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Prairie Notes are monthly photo/journal observations from Tandy Hills Natural Area by Founder/Director, Don Young. They include field reports, flora and fauna sightings, and more, mixed with a scoop of dry humor and a bit of philosophy. They are available free to all who get on the FOTHNA email list.

Horizontal Grandeur

Prairie Notes: #58
October 1, 2011

1) Horizontal Grandeur
2) Litter Stomp
3) Field Report
4) Wildflower of the Moment
5) The Prairie Eye of Bill Holm
6) Prairie Plant Puzzler
7) Mesquite Bean Jelly
8) Prairie Proverb

1) Horizontal Grandeur

Just days before Henry David Thoreau died from tuberculosis in 1862, he dragged himself from his sick-bed for one last walk. The ever-curious Henry had to see what was new outside after a rainstorm the previous night. He described in his journal some patterns made in the sand by raindrops. Then he recorded the final line of his journal:

"All this is perfectly distinct to the observant eye, and yet could easily pass unnoticed by most."

Amen, Henry. Despite an epic drought, there is still plenty to observe across the horizontal grandeur* of Tandy Hills Natural Area. Not as much as normal, by a long-shot, but still there to the searching eye. With water in short supply, it seems like everything at Tandy Hills is searching more keenly than usual.

A single Monarch butterfly dances around the prairie, searching for an elusive bit of pollen; the silent, gliding of a Cooper's Hawk searching for anything that moves; prairie grass roots, searching deeper and deeper for moisture; and me, searching for solitude, inspiration and a photo-op or two.

With the advent of the Autumn Equinox on September 23, the days are noticeably shorter and the evenings cooler. A little rain shower on the night of 9/29/11 and a cool front is bound to liven up the prairie. I urge you to follow the lead of our friend, Henry, and drag yourself to Tandy Hills, ASAP.


The great wide open horizontal grandeur of Tandy Hills is undeniable, even in a drought.

2) Litter Stomp

On a cloudy and humid September 17, about twenty, tough-as-nails-prairie-keepers, showed to stomp out litter at Tandy Hills. We stomped valiantly through the muddy creek banks and wet brush to bag a sizable amount of trash. The original plan was to clean out the creek bottoms, but an unexpected, yet welcome rain shower the night before put the kibosh on that plan. The creeks were full of water forcing us to search the privet-choked banks for whatever we could find. A grand time and a cool T-shirt was had by all.

Special thanks to FOTHNA website ace, Jen Schultes, for organizing the City of Fort Worth-sponsored event. See what you missed, here:

The Dominguez family of Litter Stompers helps clean up Tandy Hills.

3) Field Report

- A couple of thunderstorms brought cooler temps and about 1" of rain in mid-September. Although hundreds of Rain Lilies (Cooperia drummondii) dotted the withered prairie a few days later, there's no denying that Autumn 2011 at Tandy Hills is a shadow of its former self. Waves of dead or dying trees define the upper elevations plainly show how dry it is. The grasses are burnt and show no sign of returning this year. A few isolated wildflowers dot the prairie but they are mostly stunted and scraggly. The only exception being, Two-leaf Senna. (see #4, below)

- The following wildflowers and shrubs are now blooming at THNA, albeit undersized and in greatly diminished numbers: Maximilian Sunflower, Silver Nightshade, Eryngo, Snow-on-the-Prairie, Old Plainsman, Saw-leaf Daisy, Prairie Broomweed, Two-leaf Senna, Gay Feather, False Gaura and Giant Blue Sage.

- Insect numbers are equally depleted, very few Dragonflies have been spotted, although mosquitos are mounting a modest comeback. A pair of Cooper's Hawks, have been patrolling the skies lately. At least one rabbit survived the Summer and the Roadrunner still makes brief appearances. Sadly, one of the raccoons perished in late September.

Rainlilies on the prairie the day after a heavy rain.

Rainlilies living up to their name.

Upper elevations, especially, show signs of drought.

Old Plainsman, aka: Wooly White, is not as wooly as usual.


4) Wildflower of the Moment

What a pleasure it is to see the cheerful blossoms of Two-leaf Senna in a drought-stricken meadow. Their sulphur yellow flowers and distinctive, split leaves are a marvel of engineering and adaptation. They tolerate heat, cold and dry, rocky soil with apparent ease while their seeds supply an important food for birds. They are also a larval host for various Sulphur butterflies, including, the Cloudless Giant Sulphur, one of which I happened to see in late September. Senna's bloom from April to October and are popping up like daisies all over the prairie.

WARNING: This plant is toxic and deadly to mammals including, humans and especially children. There have been reports of drought-starved wildlife and cattle dying after eating Two-leaf Senna. Use appropriate caution around the plants.

The seeds of Two-leaf Senna are an important food source for birds.

Two-leaf Senna is a welcome sight on the drought-stricken prairie.

5) The Prairie Eye of Bill Holm

Who the heck is Bill Holm, you may ask? Bill Holm was, among other things, a "poet of the plains." He was born in 1943 in Minnesota to Swedish prairie farmers. He died in 2009. By many a measure, Bill was an extraordinary man. He also appreciated the grandeur of prairies.

By chance, I recently discovered a beautiful essay he wrote titled, Horizontal Grandeur. It is from his 1990 book, a collection of short essays and prose poems titled, The Music of Failure. (Prairie Grass Press, 1990) Check out these excerpts:

"Prairies, like mountains, stagger the imagination most not in detail, but size. As a mountain is high, a prairie is wide; horizontal grandeur, not vertical."

and more:

"There are two eyes in the human head - the eye of mystery and the eye of harsh truth - the hidden and the open - the woods eye and the prairie eye."

You will be richly rewarded by reading the complete essay. Here's a Word doc.

Read a nice remembrance of Bill Holm by, Garrison Keillor, here:

Bill Holm

6) Prairie Plant Puzzler

Do you know me? A stunner, right! I'm one of the few purple-ish wildflowers you will see on the Autumn prairie. I'm often mistaken for a thistle just because of my prickliness. Others say I'm strange-looking but I know I'm ornamentally regal. As beautiful as I am, you better treat me with respect or you'll regret it.

(Be the first to guess my name and win a beautiful, organic cotton, Tandy Hills bandana that'll blow your mind AND your nose.)

Stumped by the September puzzler? Answer: Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)

Name me and win a cool prize.

7) Mesquite Bean Jelly

Speaking of Honey Mesquite, George Cates of, Native American Seed, who lives out in Junction, Texas, where Mesquite trees are aplenty sent me this snappy little two-minute video on making jelly out of the beans. You can't get more "Texas" than this. Check it out here:

8) Prairie Proverb

I've seen redwoods and palm trees
but it was the bare, brown, empty hills
that crackled my name
like a relative a housedress,
calling me in for dinner,
impoverished, dry, old
but simple and good.

~ LeAnne Ries, from her poem, Pulled Back, 2011

September sunset at Tandy Hills Natural Area