The Prairie Never Hibernates

Greg Armstrong Benedictine Bridge, Care for the Earth, Natural Resources, Nature Notes 1 Comment

The cold and snow of winter dramatically changethe landscape at Holy Wisdom Monastery. Snowy days have a soft beauty about them as nearly everything gets covered with snow, and the plants and landforms become smooth and round. The softness even muffles sounds. When the sun comes out, these subtle forms glisten in the light. How different from the warm, sometimes steamy scenes of summer. Although cold, it is a very beautiful time to visit the prairies, woodlands, and wetlands of Holy Wisdom Monastery. Come and enjoy the beauty and calm of winter by participating in a personal retreat or walking on the nature trails.

The animals that live at the monastery have to change their lifestyle to accommodate the cold and to find their food supply, which is covered with snow. Mice and voles scurry around, under and over the snow to find food. One of the nice things about the snow is that it records past activity for us to observe as we visit the haunts of these other members of our community. In summer it is hard to know that many of them are even there, but now it is clearly written in the snow. You can see little trails from their tiny feet and a few seeds that they drop in their hurry to find food. There are lots of birds that inhabit the monastery grounds in the winter including the usual cardinals (how appropriate for a monastery), nuthatches and chickadees. The sisters have bird feeders near the new monastery where you can often see these birds, even from the warmth of the Monastery Assembly Room. Paul Boutwell, the only staff person working on the grounds most days (along with many volunteers), says he regularly sees red-tailed hawks swirling around over the prairies. He has even seen some bald eagles on occasion. It appears that coyotes frequently visit the monastery grounds at night, as evidenced by their small dog-like paw prints in the snow the next day. Deer have regular trails on the grounds. Paul says they like to visit the rain gardens to scrape away the snow and eat some of the cover crop grasses he planted last spring.

Plants are dormant on the prairies in the winter. They have not gone away, but rather are hunkered down in the form of roots, and underground stems and buds, riding out the cold and dry of winter. They are ready to burst forth next spring when water is available and it is not so cold. Many of the prairies were burned last spring, removing the inevitable woody plants that naturally attempt to take over the prairie. Since the burns have not been frequent enough to clear all the areas of the woody interlopers, Paul and the volunteers will cut back some of these woody plants to give the prairie a better chance in the future. Learn more about volunteer activities at the monastery.

The woodlands are also quiet and dormant for the winter. Here the plants have devised ways of penetrating their buds above the ground, which is a marvelous invention of evolution, so these tall plants can get their leaves out quickly in the spring, above and not in the shade of lower plant leaves.

Celebrate the seasons with the Wisdom of the Seasonsretreat series, that focuses on how the divine enters our lives as the seasons change. The Winter: Season of Stillness retreat January 21-22, 2011 is full, but there are openings for the Spring: Season of Rebirth retreat April 15-16, 2011.

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