Nash Prairie ~ Where Ignorance Met Bliss

The World’s First Goat Positioning System

The guy running the front loader couldn’t have been nicer. “Look at this,” he said as his wife wandered up, holding a shovel in one hand and brushing back the dogs with the other. “She’s lookin’ for the prairie, and she’s got the same danged map as that other guy.” Passing my copy of the hand-drawn map to the woman, he gave me a look generally reserved for well-intentioned but slightly dim folk. “Around here, we don’t call it a prairie. We call it a hay field.”

“Well,” I said, “whatever you call it, I can’t find it. That map says it’s supposed to be twenty-six miles north of Highway 35. When I got up to Cow Micham Road, I knew I’d gone too far, but I sure hadn’t gone twenty-six miles. I decided I’d better stop and ask for directions.”

That made him smile. It made his wife smile, too. We stood around grinning at one another while the dogs snuffled around my ankles and bumblebees glided through the rising heat. Finally, he pushed back his hat. “Tell you what. Go on back down the road a piece, past the old Gibson place. Pass by the goat on the right and keep a-goin’. If you get to the substation, you’ve gone too far.”

Deciphering directions in rural Texas can take some skill.  “Down the road a piece” wasn’t going to translate into miles, and as for the old Gibson place, it might be the Kutchka place now, or the Harringtons.’ It might even be that the house itself had been torn down and a barn put up, but none of that would be recognizable to a stranger. So, ‘goat’ and ‘substation’ it would have to be. “That ought to do it,” I said, reclaiming the map. “Thank you kindly.”

Heading back to the car, I heard the front loader start and then stop. “When you get there?” I turned around. “When you get there,” he said, “don’t go drivin’ in. It’s too wet, and I don’t know as they want people doin’ that anyhow. Pull up next to one’a them metal posts and you’ll be fine.” Thanking him again, I headed off down the road, ready to use a new version of GPS – the Goat Positioning System – to locate 400 acres of virgin prairie.

As it turned out, the goat was at home. After stopping to let him mug for the camera, I got back on the road and discovered myself nearly at the substation. Between the substation and the goat I had to look twice and turn around once, but at last I was certain: I’d found Nash Prairie.

Unfenced, ungated, unmown and unplowed, it appeared unremarkable. Hidden in plain sight, lacking even a sign to mark its presence, it could have fooled anyone into mistaking it for just another untended field instead of recognizing it for what it is: a gem is its own right, a link to our past, and a sign of hope for the future.

Nash Prairie in spring

Texans love their wildflowers, and the spring ritual known as ‘going to see the bluebonnets’ is deeply ingrained.

When the weather cooperates, the flowers provide breath-taking vistas. On the other hand, there’s been a growing tendency to define ‘good wildflowers’ solely in terms of vibrant and accessible color patches, like the stands of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush that line so many roads.

Nash Prairie is different. Subtle rather than spectacular and nearly invisible to someone traveling by car, it rewards a leisurely pace and open senses. The fragrance of the land is indescribable, with an aroma at once rich and spicy, tanged with salt, and redolent of growth: the essence of grass, sedge, soil, and flower combined into one unexpected scent.

Unlike many more vibrantly-framed roads, Nash Prairie is a mixed bouquet. No human hand scattered its seeds; no master planner decreed ‘blue here, yellow there.’ The land itself determines which life will flourish, and where. In the sandy, well-draining soil of raised pimple mounds, sunflowers, toad-flax, cone flowers and verbena flourish among the grasses.

Near the base of the mounds, paintbrush and toad-flax mix with prairie parsley and sensitive briar, while in shallow, barely visible meanders prairie nymph, a tiny member of the iris family, spreads and flows in a river of lavender petals.

That Nash Prairie survives at all is something of a miracle. According to The Nature Conservancy, the 400-acre tract is one of the last remaining segments of the Great Coastal Prairie, six million acres that once stretched from Lafayette, Louisiana to Corpus Christi, Texas. Less than one percent of the prairie exists today, and barely a fraction of that is virgin prairie like Nash.

