Sunday, November 15, 2015

Shining Light on the Prairie

Most years the prairie in November is a brisk, brown place beneath predictably leaden skies and sometimes even sporting first ice. Last week it was 70° and sunny, with near gale force winds roaring up hard from the south/southwest.

Climate change will make winners and losers both. This year on the prairie we've yet to receive a finally killing freeze. In our yard are unripe strawberries on the vine and a couple of hardy rosebuds still trying to bloom, we'll see. Only yesterday there arrived the first Dark-eyed Junco scout down from Superior, nearly a month later than last year. Last night up north on the Gogebic Range it snowed, so by his clock the Junko's right on time.

Anyway, this particular year during this particular November, the prairie is a winner while El Niño remains indifferent to all such petty concern as it draws down a deep breath on things.

Were I still pushing 4x5 transparency film through the Linhof I'd never have dragged my sorry ass out because the combination of brutally high contrast light and steadfast breeze would've made work a fool's errand. Instead, I'm still learning the capabilities/limitations of my new tools, so off I went...

The wind's voice through oak savanna is different after most of the leaves are fallen.  Even on a 70° day you can hear the raw nakedness of winter as opposed to the brittle fullness of autumn. Through the grass the wind sounds much the same from early autumn through winter and until the first full chords of blooming green spring.

During the course of a splendid morning I strolled maybe four miles through brilliant long light across ancient glacial moraine and took my time doing it. Sometimes, prairie seed whipped through the air like a snowstorm. Hawks glided low over their rich sea of grass, kept aloft on the wind. Mostly I walked or sat but occasionally I aimed the Nikon at sights that once could be owned only through the gift of sight and sound, as captured in memory.

One thing's sure. I'm gonna need a new working definition of perfect light...

Upon leaving there were maybe half a dozen American Kestrels staked out on individual territories along a telephone line strung at prairie's edge. The line wavered in the breeze as the birds remained alert for unwary critters working the grass. Insects and rodents and birds feast on the bounty of the prairie while other birds eat the insects and snakes eat the rodents and hawks eat the snakes while coyotes eat pretty much anything and that ain't near the half of it. 

Everybody works the grass. It'd be a madhouse, if it didn't make such perfect sense.

Each time I slowed the car near a Kestrel, the bird seemed discomfited at the notion I might somehow capture it for posterity. I didn't press the case.

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