stems protect innumerable insects, even over the winter. Many birds depend on its seeds for food, while ground nesters can be found beneath its protective canopy. The large grazing animals of the past, such as bison, once relied on little bluestem forage; even today, antelope, elk, and protected bison graze bluestem-covered hills.

Brazoria Wildlife Refuge ~ Brazoria County, Texas

In spring, the bluestem prairies are filled with flowers, but even in fall, taking the time to walk into one can be an unforgettable experience. I suspect the poet William Stafford walked into a few, and found there the inspiration for his poem, “At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border.”

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.
Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed — or were killed — on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.
Backlit Little Bluestem ~ San Bernard Wildlife Refuge, Texas

 

Comments always are welcome.

Prairie Song

In 2016, the Missouri Prairie Foundation established National Prairie Day: an effort to educate people about the vast grasslands which once stretched across North America, and to encourage commitment to the conservation and restoration of native prairies. This year, a new alliance of organizations dedicated to the voluntary restoration of native grasses on working lands in the U.S. will launch in conjunction with the celebration, held annually on the first Saturday in June.

Of course, learning about prairies is one thing: coming to love them quite another. I walked my first prairie in 2012. Since then, I’ve spent as much time as possible exploring their wonderful variety, from Texas’s coastal prairies to the tallgrass prairies of the midwest. One day — soon, I hope! — restrictions will be lifted, and I’ll be able to revisit some of my favorites. For now, I’ll celebrate the day devoted to their splendors with some photos from past visits, and my favorite prairie song.

Clean Curve of Hill Against Sky ~ The Tallgrass Express
(If the song won’t play and you’re using Chrome, try another browser)
Chase County, Kansas
As we hop on our ponies to climb up the hill
while the morning breeze sleeps and the air is so still,
we see up ahead in the early half-light
That clean curve of hill against sky.
West of the Bazaar, Kansas cattle pens
Then we’re out in the pasture as far as we’ll go,
It rises around us, a giant green bowl,
While the sunrise is filling the day up with light
On that clean curve of hill against sky.
Diamond Grove Prairie ~ Missouri
The pioneers saw it as they crossed the wide plains
til they built up their cities for fortune and fame;
Open range near Wonsevu, Kansas
So there’s few places left now to pleasure the eyes
with that clean curve of hill against sky.
Prescribed burn on the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve ~ Strong City, Kansas
Out here we’re still blessed with true darkness at night,
our skies are a-glimmer with the Milky Way’s light;
if you’re lucky, you might see a star shootin’ by
that clean curve of hill against sky.
Konza Prairie ~ Manhattan, Kansas
But there’s more people and buildings and towers all the time
’cause there’s always a reason to put nature aside.
Just a few places left now to pleasure the eyes
with that clean curve of hill against sky.
Nash Prairie ~ Brazoria County, Texas
Now the hot sun is high and we’re riding on home,
Our horses are spent, with their heads hanging low;
I turn back my head now for one last goodbye
to that clean curve of hill against sky.
Near Alma, Kansas
Sunset ~ Matfield Green, Kansas

 

Comments always are welcome.

Looking Toward Winter

Soybeans and silo ~ Chase County, Kansas

Whatever you’re storing for the winter — be it acorns, soybeans, apples, or nuts — be sure to choose your container carefully.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A bit of additional information:
After looking at photos of similar silos, it became obvious that the split in the side was common. Mike Holder, District Extension Director for Agriculture & Natural Resources in the area, told me that the space would have been taken up by a series of small doors. Before filling, the doors were closed, and then the silage was blown in. As it was needed, one door after another was opened, beginning from the top, and the silage tossed down. Most doors were wooden, and they sometimes were removed when a silo was no longer used.