Once part of the historic 15,000 acre KNG Ranch, the land was jointly willed by owner Kittie Nash Groce to a cousin; to West Columbia’s St. Mary’s Episcopal Church; and to the West Columbia Hospital District. Thanks to the farming practices of German and Czech settlers who used it as a hay meadow, the land never was plowed. Cattle were grazed and hay cuttings taken once or twice a year, but the land always was allowed to regenerate, helping to maintain its rich diversity. The value of the management practices is clear. Hundreds of species thrive at Nash Prairie. Across the road, in a pasture dedicated to constant cattle grazing, only a dozen species are found.

In 2003, Susan Conaty, wife of the Reverend Peter Conaty, Rector of St. Mary’s in West Columbia, happened to hear a Houston Audubon Society representative mention the importance of the hay meadow as one of the last remnants of coastal prairie. “I had never knowingly seen this prairie, even though I had driven by it for years,” she said. Her new awareness began a long and complicated struggle to preserve the land – a process which culminated in its sale to The Nature Conservancy for $1.8 million.

Also in 2003, Dr. David Rosen, then a botanist and plant taxonomist with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, began a survey of the prairie. While identifying more than 300 plant species there, he discovered one rarity — the buttonbush flatsedge (Cyperus cephalanthus) — which first was described in 1843. Considered a reliable indicator of undisturbed coastal prairie, it was thought to have disappeared from Texas.

Grasses represent the bulk of the prairie’s species; big and little bluestem, Indian grass, brownseed paspalum, and switchgrass thrive there. By 2008, Rosen had catalogued 52 species of native grasses: remarkably close to the total of 63 species reported at the Konza Prairie Biological Station in Kansas.

Little Bluestem

Grasses and flowers aren’t the only prairie joys, of course. Birds abound; at Nash, 120 resident or migratory species have been identified. During my first visit few birds were visible, but scissortail flycatchers cut through the air, and meadowlarks sang without ceasing.

Nearly back at the road, I noticed a bit of bright red very near the ground. Bending down, I discovered a ripening dewberry, surrounded by blossoms and just-forming fruit. No ripened berries were visible on the surface, and I suspected they’d already provided tasty snacks to the birds or other creatures. But under the leaves, plump, black berries were waiting: another bit of prairie life to experience.

Laying my camera on the ground, I reached into the brambles and began to pick. Greedy as a child, I wished for a basket, but my hand would have to do. As I picked, I heard in memory my mother’s voice:You’re not going to eat those without washing them, are you?

Of course I would. No pesticide had sullied this land, no chemical residue would spoil taste or pleasure. As for dirt, the berries sparkled. Rains that had turned the earth spongy and damp, unfit for driving, had washed the berries clean. Plumped by rain, ripened by the sun, their sweet warmth was a delight.

Gazing across the acres of prairie, tasting the tang of fruits formed by sunlight and rain, I imagined the sweep of flowers to come: the rising up of grasses and the flowing down of winds. Looking beyond the grasses, I sensed the tangled bracts of time, the seeds of history, and the vining of seasons through an unbroken land.

Next time, I thought, I’ll stay longer. Next time, I won’t need a map.


Comments always are welcome.
For a description of what I found on my most recent visit to Nash Prairie, please click here.

114 thoughts on “Nash Prairie ~ Where Ignorance Met Bliss

  1. I just happened to sit down at the computer when you posted this, and I just happened to have time to read it. It just so happens that I enjoyed it. Thanks for posting.

    1. What a delightful series of events. I’m glad you noticed, and read, and enjoyed. This is one of my favorite stories; there’s nothing like a dollop of self-deprecating humor to help keep things in perspective!

    1. Our prairies are treasures, wherever they’re found. They not only please us with color and scent, they offer food and shelter to a whole variety of creatures. With the bees, flies, and butterflies coming out now, it’s truly wondrous to see how it all works together. Preserving what’s left while we help others understand the importance of doing so is critical, and stories have a role to play.

    1. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I’d carried a certain image of ‘prairie’ in my head since 4th grade, when Mrs. Vandekamp included Little House on the Prairie in our daily read-aloud session. When I finally saw the Tallgrass Prairie in Kansas, I realized that was what I’d imagined; Nash is quite different, but equally lovely, and exceptionally interesting.

      1. We’ve been to a few areas where the original prairies still exist, Linda, and stopped to admire them. They are few and far between
        “Little House on the Prairie” was one of my first ‘academic’ achievements. I was in the third Grade and my teacher came to school with laryngitis. She had been reading the book to us during her after lunch reading session. She asked if I wouldn’t take her place and read to the class.

