It’s been 3 weeks since I returned to my little rolling home on the prairie. The gentle rhythmic hum of crickets and cicadas have replaced the harsh, sudden screeches of the Ring-necked Pheasants. Life on the northern Illinois prairie in late July and August is more calm and laid back than the hectic start of the season in May.
In between my weekly radiation treatments, I’ve been staying at my 2 favorite forest preserve campgrounds (Burnidge and Big Rock on the outskirts of Chicago). No better place to heal and get reacquainted with the nature I have so missed these last few months.
The prairie grasses are now much, MUCH taller (taller than me in most places!). Where there once was only knee-high green in May, is now a symphony of color-- yellows, whites, and purples. The “grand finale” of a near-perfect growing season that has neither been too hot nor too dry. But, oh how “perfectly” the mosquitoes have grown too!
Because the little buggers enjoy my skin so much (and I want to avoid the bug spray chemicals right now), I’ve been doing my daily walks in late morning or late afternoons when the swarms of blood-suckers are less apt to chase me! Burnidge Forest Preserve has some really outstanding trails that give plenty of variety -- through hills and flats, forests and fields.
There’s even a small grove of pine trees at Burnidge—a rare treat for us flat-landers missing the mountain pine air!
There are a variety of yellow prairie plants in bloom at Burnidge in mid/late summer. The drooping yellow coneflowers--
A wide array of sunflowers--
And the “big daddy” of them all, the Compass Plant--
The compass plant pokes up from the prairie like an 8-foot-tall periscope from the sea. It’s lower leaves tend to always orient themselves north and south (to conserve moisture in dry, hot summers). Early pioneers used to believe these leaves were as reliable as the needle of a compass for navigating vast treeless prairie ranges, and thus the name stuck!
Look closely, and you can also find some purple on the prairie too. Like this Wild Bergamot--
or these brilliant Blazing Stars--
But perhaps the most exciting plant of all to see in abundance are the milkweed plants. These are the critical “life blood” for the monarch butterfly, which needs a steady, reliable supply of these plants for it’s multi-year journey from the northern U.S. and Canada all the way down to central Mexico.
I’ve not seen monarchs in the last few years (due to the lack of milkweed), so was thrilled to see them thriving at Burnidge! Perhaps, we can indeed keep these beautiful creatures from disappearing!
Whenever my 2-week limit is reached at Burnidge, I head down to the newer forest preserve campground at Big Rock. There, the campground sits next to agricultural fields. Tall fields of prairie plants, are replaced by Illinois’ most abundant tall crop—corn. The tall stalks feel like skyscrapers when you stand right next to them!
For variety, you can also walk next to a field of soy beans. Certainly not as pretty as restored prairies, but at least a nice view of the sunset.
With the wide-open views at Big Rock, it was the perfect place to also see July’s “Blue Moon” (the second full moon within the same month). My iPhone pictures don’t do justice to how big it really looked as it first rose from the horizon!
But it was quite a wonderful sight to see!
The lack of a dry season has also given Illinois some fantastic sunset skies this summer. The following are just quick shots from my iPhone!
A pretty pink farewell on the last night at my Big Rock campsite --
And this absolutely incredible, non-stop explosion of color at Burnidge a few weeks ago
I loved the colors in the last shot so much, that I used the sky for the background image of a new website I’ve just launched. Check out the WinnieViews Facebook page for a preview of that new project, and be prepared for lots and LOTS of purple to come in September!