Planting a Prairie
Restoring Land, Restoring Hope.
On Black Friday, 23 people came out to Saul Lake Bog Nature Preserve and planted a prairie. While the rest of America was out fighting crowds, standing in line, and getting into altercations over parking spots, 23 people were outside, breathing fresh air, doing the honest and necessary work of caring for the land. The work wasn’t difficult–spreading seeds doesn’t require much muscle or sweat. But thanks to the volunteers who scattered seeds last Friday (and many seed collectors before them), Saul Lake Prairie has nearly doubled in size and now covers fifteen expansive, life-giving acres.
I don’t know exactly why all those people came out to Saul Lake last Friday. Everyone had his or her own motivations. Some people might have had their shopping done already, or just wanted to be outside. Others were native plant enthusiasts with a real passion for imperiled ecosystems like prairies and oak savannas. Still others, like me, were drawn to the act of restoration.
Primarily, of course, planting a prairie is about the restoration of the land. In the middle of Saul Lake Bog Nature Preserve sits an old pasture that supports almost no native plants or wildlife–a biological desert, experts would call it. Through an orchestrated process of prescribed fires, site preparation, seed collecting, planting, and more burning, volunteers and staff have transformed that desert, bit by bit, into a diverse and native tallgrass prairie.
Restoring rare ecosystems like prairies has always been important work, and we’ve been doing it at Saul Lake and elsewhere for a long time. As our country deals with a changing climate and political division that may hinder large-scale solutions, our environmental future becomes more uncertain. And so now, it seems, the work of protecting and restoring native ecosystems like prairies is more urgent and important than it ever has been.
Planting a prairie is also about the restoration of hope. Taking seeds from a bucket and tossing them across a field is a simple, unglamorous act. But when done in the company of others, all working together towards a better ecological future–especially on a day like Black Friday–it’s work that can begin to restore some manner of hope for the future of humanity and for the future of natural places.
Maybe that last part is too grandiose. I hope it’s not. But if nothing else, the collective work of 23 restorationists last Friday means that, at the very least, my two-year-old daughter can come back to Saul Lake when she’s my age and find that, despite the world’s troubles, prairies still flourish.