  2. I love the idea of a Goat Positioning System – glad it worked. The prairie was well worth finding and sounds like a place that is very precious to nature. I’m just imagining all the tiny lives there (insects etc.) and the bigger lives (birds etc.) that rely on them to live. I’m very glad that it is now in safe hands.

    1. It’s rich in fauna, for sure. Just thinking about the insect life I’ve seen there is amazing; the bees, dragonflies, and flies are obvious, but they’re only the beginning of the life that’s buzzing over, crawling around, and burrowing into the prairie. In that sense, it’s much like your garden, and your pond. If we build it, or preserve it, they will come.

    1. I’m not surprised. I suspect you’re as familiar with goats as any of my readers — and who doesn’t love a goat? Even the ones that aren’t so well-behaved have their charms!

  3. Just headed out to drop our taxes off for our accountant to tut-tut over.. We’re not quite sure where we’re headed, so we will have to rely on GPS. I am the navigator and I have already said, several times, we’ll just look for the goat on the right. I laugh every time – but I might be the only one …

    1. Let’s face it. When Google maps and the assorted electronic devices go down, some of us still will be able to make our way in the world. Some of the most interesting articles I’ve read recently involve the use of compasses and paper maps in a sport called ‘orienteering.’ The claim is that such activities actually can help stave off dementia. Of course, my issue here wasn’t so much finding my way as recognizing a prairie that didn’t fit my mental image of what a prairie should be. That said, my decades-long practice of preferring paper maps and nautical charts may have benefits that even a goat can’t provide!

  4. Lovely writing, Linda. I can well imagine being there. Thanks for sharing this gem. (Proud to be a longtime contributor to the Nature Conservancy, my membership is for just this work that they do.) GPS will now have another meaning to me!

    1. The Nature Conservancy is an organization worth supporting. They also are in charge of the Sandylands preserve in east Texas, where I often go, and a site in the hill country developed from land donated by some great people I knew.

      As for the Goat Positioning System, why not? We already have goat yoga.

    1. That’s right. And it might behoove us to think about that in terms of AI, ChatGPT, and such. While I’m not expecting my robot overlords to come knocking anytime soon, there are some very real downsides to yet another instance of the human inclination to say, “So… what could happen? How bad could it get?” I’ll bet there was a buffalo hunter or two who said the same thing.

  5. What a terrific tale of exploration employing all the means of modern technology at your disposal. Using the science of GPS to find your destination in proximity to an electrical substation despite there being absolutely no signage, fencing or official gated entrance – why, it is simply a miracle, that’s what!

    Thank you for expanding on this location since, as I mentioned in Lagniappe, I fully intend to be there on my hands and knees in the near future. Assuming my GPS is functioning properly.

    The plot has a fascinating history. How fortunate the Nature Conservancy was able to purchase the acreage. And how genius it was to hide it in plain sight! As you said, most would speed by this jewel of nature and never give it a second glance. Not a bad thing.

    Hope I’ll be able to find it. Failure would really get my goat.

    1. What amuses me most about the tale is that it was the picture of a ‘prairie’ I was carrying in my head that kept me from even considering the actual plot as the prairie. I was expecting to see something like the Flint Hills tallgrass prairie. Coastal prairie has its charms, but it’s not that.

      In this age of self-promotion and hype, what’s not to love about a self-effacing prairie? With a little help from its friends, it quietly goes its way: flowering, seeding, lying fallow, regenerating. A burn here and a mowing there, and what ‘was’ continues on — with luck, future generations will continue to preserve and increase its reach. With more preservation, less restoration will be needed in the future.

    1. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed. The woman who joined us that day has just moved to the Kansas City area, and of course Peter is gone now. He was as remarkable a person as Susan; although I didn’t know him that well, I always enjoyed being around him, and miss him. The prairie, of course, endures.

  6. Sounds like my kind of place – it’s a pity there’s only a relatively small number of acres left in that location. Hope you find more berries on the next visit!

    1. The berries are ripening now. In fact, for those who don’t favor dewberries, strawberry picking has begun at local farms; those berry farms have two great advantages — no thorns, and no snakes.

