The Last Windrow: Let's preserve the values of past landscapes

Today, wild prairies are slowly being re-established, but we will never see the vast seas of tall grass prairies and the animal life that went with the originals.

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

I spied him crawling on his hands and knees through the waist high tall bluestem grass. At first I thought he might have had a stroke in that hot Iowa summer sun, but that was not the case.

He was in search of tiny wild prairie flowers and plants. Watching him crawl through the high, virgin prairie grass was my first experience in thinking about how the wild prairies of the Midwest provided the base for the farmland of today.

I was totally under-educated at that age as to what a subject the environment would become in years down the road.

Prairie grass and flowers during sunset. Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.


The fellow I'm referring to is one of my second or third cousins. His name is Bill and he has spent his life looking at the plants and animals that surround many of us.

Before retiring, he was a professor in the environmental field at a Chicago area university. From the smallest prairie flowers to the tall grasses that covered the land, all of them were and are treasured by Bill. Since retiring a number of years ago, he has devoted himself to educating the folks around him in regard to the disappearing wild prairie.

He sponsored a small, educational building in the small community of Westfield, Iowa, with exhibits explaining the plants and creatures of that area of the Loess Hills country.

My college days where I was a wildlife biology student brought me the class in plant taxonomy. The professor had much the same love of the prairie as did my cousin Bill. Other students and I trudged behind our professor across the prairie of South Dakota with our Gray's Taxonomy manuals in hand.

With that thick publication one could track down about any plant that grew there. The class was allowed to dig a small trench on the grassland and we found out how deep prairie plants were. It was astounding to find that many of those roots went to depths of six feet or more.

It was no wonder how those plants had led to creating some of the most fertile farmland in the world. Grazed by buffalo, fertilized by prairie fires and uncut by the plow, those millions of acres of grassland ended up to be the fuel that led to the settlement of the country.

The serene panoramic landscape at sunrise of the Kansas Tallgrass Prairie Preserve with rolling hills, waves of blowing grass, rich golden colors and a faded, morning moon.


Today, wild prairies are slowly being re-established, but we will never see the vast seas of tall grass prairies and the animal life that went with the originals.

The area in Iowa where I grew up once sported thick flocks of prairie chickens. My grandfather showed me places on our farm where the buffalo wallows once dimpled the earth's surface. Granddad called them "wolf mounds" because the story was that prairie wolves used to sit atop the ridges of the wallows to survey their area from a slightly elevated plane.

Today those wallows are long gone under the plow. Corn and bean fields cover the surface where once wild daisies, sunflowers and wild roses sprung.

My mother's homeplace farm was recently sold to Pheasants Forever. That quarter section of hilly land is being turned back to high grass prairie. Pheasants and Hungarian partridge will be nesting among those high hills and yellow-breasted meadowlarks will once again trill to the blue skies above.

An American Bison standing in tall grass prairie. Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Nearby, a herd of buffalo has been introduced and now munch on the prairie grass that still remains due to the steep, un-farmable slopes of the cat-stepped hills. I spied the herd grazing in a deep valley a few years ago and the sight gave me a picture of what used to be.

I knew then why the Native Americans fought to remain on the land.


Through the years I have become increasingly appreciative of people like my cousin Bill. He was ahead of his time in working to preserve a bit of what once was, and he had the foresight to provide what he learned to a new generation.

Maybe, just maybe our younger generation will see the value in his and others' efforts and continue to preserve the values of the past landscape. The land can heal itself if given a chance.

See you next time. Okay?

What To Read Next
Members Only
Get Local


Must Reads