Little Lessons on the Prairie

The Wisconsin prairies have entered my consciousness in recent years compliments of a friend who is a self-proclaimed prairie enthusiast. You might think such folks are few and far between, and perhaps they are, but they are a committed group of folks who have a vision for their contribution to the world. The prairies, which once covered nearly all of our midwestern states, are now sparse and rare to find. Prairie enthusiasts know that a return to this form of sacred land has much to offer our world and our future generations. Not only is it preservation of history, it enriches our environment and raises our human understanding of days that long preceded us.

The prairie is a place of peace and harmony, life and vitality. The tall grasses sway gracefully in the wind, and the plants bloom all throughout the season like a perfectly synchronized symphony of color. The birds make serene yet sturdy home, and the grasshoppers, crickets and cicadas sing joyfully, as though the prairie is the stage built just for the opera they themselves composed. The butterflies breeze in and out and all around, abundantly surrounded by the nectar produced by the wildflowers, willfully carrying pollen to our Creator’s intended destination.

And while this scene is placid, rich in nourishment and even definitively divine, it is actually much more complicated than that. By way of God, the prairie has had to learn over and over again that the only way its beauty can be attained is through the occasional burn to the ground. By history and by chance, prairies often started on fire from lightning. As man has made efforts to restore the prairie to its natural state, it has become understood that this ceremonious spring burn is in fact essential to the health, vibrance and longevity of the prairie. The burn chokes out the weeds, and the rich, blackened ground adds to the nutrients in the soil to replenish the plants. This welcomes the sun to drench the earth in a warm blanket, inviting and encouraging the grasses and plants to grow back in the quickest, most robust and healthiest way possible.

It is interesting that such beauty must be tormented by such searing pain in order to truly thrive. It seems this is perhaps symbolic of the human experience, and what we need to thrive as well. Often in life, things are humming along beautifully. So beautifully, in fact, that we may not even take notice of the abundance with which we have been blessed. Taking it for granted, it is often called, and it is something that seems to be inherent to the human experience.

Grief has been the spring burn in the prairie of my life. I’ve had my share of loss, and at times it has been the source of incredible pain. Death of my parents, loss of friendship, failure of a marriage. Most recently, it was having to make the decision to euthanize a cat who shared her life with me for fourteen years. Regardless of the loss, the experience and the outcome has always been the same. It has been pain so blistering that it forces me to revisit every bout of loss that predated the one I am currently experiencing. That being said, it has also provided me with a cleansing of sorts. A way to feel the burn, and really let it dig down deep in my soul. A way to let my tears wash over me and drive the cumulative toxins out of my soul. A way to remember that I am human, and only human, at the end of the day. And at the conclusion of each new milestone of grief, I am able to brush myself off and move on triumphantly with life…with a renewed reminder of all that really matters.

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