  7. Surprising to me that so many bird species are noted there. These would have to be birds that prefer ground nests, I assume. I’m showing my ignorance. But on the other hand, I’m learning. I checked online and found an article about thirty-five species of ground dwelling birds.

    1. There are at least 120 species of birds that have been identified at Nash. There are ground nesters, of course, but there also are raptors, migratory birds that pass through, and species like red-winged blackbirds that fly in to feast on plant seed and such. There are sparrows, and doves, and eagles nest nearby; they’ll fly into the area from time to time, looking for a tasty snack.

      It’s such a rich and diverse place: the very opposite of our somewhat bland, mowed-to-the hilt suburbs with nothing but the “tree and four bushes” that the developers put in.

      1. There are hundreds of acres of unblemished land. We need parents and teachers who believe in taking field trips, and making research and writing an first-hand experience.

  8. I guess it is amazing that much prairie still exists. In our area, it seems every blade of grass needs to be developed upon, and a lot of what once was “open area’ is instead open for business. Goat Positioning System was an lol, Linda!

    1. As my dad would say, it”grinds my gears” to see the development that’s chewing up our land. People need housing, of course. That said, much of the development around here, both commercial and residential, is done ‘on spec.’ When the anticipated homeowners or businesses don’t show up, we’re left with acres of concrete and emptiness — and perhaps a few lined pockets. Well, we do what we can.

  9. We’ve come a long way since 2020, when you first brought up your GPS. Properties that had closed during those early months of the pandemic are open again. As for dewberries, in Austin we’re still seeing flowers (including some by the side of the house); no fruit yet, at least not that I’ve noticed, though it shouldn’t be long.

    1. Well, as my great-aunt Rilla would say, Tempus fidgets. I first posted this piece in 2012, with a title you might remember: “A Little Nash Ramble.” I hardly can believe it’s been eleven years. A lot certainly has changed.

      Dewberries are ripening here, and out at the best strawberry farm in Santa Fe, pick-your-own time already has come. I like dewberries, but strawberries fresh from the field are heaven.

      1. I’d forgotten about the 2012 version (which I see I commented on). I think I used “Micham” in my search for earlier versions, and that word doesn’t appear in the 2012 original.

        A friend of ours who died two years ago also liked to quote “Tempus fidgets.” Sic transit gloria mundi.

  10. Blackberries are delicious, but I’ve never had the pleasure of eating them right from the bush! (Yes, my mother, too, would have said not to eat anything like that without first washing it!!). What a wonderful jaunt to the prairie — I’m happy to tag along, even if only virtually.

    1. I wish you were down here — we could go strawberry picking together. Yes, they’re ready. And in another month or so, blackberry picking will begin. Then, it will be time for blueberries. I’ve already picked a couple of quarts of berries — it’s still amazing for this midwestern kid to be doing such things in March and April.

      Of course, I thought of you last weekend. There are fields where the corn already is a couple of feet tall. So much for “knee high by the 4th of July”!

  11. I have heard of the Nash Prairie but had never thought to try to visit and now I will have to find some time this spring to go down there. Found the cyperus on inat, only four observations! Fascinating story and I will keep an eye out for the goats!

    1. It’s hard to believe I visited Nash for the first time in 2012. That hooked me; it was that same year I made a trip up to the Flint Hills and the Tallgrass Prairie. I keep saying I’m going to go back ‘someday,’ but I’d better not put off ‘someday’ too long or I’ll be in the ground rather than traveling over it!

      You’d love Nash. By the way, did you get to see your Amsonia bloom? I found some in bloom at Nash and down by Blessing, and there still were buds coming on.

      1. I did not get to see the amsonia bloom because the deer came by while we were gone to west Texas and chomped them off. I need to move the plant into the fenced garden.

    1. Thanks so much, John. In a way, these little jaunts are my version of your visits around your neighorhood — although I have to do my own catering! I’ll say this; nature decorates as well as anyone.

  12. Oh, how I would love to get a breath of that prairie scent you describe! This whole post is thrilling to me in a vicarious way; if I were actually there with you the excitement would probably cause me to swoon. Especially the coneflowers…

    1. That prairie scent is one of the best the world has to offer: akin to new-mown hay, or a coming rain. ‘Swooning’ brought to mind the art of John William Waterhouse; it may be that this woman was experiencing scent in a similar way!

