Prairie Sentinels

Prairie Sentinels

April 29, 2017

There is a unique strength of character in the people of the prairies.  I’m not saying it is better, worse, stronger or weaker than is found in other parts of the country - just unique.  There are many influences, I’m sure, but it seems to me that one of the sources of this uniqueness is the fact that, up until recent generations, many residents had their life foundations formed on their family farm or ranch.  The influences may have come from seeing Dad and Mom working hard, every day, to make a living; as a young person, getting up early every morning to do the assigned chores before going to school and then doing the evening chores before going to bed; living with the risks caused by the seasons and the weather, and seeing the impact of the risks on Dad and Mom.

Part of living on the land in the prairies is being with the relentless wind.  The wind can be a breeze or a gale, but it is always there.  All the prairie folk grow up with this and it is no wonder they look to trees to break the force of the wind just a little.  The trees, too, struggle to start and grow, but when they do they also demonstrate a strength.  Growing in this environment, they send their roots deep into the ground looking for moisture.  They grow slowly, yet once established they, like the farmers and ranchers of the prairies, attain a toughness that makes them last.

When I was young, in the 1950’s, you could look out on a relatively barren prairie landscape.  There were not many trees to be seen.  Now those same landscapes look like an armada of schooners with green sails floating on the green, brown, and yellow ocean of the prairies.  The cottonwoods and aspens seem to be grouped in social clusters, but I’ve learned from my horticulturally-learned friend that these clusters are all the same tree which, in order to take in more energy from the sun, sends out suckers that grow into trees.  Those connected trunks appear as sentinels on the land.  They stand tall in the face of the wind and the weather, and offer a place of repose for us, the mobile residents of the prairies.

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The Image

The prairie poplars in the image above are standing strong in the face of a chinook wind.  The torn clouds above show the force of the winds.  As strong as these trees are, there is evidence on the ground that the wind and snow has taken its toll in the past.