I believe that prairies provide us with strong insights about life. My work with prairies has allowed me to appreciate the role in the world everyone has and the effort it takes to fulfill it, regardless of the surrounding tumult.
I have seen the prairie in all its stages and experienced some of its most intimate moments. I have sowed the seeds of prairie plants in loamy, fertile soil, hoping for a successful planting. The seeds must experience perfect conditions to germinate and thrive; without special treatment, they will remain dormant until more opportune circumstances arrive.
I have woken up at the break of dawn to wade through the tall grasses and gaudy flowers, looking at the plants that struggle to survive in the shadow of others. Young seedlings cradle near the mother plant, hoping for an opportunity for more light to grow, flower, and set seed. The seedlings aspire to mature and discover their role in the prairie; only the strongest survive. The battle to live throughout the growing season is illustrated in The Elemental Prairie: Sixty Tallgrass Plants by George Olsen. As the snow retreats and the ground thaws, plants can be petite and put little energy into being stronger than their neighbors. When the summer heat ensues, flowers must tower above the surrounding, ever-growing grasses. By year’s end, plants must push above the competing flowers, reaching prodigious heights that loom over the plants that preceded them (13).
I have observed the kaleidoscope of blooming plants throughout the year, changing from week to week, month to month, all trying to find their opportune niche with the rest of the community. Different species establish their reign after other flowers have fallen from their previous beauty, always leaving spots of color like jewels across the landscape.
I have watched virgin leaves poke through the black earth of a burned prairie, using the charred remains of last year’s growth as nourishment to furnish another growing season. The blazing inferno above the sod obliterates the efforts of last year’s growing season. The life-cradling roots have adapted to bide in the insulating soil, waiting to emerge once again with increased vigor.
These instances directly correlate with experiences in everyday life. Seeds must know the best time to sprout or they will not grow; likewise, everyone must realize the correct time to seize an opportunity to break through and shine. Like the seedlings near the mother plant, everyone must struggle to break away from normality to succeed and prosper. Diversity is not only important in the flowering time of plants, but it also leads to being a strong individual. Being able to fill various roles and deficits in a personality makes someone a well-rounded individual. Adapting to the burning heat of fire demonstrates how to thrive in adversity; it shows how to take advantage of challenges and become stronger with every hardship.
A prairie is not solely a community of independent plants; it is a living, adapting organism. When one aspect of the prairie falls short, the entire plant community suffers. Like people, prairies have a story –a heartbeat– that beckons for all to listen. To realize the roots of human nature, we can learn from the faultless land around us: prairies.