  13. Thank you for taking us along. How sad that so little of this precious place is left! (How often do we say or think that??) I hope it’s a place you can visit from season to season?

    1. Visiting is relatively easy, since it’s only about an hour and a half from home. My first visit — the goat-guided one — took place in 2012, and I’ve been stopping by on a semi-regular basis ever since. I’ve mostly visited in the fall, so these early spring visits are something new; now, I’m looking forward to summer.

  14. Yes, the prairie holds its magic. Reading during my discovery of reading words, my first books always included prairies and Indians. Karl May books were very popular in the forties although now they would probably be deemed inappropriate. But the prairie stayed with me.
    Great to see it being revised again in your latest story.

    1. I remember you mentioning Karl May in the past, but I never followed up to see what he was about. I found this fascinating article from Harvard Magazine that includes both biographical details and some information about his books. Anyone who can come up with a name like “Old Shatterhand” for a character piques my interest. By the time I finished the article, I was thinking I might pick up one of the novels to read.

      It seems as though May was one of those who was able to imaginatively construct a world very much like the one he never visited in person — including the prairies!

  15. It is good to find field of original prairie like that. Several sources I checked said that about 0.1% of Iowa’s original prairie remains. I am thankful for the efforts of those who try to save or restore it.

    1. It’s a bit of an irony that I grew up only twenty miles or so from Prairie City, Iowa, and never thought about — never was taught about — the tallgrass prairie surrounding us. The last time I took my mom to Newton to visit with friends, we went out to the Neal Smith wildlife refuge. It was early in its development at that time, but the land was gorgeous, and from what I’ve heard the new visitor center is terrific. If you’re ever that way, it would be worth a visit.

  16. I first read this about 15 hours ago, and just re-read it again along with the 44 comments that have now been posted. The story took me back to the late 1950’s when my little brother and I walked to our Grandparents’ house on Saturday mornings and picked blackberries while Grandma cooked up whatever Grandpa harvested from his fields. The made from scratch blackberry pie baked while we at lunch (we called it dinner in those days).

    That 100 year old farmhouse, the underground spring, the creek, thousands of trees, and all the outbuildings provided a magical setting for dozens of family members throughout the years. Nothing fancy about it but people were born there, grew up there, learned how to live and work and survive there. Such wonderful memories.

    Us family members that are still alive have only memories and a few old photographs. The land was taken by eminent domain and is now under Interstate 485 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Maybe the rest of the world thinks this is a better use of the land but I would love to spend a Saturday morning in the briar patch picking blackberries, waiting for Grandma to bake another pie.

    1. I was blessed to have a grandmother who believed that a slice of pie and a glass of milk was a fine breakfast for a child. We didn’t have blackberries, but we had cherries, apples, rhubarb, and strawberries, and all of them made fine pie. I preferred apple with a slice of cheddar for breakfast; otherwise I was all in for cherry with vanilla ice cream.

      Your story of the family home being taken by eminent domain reminded me of one of my favorite bluegrass songs: “Old Home Place”. The circumstances differ somewhat, but the feeling surely is the same. I used to visit an elderly woman in a nearby town; she lived across the street from a grade school. One day she began to reminisce about the days when her home was the site of an old barn on the family place, and when she would go with her sisters to pick dewberries where the school is now. As she said, “A school is a fine thing, but…”

      Thank goodness we have the memories, and the kind of grounding that such a life can provide.

        1. I’ve never heard that song, and the video you linked is splendid. I’m going to pass it on to a couple of my readers who live in that area, and who often photograph the same flora and fauna as it shown in the video. I’d love to be able to visit there some day.

    1. And there’s nothing sweeter than a vine-ripened berry. Our dewberries can be a little tart, but if you find some nice, fully ripened ones, they’re delicious. Dewberry cobblers beat manna any day.

  17. The image caught my eye. No agricultural commoditization here! Your prairie post increased my impatience for spring the burst out in Ohio where life begins to stir in the still cold earth. In a nearby park, former farmland has been returned to thriving prairie with 40 varieties of plants providing habitat for grassland birds. Ohio’s early land surveys showed prairies near bogs along the Continenal Divide. Since the park has remnants of both within its boundaries, it made sense to restore the prairie.

