The prairie has much to teach us. During these winter months, prairie plants experience an important period of dormancy. With spring will come a rush of new growth, but first the prairie rests, gathering strength, while nature lies in a deep freeze.
For human beings, winter with its longer nights and shorter days can be a time for slowing down and going deeper into an inner landscape to feed our souls. Winter is a wonderful opportunity to give yourself time for quiet and solitude, for a retreat, for opening up to possibilities that may lie ahead, or simply for time to do nothing.
A number of restored prairie lands surround us in the Madison area. Restoration of native species provides spaces with unique beauty, a balm for souls, and healing and care for the natural environment, especially our precious lakes. Prairie plants, with their deep roots, reduce storm water runoff, recharge groundwater and improve the quality of the water that reaches our lakes.
Brenda Lisenby, a recent transplant from Hong Kong, lives on and helps to maintain one of these tracts of prairie land in Middleton. Her first experiences with these prairie lands give us a vision about the new growth ahead — nature’s response to fallow time:
When I arrived, I was amazed at the variety of flowers in the prairie — purple, white, pink, orange and so many different kinds of yellow! The beauty of the prairie flowers was a part of my morning walk.
Then I noticed more each day with the passing of summer the sweet, clean smell of the prairie! I hadn’t realized that prairies “smell.” Walking the trails through the tall grass had at first been just a visual delight, but now with the awareness of the scent of the prairie, I experienced the beauty of the prairie more deeply.
Finally, I heard the prairie. One day, while collecting rattlesnake master, cinquefoil and echinacea seeds, I walked deep into the grass on the north prairie. Although I was one of a group of volunteers collecting seed, we had all gone in different directions with our buckets, clippers and gloves.
I was alone in the prairie, surrounded by the tall sweet grass. I paused to take in the moment and became aware of the sound of the prairie. Crickets! I heard the occasional lone cricket sound nearby, but what I became aware of was the symphony of chirping that was arising from the prairie. It washed over me.
Now I experience the prairie not only with my eyes, but with all my senses. I have learned its scent, its sound and its feel. And I am excited to know that the work of my hands in collecting seed will be used to restore even more prairie.
As you feel your body slowing down in these winter months, remember the lesson of the prairie. Developing deep roots, taking time to slow down, letting some issues in your life lie fallow for a time and giving rest to your body are all important steps for new growth. And remember — even here in Wisconsin, spring and summer really are just around the corner!
Ann Moyer is the director of membership at Holy Wisdom Monastery, 4200 County Road M, Middleton. Brenda Lisenby is a Benedictine sojourner at the monastery. Holy Wisdom offers prairie restoration opportunities as well as personal retreats with overnight accommodations in the retreat and guest house and hermitages (small cabins), each with a personal bath. Four nature trails through prairie and woods on the monastery property are available to guests. Visit http://benedictinewomen.org for more information.