Bison in the Hoodoos, Wild Horses in the Lavender Buttes

46.9790° N, 103.5387° W

Little bluestem, sagebrush, and wild rose decide the trim and texture of the grasslands around the hoodoos where broad-winged birds and the giant ox-like mammals we call bison animate the fabric of our country.

In the hot summer, hundreds of hooves break up and rake the crust of the sun-baked earth, preparing soil for plant growth. It’s in this wide open expanse that bison survive, grazing on gasses and sedges, tilling the soil for forbs that would otherwise shrink into the shadows of the tallgrass, suffocate, and vanish.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The Earth Is a Descendent of the Sky

43.8554° N, 102.3397° W

The earth is a descendant of the sky. It allows itself to be what it is. Nature has no ego. It is unedited, essential. It is the raw, seductive dream our cities have just before twilight. We awaken from everything we forgot about ourselves when we enter the realm of nature.

Deep blue sky, tiny white lights and the sapphire-black shadow of ponderosa pine make a scattered canopy above, perhaps a cathedral for birds. When it’s peaceful like this, evening, temperate, the sound of a creek, clear skies, this is a song of love. It feels like it will never end, and we believe it will always be this way, until it isn’t.

Tiny Worlds of the Taiga

42.0943° N, 93.5700° W

Scalloped-edged lichen unfold into paper-thin leafy waves of ashen sea-green. Old pine bark pushes up into patterns and around limbs on branches and trunks where bryophytes and bright green mosses sprout spores. Tiny worlds cover everything, but who notices in the company of white pine, birch and cedar.

north-shore-crop

Wetlands, Dunes & Old Growth Forests

41.6533° N, 87.0524° W

Quiet marshes around the southern edge of Lake Michigan are the legacy left by glaciers over 14,000 years ago. Groves of trees outline the edges of the Great Marsh, protecting expansive wetlands that purify water, filter pollutants, and facilitate storm drainage. Open ponds are hemmed by sways of cattails, also providing filtration. The dunes and wetlands provide a buffer between the lake and the land, protecting inland ecosystems from flooding and damaging winds. American beach grass and other plants root into the sand, stabilizing dunes that, in turn, minimize beach erosion.

These ecosystems invite me to hope, if I deeply contemplate these interwoven systems that balance fragility with an abstruse resilience. There is profound wisdom in the communities that nature creates.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

 

Cuyahoga River Fires and the EPA


41.2808° N, 81.5678° W

While it is still designated by the EPA as one of the 43 contaminated sites within the Great Lakes Areas of Concern, the Cuyahoga River was the catalyst for establishing the National Environmental Protection Agency January 1, 1970 and the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Until 1969, the Cuyahoga river caught fire 13 times due to pollution from Steel Mills, starting as early as 1868. Over 100 years would pass before President Nixon would propose to regulate pollution through the creation of the EPA.

Cuyahoga River & Cuyahoga National Park

Flint in the Hills Where the Tallgrass Grows

38.4426° N, 96.5730° W

A thousand eyelashes of hairy grama and buffalo grass fail to be still in the gentle gusts of wind as the sun descends. Chartreuse thickets of grass turn brilliant yellow at the top, an ombré of grasses, a million long-stems. Repeating. Repeating. Repeating in the wind. An ecstatic frisson erupting from earth’s joy.

Tallgrass prairie once spanned 170 million acres across the US. Now less than 4% remains. The rocky soil of the Flint Hills prevented early farmers from tilling the land, inadvertently preserving the largest expanse of this unique ecosystem in the US.

tallgrass-prairie-national-preserve

Jack Pines Cleared for French Fries

46.4425° N, 95.1361° W

12,000 acres of jack pine forest was destined to cleared by an out-of-state farming corporation for growing potatoes that would later become McDonald’s french fries. Clearing this important Minnesota forest in Wadena impacts wildlife unique to the area and poses possible water safety issues. The corporation did not first work with the state or community to considering how it would affect habitat, the ecosystem, or potential water safety issues with the Pineland Sands Aquifer beneath the forest. Potato crops typically use heavy pesticides, a potential threat to the Pineland Sands Aquifer beneath the forest, which ultimately leads to a basin for Twin Cities drinking water. 42-square-miles of jack pines, forest, and flora were cleared before the clearing was stopped by the Minnesota DNR.

wadena-minnesota-jackpines