    1. What caught my eye was your screen name. I lived in Liberia for a few years, and behind my house there was a huge jacaranda tree. When it was in bloom, it was utterly gorgeous. I never took a photo of it, but never mind: I still can see it in memory.

      It’s pleasing to hear about restoration efforts taking place all across the country: from large tracts of land to the very small. Where land isn’t available — as with urban or apartment dwellers — I’ve noticed more efforts to educate people on the value of even a few flowering plants. They’re good for the pollinators, and good for our spirits!

  18. Probably the fact that it isn’t that well signed is a reason for it still being there and in such a pristine state. Somehow when too many people tromp through places like this, they ruin them. It seems to be a little “secret” treasure.

    1. Once it was “discovered,” one of the primary goals was to keep it pristine. Now that it’s in the hands of The Nature Conservancy, that becomes more certain. Beyond that, there aren’t any of the standard “attractions” that draw people to natural areas. There aren’t any trails or boardwalks, no interpretive signs: nothing that screams “this place is worth visiting.” In truth, most people don’t respond to fields of grasses with the kind of enthusiasm that masses of pretty flowers evoke. It takes some education for that to happen.

      Beyond that, there are some agreed-upon guidelines for visiting. For example, when I go, I text that I’ll be there, and then I text again when I leave. And people in the neighborhood who know what the place is, and how important it is, keep an eye on it. More than once I’ve had a county deputy sheriff stop just to exchange a few pleasantries and, in the process, figure out if I’m supposed to be there. I love that; it’s a sign of the pride that people in the area take in the place.

    1. The fragrance there, especially after rain or in summer humidity, is wonderful. It’s as pleasant as any flower, as well as being more complex and interesting. If I could, I’d send off a gallon of it to you tomorrow! Maybe by the Goat Postal System!

  19. I do like any story that involves a goat. And this one is delightful. The great coastal prairie was six million acres? That’s beyond my comprehension. And look what’s left huh? Your photos are great as was the information about the area. Interesting

      1. That’s a wonderful video. I had the album, I listened endlessly as a teen, but add those images and it’s a whole new experience. Thanks for the link.

  20. Loved your description of the smell of the prairie – that verdant aroma is so hard to capture, and so unique. Loved your GPS, and it was a special treat to see the image. Happy wandering!

    1. One of the joys of nature is that it’s capable of engaging all our senses. As I understand it, that’s why ‘bird waters’ eventually morphed into ‘birders.’ A song can reveal a bird as surely as a flash of wings. And, yes: the aroma is wonderful. Being able to catch the scent of coming rain is a skill that’s as useful in my work as any weather app!

  21. Goats always bring a smile, so GPS Goat Prompting Smile system, too. There’s a goat farm 25-30 miles south of my hometown and always fun to see the milk goats horsing around. The cheese is pretty tasty too

    1. I’ve never tried goat’s milk, or goat cheese, for that matter. I don’t know why. It’s readily available, so I ought to expand my horizons. Around here — or certainly in the hill country — goats are used to keep weeds down and trees trimmed. You always can tell who has goats; all of their cedar trees will have a flat-bottomed shape, thanks to stretchy-necked goats nibbling on their branches.

      1. They’re usually pretty friendly and a lot like dogs really but my gosh they do nibble & chew constantly, if you’ve got a shirttail sticking out they’ll always sure to try chewing on it.
        I’ve read they’re great at keeping weeds and brush under control. And knocking trolls off of bridges of course.

  22. Having lived for seven years in rural Kansas, I wasn’t surprised by the directions you received. They also didn’t say turn left or right, they said turn east or west. You had to know your directions or you were in serious trouble! But I’m glad you found the natural prairie. That’s a treat for sure!!

    1. It still amuses me to remember the first and only time I used a ‘real’ GPS to navigate. I was looking for an old cemetery in rural Kansas, and my traveling companion had one of the gadgets. I got the lat/long and road number of where we were heading, and off we went. The GPS worked just fine, until we came to the washed-out bridge that wasn’t noted on the gizmo. But, we were in luck. A farmer in a weather-beaten picken happened by; when he found out what we were looking for, he wrote out directions for the detour on the back of an envelope he pulled from his dashboard.

