Monday, August 30, 2004

Tallgrass blog.

The catfish are jumping, and the milkweed is high. Doesn’t have quite the same ring, but this is Illinois, after all. Recently we went to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, about 15 miles south of Joliet, Illinois. It’s a brand-new public facility. A set of “interim trails” opened up this summer, and we walked one of them -– a mile and a half long, and so little known to the population at large that during the course of a walk on a sunny, moderately warm Saturday afternoon in mid-August, at the edge of a metro area with 9.1 million people or so, we were the only ones there.

Formerly, most of the Tallgrass Prairie was occupied by the Joliet Arsenal, an Army facility opened in time to make weapons to give the bum’s rush from the world stage to Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. Now, it’s the site of prairie restoration. Illinois once was almost all prairie; now there’s very little. In as much as I understand these things, there’s quite a ways to go before Midewin will be anything like a conjectured pre-Columbian or even pre-1800 prairie. My untrained eye noticed a lot of milkweed, thistles and especially queen anne’s lace.

Queen anne’s lace: “A widely naturalized Eurasian herb (Daucus carota var. carota) having white, nonfleshy, fusiform compound umbels of small white or yellowish flowers.” ( Meaning it’s an immigrant. Doing very well in North America, as many immigrants do. But the government effort here is of the Know-Nothing variety, with the goal of restoring a kingdom of native plants, the kind that the bold pioneers of old would have encountered in the early 19th century. Their first thought was probably, “Burn it. We can put good farms here.”


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