"The place as we know it today is the fruition of the hopes and plans of
many people who believed that the best way for one to find meaning in life is to immerse
oneself in, and fully appreciate, nature." Ron Eggleston, Board of the Friends of Fenner Conservancy writing about Fenner Nature Center.
I’m thrilled to be holding the launch celebration for my debut picture book at Fenner Nature Center in Lansing, MI. Their new event space, the Susan and Jack Davis Nature Pavilion, is surrounded by prairie and oak savanna. We’ll take a guided nature walk through the prairie during the celebration. I can’t wait!
I spent this morning reading about Fenner’s history and then took a sensory walk through the prairie. I was surprised to learn that Fenner was once part of a large farm, called Springdale Farm, owned by J.M. Turner, the son of one of Lansing’s founders. He bred prized cattle, sheep, and horses, as well as farmed the land. In 1952 Lansing purchased the land to create a park. At one time, you could drive around the perimeter of the park and view bison grazing on the prairie and an assortment of caged animals, including a rescued bald eagle. Gradually, under the guidance of several managers, Fenner has shifted from a park into a nature center with a focus on nature education. Knowing this history gave me a strong sense of the mutability of land over time.
I grew up among the granite mountains of New Hampshire, far from any prairie ecosystems. Fenner has given me my first opportunity to explore shortgrass and longgrass prairie. I tuned into my senses and jotted down what I heard, felt, and saw (my nose was too stuffy to smell anything and I only tasted the occasional snow flake) on the shortgrass portion. Here’s a snap shot of my journal entry:
- Strong, steady, chilly wind, spring’s not fully here yet
- Low whooshing, grinding sounds of traffic travel on the wind
- A few birds chirping though I can’t see them or identify them
- Glowing rusty red-orange short prairie grasses with colour concentrated at tips- glorious! What species of grasses?
- Fringes of beige along grass stems, perhaps remnants of open seed heads from last season
- Bristle of grasses tossed by wind
- Waxy, red-purple thicker stems adorned with prickers – what are these?
- Brown buttons on slender stalks, the ghosts of Queen Anne’s Lace, I think
- Gray-brown silhouettes of a few oak trees on the western half of prairie
- Dark green of evergreens rimming the prairie
- Sinuous fractal stand of sumac trees, easy to see their fine shape and lovely bark without leaves and flowers covering them
- A lone silent Canada goose crossing over
Making notes like these provokes me to ask questions and research answers. They may even inspire an article or book. Another significant benefit is that focusing on my senses and taking notes keeps me present in the moment as I walk. I forget about everything else including worries and to-do’s. Making them gives me a deeper, more refreshing experience in nature. It’s a fun exercise to try on your own or with children. You can encourage children to close their eyes to help them focus on their other senses. They can also cup their hands around their ears to help them hear more sounds. Bringing binoculars and magnifying glasses also adds to the experience.
A few prairie focused books to share with children:
Prairie Dog Song, written by Susan L. Roth and illustrated by Cindy Trumbore, Lee & Low, 2016
The Prairie That Nature Built, written by Marybeth Lorbiecki and illustrated by Cathy Morrison (she illustrated my debut book), Dawn Publications, 2014
Plant a Pocket of Prairie, written by Phyllis Root and illustrated by Betsy Bower, University of Minnesota Press, 2014
Prairie Boy: Frank Lloyd Wright Turns the Heartland into a Home, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, Calkins Creek, 2019 (while this title is not strictly about prairies, it does convey a deep sense of the value and beauty of them)