On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, I went for a walk in Wisdom Prairie. Friend of Wisdom Prairie member Ron Endres was harvesting prairie seeds along the path, so I stopped to find out what he was picking. He was gathering seed from anise hyssop and placed a seed head in my hand with the instructions to rub my hands together and then smell them. Sure enough, it smelled like anise or licorice. Anise hyssop isn’t very plentiful and Ron was glad to have come across a small patch of it. It is one of only a few prairie plants that has a smell. Ron took me in search of another of the “smelly” plants, prairie sage. On the way he found some other plants to show me: a whole run of sky blue asters and smooth blue aster. They haven’t started blooming yet, but when they do, we will see a wave of light and dark blue blooming into October. We noted how to find the area so I could come back later to look for it.
Ron explained how he had laid out this prairie for planting, planting some plants in rectangles and others in runs in the midst of the general planting. Then he asked me where the penstemon were that we saw last year in this prairie. I had wondered about that. Last summer Wisdom prairie was filled with the white heads of penstemon swaying in the breeze. This summer I had seen hardly any. Ron explained that penstemon is a succession plant in the prairie. It comes up strongly the first year and keeps out the invasives while other prairie plants are taking the year to put down roots. When the slower growing plants come up, they crowd out the penstemon. Its roots are still there in the soil and when there is space for them, they will appear again. Ron said the prairie evolves over time while the plants sort out the space they need.
By this time, Ron had decided to walk along the path in the direction I was going. Suddenly, he pointed out some low-growing cream gentian plants a little way off the path. What a treat! I don’t know if I would have seen them on my own. I certainly wouldn’t have known their names. Along the way, Ron pointed out nodding onion, prairie thistle and New Jersey tea. When we circled back to near where I had met him, Ron gave me a quiz. What is that, he asked, pointing to a blue flower. New England aster, I answered.
What fun to learn more about the prairie community at Holy Wisdom from one of its intimate friends. Now when I walk, I can appreciate more fully the community that is the prairie. That’s similar to what happens when I get to know new members of Sunday Assembly, oblates or Friends of Wisdom Prairie or when I recognize a returning retreatant. We’re building community in many ways here at the monastery. This month we welcome new members to Sunday Assembly. Most of them I have met, but I’m looking forward to getting to know them in a deeper way.