Until I knew the prairies, mid-July was not my favorite time in Indiana. This time of year is hot and often wretchedly humid, and the colors of spring — so sweetly surprising after a winter unfolding mostly in grayscale — have all faded into a uniform green. The redbuds are gone, and spring flowers no longer carpet the forest floor. And anyway, hiking in the woods is no longer a reliably refreshing experience; stinging nettles and poison ivy crowd out woodland trails, and the respirations of the trees can feel superheated. Paddling may not offer an alternative, as the waters are too often warmish and clogged with algae.
The prairies in full bloom, as they are now, are different. The sun is still hot on a July prairie, but it does always set, bringing cooler air and sweeter light. Although everything else seems quieter, the birds are still noisy at dusk, swooping from flower to flower and chattering the whole time.
Large portions of northern Indiana were once covered with tall-grass prairie, the plants so high they could conceal a horse and rider. In some parts of the Midwest, a human being might see nothing but this tangle of grasses and flowers in every possible direction, clear to the horizon.
As we were walking through the prairie on Friday night, we startled a buck that had bedded down in the plants and he bounded away. I hope he found another good spot to sleep.
(The rest of the images are on the Trailhead’s Facebook page.)