      That was the end of my use of GPS. I do better with a paper map, an occasional look at online maps, and my sense of direction. I’ve always had a good sense of direction, and I sometimes wonder if my explorations with my dad when I was a child helped to develop it. Every week, we’d get in the car and he’d ask, “Which direction shall we go?” Of course, the grid systems of Iowa and Kansas help, too!

      1. I know so many people who rely totally on their GPS system, and I really don’t think that’s healthy. Learning to read a map and developing a good sense of direction are important, I think. A GPS can be good, of course, but I really think it can be overused. (And as you pointed out, they aren’t always accurate either.)

  23. This woman of the prairie can relate to your outing – what a fine day you had! This past year I haven’t had much opportunity to go exploring except for the orchard. Even though many aggressive, non-native plants have found their way onto the property, there are still delights and treasures at every turn. I did do a bit of morel hunting today and noticed the dewberry patch has increased three-fold! No blossoms yet but should be anytime. I discovered four morels only, but enough for a little egg scramble in the morning. I look forward to see what native plants will make it this year. It’s always a surprise and delight.

    1. Every day in nature is a fine day, but days on a prairie are especially so. On the other hand, even the smallest and most ‘civilized’ place can hold a bit of loveliness. When I was getting out of the car at work yesterday, I noticed the marina lawn in front of the car was filled with Carolina Geranium, Oxalis, buttercups, Crow Poison, and two kinds of clover. None of them were tall, because that plot of lawn is mowed every week, but to paraphase the famous line from Blazing Saddles, “We don’t care about no stinkin’ mowers!”

      The thought of being able to go morel hunting — oh, my. There’s nothing better, but unfortunately that’s a treat that we don’t have. Now, dewberries are a different matter. It’s interesting that your blooms are still forming; our berries are ripening quite nicely, and the blossoms are nearly gone. What a difference a few degrees of latitude can make!

  24. Ah yes, the prairie. For this gal from wooded, hilly western Pennsylvania where the roads are curvy and winding, the flat prairies of Oklahoma and Kansas were a bit overwhelming when we lived in those states. The amusing story of how you got directions reminded me that when we first moved to Oklahoma, folks would give us directions by “when you get to the service station, turn east and keep going. You’ll come to a jog (a what??? we would think) and then turn west.” Ahem…I quickly realized I had to know what direction was east, west, south and north – something I never thought about when driving in my home state – and soon learned a jog was a little bit of curve in the road.

    1. I mentioned to another reader that I’ve always had a fine sense of direction, and I credit my dad for helping to develop that. Iowa was laid out in grids, so almost every road runs east/west or north/south. When we’d go out to ‘explore,’ he’d always ask, “Which direction shall we go?” instead of “Where shall we go?” Beyond that, working outdoors for decades has given me a sense of time and direction that doesn’t depend on clocks or maps. The light constantly is changing, and the placement of the sun and moon in the sky is more dependable than tech devices.

      I laughed at your definition of a jog. Coming from a gridded world, I grew up thinking of a jog as two sharp turns in a row. Who says geography doesn’t make a difference?

      1. Growing up in Pennsylvania, the only paved ways that are laid out in grids are city/town streets. The rest is willy-nilly around mountains, hills, lakes, rivers, and woods. We had never heard of a jog in the road before we moved to Oklahoma!

  25. A beautiful piece of prose for this beautiful parcel of prairie. May it serve as a model for other stretches of prairie to be allowed to be themselves, or be restored to their former selves.

    1. Our Native Prairies Association has the health and restoration of our prairie remnants as their goal, as do a variety of other organizations and individuals. Increasingly, private landowners are contributing to the efforts, as are corporation. What’s happened is sad, but what’s happening is cause for hope.

    1. When I started sailing, one of the first things I learned about was the importance of local knowledge. Once I began navigating on land, I discovered the same things apply: the locals always know more than any map, book, or website. Thank goodness!

  26. The nitwits in our state legislature are entertaining bills that would prohibit the purchasing of tracts of land for preservation. Corporate farming has great lobbyists. Our local sportsmen excel at spotting areas of county soil that work better for prairie and forest restoration than for cropping. We have precious few unspoiled spots here in my neck of the woods (or wanna-be-prairie), and it burns my butt …oops, grinds my gears… to think our legislators would hamper preservation and restoration efforts on land that is iffy at best for farming.
    We all need more posts like this to remind of the richness of prairies. It takes some looking for full appreciation, as you point out, but the rewards are delightful.

