Home On The Prairie
This weekend I had the opportunity to spend time in Madison, Wisconsin. I was on a trip with my dear friend Sobyl, the goal of which was to explore what the city had to offer. We started by buying a book: 100 Things to do in Madison Before You Die, by Katie Vaughn. A bit dramatic of a title, but it was the perfect resource to help us sip a bit of this and a bit of that.
We were both drawn to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Arboretum. For nature and plant lovers like us, what’s not to love with 1200 acres both cultivated and wild? While one could peruse whole groves of maple or hawthorn, larch, cherry or plum trees, we went straight to Curtis Prairie, which greets visitors as soon as they enter the parking lot. Acre after acre – 73 to be exact – of flowers, grasses and trees were punctuated with dirt or mowed walking paths. This is where we began our trip, and although we went into the visitor center to inquire about other spots to explore, we found that as soon as we stepped into our first cultivated garden – which was stunningly beautiful – we both nonetheless wanted to turn back to the wild of the prairie.
For me it was a memory of childhood. I was reminded of the lot beyond our dead end street that was a grassland of its own, stretching out to the canal that emptied into the Great South Bay on Long Island. That is where, with the help of my older sister, I came to know the wildflowers chicory and fleabane, common evening primrose and bittersweet nightshade. We’d pick bladder campions along with butter and eggs – wild snapdragons. The lot was heaven. The only place that compared was summer camp, on Long Island’s North Shore. It was a 40-minute bus ride each way, but once we arrived, we were in broad clearings edged with woods. My favorite spot was at the very top of camp, a good uphill walk, to a spot with picnic tables and tetherball, fences and woods everywhere. To this day I remember the smell of that forested area, the spot where my love of nature took root. It was quiet and peaceful, and cool under the trees when every other spot in camp, under the intense summer sun, could be overwhelmingly hot. It was a refuge of green and its accompanying birds, bugs, smells and sounds.
These memories were evoked as I was walking through the prairie of the Arboretum. The fields were endless stalks and blooms, each telling its own story. They were rich with birds, insects and butterflies at every turn, whose subtle buzzing and chirping were accompanied by the ongoing rush of the wind through the open meadows. Quiet, yet a symphony at the same time.
For me this is food. The nourishment of the open air, sun and cloud, the smells of God’s earth and the things that grow upon it. While the growing that we do here at In the Gardens is cultivated, we use permaculture tenets, whose intention it is to naturalize an area, facilitating an ecosystem in one’s yard or farm. We grow the food of the land as well as an environment for food for the spirit. It might not be the prairie, but it’s a bit of it growing right here in Chicagoland.