By Julie Melton, Sunday Assembly member and Friends of Wisdom Prairie Council member
What happened last Sunday morning was the perfect return to our Kids On the Prairie walks. Twenty-two parents and children spent an hour and a half exploring nature’s beauty and surprises. To start with, everyone got a hand lens. The small plastic lenses were nothing special, but they signaled that there is something special hidden in ordinary places: three cold spiders on a piece of old dried wood, a tiny bee on a dandelion, and little bugs on Nannyberry shrub buds and apple blossoms. These wonders and more are there for anyone who stops to look closely.
As we walked up the prairie path to the high point of Monastery lands. We discussed the history of this place from glacial times to early indigenous people who were ancestors of the Ho-Chunk, to farm families and the Benedictine sisters. We imagined what it looked like 1,000 years ago, 65 years ago. Everyone compared the height of the dried big bluestem stalks to their own size. We wondered at the long roots still in the ground ready to send up new growth. At the top of the hill, we found a patch of soft, touchable pussy-toes to investigate. We stopped to admire the bluebird boxes as another example of care for earth’s creatures.
The politely excited group changed completely as we walked a short distance into the woods. We found flowers and mole tunnels, then a few bits of rabbit fur, signs of past owl hunting. As if on cue, we saw an owl fly from one tree to another. Then there were more owls. All three of the young owls were moving around. We watched in awe until someone noticed an owl sitting on a branch in plain sight close to where we stood. That changed everything. Children screamed with delight. We were all awestruck. The owl watched us as cell phones recorded the magical moment.
For some, walking onto the recently burned savannah restoration might seem unremarkable. That would be wrong. It was a special privilege to walk over an area that hadn’t been burned for nearly 180 years! The children could see the effects of fire on the wood, the earth, the mosses and plants. Much of the ground has been hidden from view for decades. Small critter holes dotted the landscape and made it feel soft under our feet. We wondered who might be hiding in some bigger holes surrounded by excavated soil, groundhogs or red fox?
To the younger children, the burned area was a vast space to explore, with logs to climb over and holes to investigate with a stick. The older ones asked questions and heard more about our mission to care for the land. A few spring flowers indicated that the burn is renewing the soil without killing the plants that evolved with it. The remains of a deer were another big surprise. Its carcass exposed an intact spine, ribs, jaws, and lower legs with fur still on them. We compared the deer’s body structure to our own, then turned our attention to the live turtles in the farm pond and the barn swallows overhead.
We hope these walks help parents and grandparents grow in their connection to our Creator through a relationship with creation. The future of our planet depends on all of us knowing and loving what God made. Then we will take better care of it.
Many thanks goes to members of Sunday Assembly and Friends of Wisdom Prairie who volunteer to make this program possible. Our first group was guided by Julie Melton, Judy Troia, Maia McNamara and Sandy Weber. Our next walk will be May 23, 2021. For more information, please contact Julie, firstname.lastname@example.org.