The Tallgrass Prairie – Go!

Yesterday, I took a day off from work to go on a fieldtrip (pun intended) to the Tallgrass Prairie to do a little “research” for my next children’s book, which involves a buffalo (bison) going to the Tallgrass Prairie. Here’s one of the illustrations that I’ve been working on.

My deadline to complete the illustrations is at the end of this month, so I felt the need for a little inspiration. I got it! I love the Tallgrass Prairie, and I think you will too. If you haven’t been and are looking for a day trip, consider taking a drive to this nearby natural wonder.

The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is near Pawhuska, only about 45 minutes from Tulsa. Once you get to Pawhuska, there are signs leading you to the entry.

Once there, there’s only one road snaking its way through the plains. There are several scenic turn-outs along the way where you can stop and get photos of the bison and the natural vistas.

Follow the road for about 16 miles, and you’ll find the visitors’ center. I recommend stopping there because (1) there are clean restrooms; (2) you’ll find a friendly person who can give you lots of information and answer any questions you have; (3) you can pick up some written information; and (4) there are a couple of marked trails nearby.

I took my labradoodle Lucy along, and we took the shorter of the two trails.

As you can see, they’re clear and easy to follow. The longer trail is through one of the rare wooded areas on the prairie. If you’re quiet, you may see some wildlife. I had hoped to see a group (herd? bunch? flock?) of migrating Monarch Butterflies, but didn’t. I did see a red-headed woodpecker, lots of Meadowlarks, a bright red Cardinal that flew up out of the grass in front of me. Oh, and lots of hawks. I was told that eagles are a pretty common sight as well.

Lucy enjoyed the trail and the wide-open spaces.

There are benches along the trail if you want to stop and rest or maybe write or sketch – or just enjoy the silence and the scenery. Sitting there, you can imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago. I didn’t see another person and was only reminded that other visitors may be there by the occasional dust kicked up by a vehicle driving on the distant dirt and gravel road that slashes through the prairie.

And every season provides you with a different scene at the prairie. In the spring, the purple redbuds dot the landscape and baby bison wobble along. One year I went with my youngest daughter and there were so many flowers that it looked like a yellow blanket had been thrown over the entire place. This time, the tall brown grasses were slashed through with groups of red sumac.

We took this selfie at the end of the trail.

Walking the trail is a great way to wear out your dog or your kids.

As Lucy and I left the prairie, I had to stop twice to let the bison cross the road.

Clearly, they are the primary creatures here, not humans. They may decide to stand in front of your car for quite some time.

Being in the middle of the prairie, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what felt so different there. As I drove out of the preserve into the rural landscape, I realized that I was used to driving on roads that were lined with fences. Maybe I didn’t see actual people, but the fences and occasional driveways reminded me that they were there, and that they had in some way altered the land. At the Tallgrass Prairie, you can be in a place with no fences, no telephone poles and no human thing to alter and shape the natural landscape surrounding you.

When I got back from the prairie, I was telling my daughter Mary about my trip, and she reminded me about this poem by Wallace Stevens. I’ve always read this poem as how humans take over the wilderness, shaping it and taming it in ways that take away its natural beauty. It was a fitting end to my day of feeling grateful to still be able to visit protected areas such as the Tallgrass Prairie.

Anecdote of the Jar

By Wallace Stevens

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Categories: Editor’s Blog