    1. While they’re at it, the legislators might spend some time thinking about the unintended consequences of selling off our farmland to foreign investors. But even landowners canbe less than enthusiastic about preservation. One of my favorite private spots, a relatively small hayfield, was owned by a fellow who considered milkweed a weed, and wasn’t at all impressed with the orchids growing on his land. We had several conversations about it all, and about the fact that his infrequent mowing had helped to increase the diversity of plant life, But in the end he sold, and now it’s all gone. Every time I drive by the spot, it grieves me all over again.

    1. Our native orchids are fascinating, and not at all like those you see in the grocery stores and etc. I can’t wait to find this year’s crop — they’re unpredictable as can be, and seeing them in a certain location one year doesn’t guarantee their appearance the next. Here’s one of my favorites.

    1. As I often say: just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. I’ve yet to find a situation where that bit of wisdom doesn’t apply, including paving over every square inch of earth in sight.

  27. I so loved your prairie story, Linda. You embraced the local farmers, prairie lovers, flora, fauna, and scents of this luscious chunk of land. I chuckled at the new GPS and the goat photo, enjoyed the dragonfly, and loved thinking about the scissor-tailed flycatchers there. Lovely description of the prairie smells, too. I am always so grateful to the folks who had the foresight and energy to preserve these precious tracts of prairie before it is all gone forever.

    1. It always pleases me when you enjoy a post, Jet. You’re so sensitive to all aspects of nature that having you note, for example, the description of prairie smells is wonderful. Like the salt tang at your coast, or the sound of rain coming across the land, there are many ways to experience nature, and cultivating them all is so important. After all,that’s why ‘bird-watching’ turned into ‘birding.’ The call of the prairie birds is part of their charm, and providing a place for them to continue calling is so important.

  28. Thanks for the lovely photographs and prose, but especially thank you for the reminder of the glories of summer berries. Spring is beginning in earnest here and so we have a bit of a wait, but hope springs eternal – especially with your aide de memoire! Happy Easter Linda!!

    1. If spring is stirring, it won’t be long before a certain sailboat’s not on the hard any longer! Dreams of a new season surely are stirring, too — I hope it comes sooner rather than later. Happy Easter to you, Allen — and a very berry spring!

  29. Linda, thank you for sharing a fascinating journey with a blessed ending. Some of my travels in the rural areas of eastern Montana come to mind after reading. Maps and technology’s GPS don’t always help much.

    1. Reading the land and sky is a fine way to navigate. I fear all the screen-gazing that’s so common today will breed (or already has bred) a generation so detached from the natural world they’re stuck in place: confused and fearful. A recent study of high school age students found that a full quarter of them didn’t want to drive a car, simply because they were afraid of doing so. Ah, me.

  30. Your newfangled GPS made me laugh. While I never gave anyone directions that included a goat or any other animal, I used to use the 1/10 mile road markers along highways. When Mary Beth’s piano was being moved to our rental house in Shutesbury up U.S. Route 202 from Philadelphia I did just that. Mary Beth said “Who looks at those things?” But the piano arrived right on time. Sometimes I am given a notable tree as a land marker or, while in the woods, a clump of something easily seen.
    Your prairie/hay field history is probably more than your kindly direction giver might have known. You have a wonderful talent for digging up so much interesting fact about people, places and things.
    Your Nashdragon looks like a Halloween Pennant?

    1. Are you kidding? Your mile markers are done in 1/10 of a mile? That sent me to a relatively current chart showing miles of road per state. Texas has 683,533 miles of road; Massachusetts comes in at 77,730. That helps to explain that! Even in Iowa, mile markers marked — well, miles. What an interesting difference.

      I did tell someone yesterday that a certain carnivorous plant was located “on either side of the boardwalk by the gazebo, just before it crosses the pond, a few inches from the boards.” Sometimes, descriptions like that are the best.

      The dragonfly is a halloween pennant. Good eye!

      1. Nope, not kidding. They were only on numbered highways. But I am also relating ancient history for the most part. They are a thing of the past (that was in 1983) except I think maybe still can be found on I 90.
        I agree…using the landscape are the best directions.

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