When Prairie Takes Hold

I was thinking about my Dad the other day–his birthday is coming up, and I have been doing some tasks that involve me looking at old pictures.

Dad was very hard-of-hearing.  He was totally deaf in one ear, and had maybe 20-30% capacity out of the other.  He had normal hearing at birth, but became mostly deaf after a bout with the mumps at the age of 3.  He did not communicate well–he had mostly one-way conversations.  He had some emotional issues that arose out of his inability to hear.

We did not really communicate well or share similar interests until late in his (and my own) life.  I went off to college, got a degree, and started working.  After several years of work and a couple more years of school, I moved back to the small town where they lived.

Dad had a little patch of land where he had planted some prairie plants in his back yard.

Most of the prairie that was in Iowa was removed by the European settlers who came here in the 1840’s–plowed under, drained, etc.  Only a small fraction of one percent remains.  But if you collect the seeds and plant them, something that resembles the original prairie can come back.

Dad got involved as a volunteer seed collector for what was then called “Walnut Creek National Wildlife Refuge”  (now called “Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge”).  He was one of Pauline Drobney’s best volunteers.  I went along with Dad to a prairie remnant that is found in what is now a state park and artificial lake. He collected seeds, I took photographs of flowers and bugs.

So we shared a common interest.  Prairie is something you can share verbally and visually, but we shared it on a more fundamental level–we felt the prairie and smelled the prairie.  We immersed ourselves in the prairie.  You feel the prairie with your heart.

Life passes by so fast, however.  I got married and moved away again.   Soon Mom and Dad were in the nursing home.  They were both physically failing, but Dad kept talking about going to see the refuge.  One day, late in September, I got some assistance from the staff at the home, and loaded them up in the car and took them to the refuge.

Dad was not able to walk at that time, but we were able to load him up in the back of Pauline’s pickup and take him out to the middle of a private prairie.  He sat down in the prairie and enjoyed himself.

Here he is with Pauline.

So we all shared the prairie.  There is something magical about a prairie–I can’t tell you what it is.  The only way you can know it is to find yourself in the middle of one.

Dad is gone now.  Mom is gone too.  But they are still around when I am in the prairie.


About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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1 Response to When Prairie Takes Hold

  1. Finn Holding says:

    That’s a very moving story Harlan. It’s a wonderful thing that you found something as profoundly beautiful as the prairie to bond with your Dad over. The memories must be sweet ones.

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