Fall Colors on the Prairie
Oh, give me the far sweep of the prairies,
Their spaces serene and vast;
The life-giving dew, and the varying hew
Of their sweet-scented, sun curing grass.
Oh, give me the strength of the north wind,
The calm of the stars on high;
Oh, give me the breadth of the prairies-
The ineffable blue of their sky.
I don’t know if Huldah Lucile Winsted had a particular season in mind when she wrote that poem, but I think of it more during the fall when that “sun curing grass” covers the landscape with a soft golden-bronze. There is a subtle beauty to the Dakota prairie, and autumn is a special time of year.
You are not likely to hear or see announcements about peak fall colors on the prairie. It is the deciduous forest that gets all the press. The prairie does, however, put on an impressive show of subtle yet intriguing colors, tones, and textures. But unlike the forest which shouts its display, the prairie whispers.
Gold predominates of course, but there are certainly other colors on the landscape, such as the winey-red little bluestem on the sidehills and the yellow-green switchgrass and cordgrass lower on the landscape. Fall wildflowers include the goldenrods and asters which often dot the landscape with yellows, whites, and lavenders. In many areas there are also some patches of red roses, crimson chokecherry, silver sage, and ribbons of yellow ash and cottonwood in the drainages. Those landscapes are truly impressive, and they tend to last longer than in our arboreal counterparts.
I can’t think of a better place to observe this fall extravaganza than the North Dakota badlands. However there are interesting prairie perspectives all across our state, from Oakville Prairie west of Grand Forks to Fortuna, and Marmarth to McLeod.
Make a point of getting out and enjoying the autumn show on the prairie. It is all around us, and like many aspects of the familiar, is often underappreciated. So savor the fall colors on the prairie this season, soak in that “sun cured” grass, and as Winsted would remind you, don’t forget to observe the “ineffable blue” of the prairie sky.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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