A slender footpath threads its way through an Illinois wilderness – as the growing season ends – a time to relish the passing richness – and to think about what comes next.
Scarlet oaks stand out, and the bur oaks among them are nearly invisible. But burs have secrets worth knowing.
|The fringed gentian is a much rarer and more conservative plant than New England aster.|
But it too seems to appreciate disturbance.
|Here the gentians are just a couple of blue dots in the background of a partly-burned-off nannyberry shrub. |
Probably all the grasses, sedges, and flowers here have some adaptations to their dynamic fire-pruned shrub neighbors.
|Briars are beautiful, delicious, and under-appreciated members of the shrub club.|
This one is black raspberry, identifiable by its powder-blue canes.
|Many species of roses are also support shrubland wildlife. Tangles full of roses are especially appreciated by birds |
for sequestering their nests. This one, with most leaves in fives, is swamp rose.
|Gradually some savannas become bur oak groves, very resistant to fire. |
But oaks may live three or four hundred years. Some here predate the coming of the Europeans. They are our elders.
|This grand old wreck of a tree stands by itself, |
framing views of dramatic scarlet oaks and hidden young burs in the distance.
|Nearby lichens, mosses, fungi, and animals are gradually turning the trunk of a fallen old giant back to soil and air.|
We remember when it fell. It was precious to us as a tree, and now it's precious as a log. We're glad it finally had a chance to reproduce, and we rejoice in its many saplings nearby. These organisms are our friends. As we learn and understand more and more about them, we enjoy being better neighbors. It's a good feeling to walk through all this thriving natural richness, season by season.