Tag Archives: tallgrass prairie

I’ve Gotta Crow!

My third-place ribbon in photography in the 2015 Visions of the Flint Hills art show at the Buttonwood Art Space in Kansas City, Missouri.

My third-place ribbon in photography in the 2015 Visions of the Flint Hills art show at the Buttonwood Art Space in Kansas City, Missouri.

I started entering art shows this year.  Got in some, shut out of others. My latest entries were for the Visions of the Flint Hills show at the Buttonwood Art Space, 3013 Main St.,  Kansas City, Missouri, which runs through November 27, 2015. This time, two of my photographs were accepted, and one earned a third-place ribbon in photography. Hurrah! The opening event was part of Kansas City’s First Fridays art walk.

But the real story isn’t about me, but the gorgeous Flint Hills of Kansas, which is the true star of the art and photography show.

For seven years Buttonwood Art Space has supported the Flint Hills area of Kansas and its unique place in our greater regional ecosystem through this annual art benefit. Visions of the Flint Hills Art Benefit and Sale is a juried exhibit featuring art of the Flint Hills. Sweeping paintings of sky and native prairie grass dominate the show, but sculpture pieces, fiber works and photos are also featured. The art is on exhibit October and November, in Buttonwood Art Space.
Proceeds from the event will benefit a non-profit organization, Friends of the Konza Prairie, a 501(c)3 organization which is involved in supporting the Konza Prairie, an 8,600 acre research and educational preserve south of Manhattan, Kansas. The Flint Hills are the continent’s largest remaining tract of Tallgrass native prairie which is also one of America’s unique places.  This unique geographic area once swept over 170 million acres of North America and was home to huge herds of buffalo and elk.  It is now a vanishing area. It harbors a wealth of adventure, beauty, and history. The region’s sweeping horizons and carpets of wildflowers captivate artists and enchant visitors.

I took these photographs at a photography workshop at the Cowboy Way Ranch near Westmoreland, Kansas, organized by Craig McCord and Jason Soden. My photographer friend Lynn told me about it and drove us there, so without these photographers, I wouldn’t have experienced this prairie burn. I am in their debt.

My photo, of a Kansas Rancher Starting a Controlled Burn, is on the left. The photo on the right shows a controlled prairie burn at night. Art patrons can choose a best of show. Voting continues!

My photo, of a Kansas Rancher Starting a Controlled Burn, is on the left. The photo on the right shows a controlled prairie burn at night. Art patrons can choose a best of show. Voting continues!

“At sunset, three riders hurry to an area to be burned in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Smoke already fills the skies and plumes rise in the valley beyond. Ranchers replicate natural fires when they burn the prairie, which preserves the grassland.” I was sitting on a flatbed trailer, bumping up a hill as the truck made its way to the next burn area, when I saw these three riders.  It was smoky, it was getting dark dark, it was hard to focus and steady my hand, but I did get this one shot.  The rider in back holds onto her hat as they race across the prairie.  The hat had flown off her head on another day, so she was taking no chances.

Photo on Visions of the Flint Hills website here:  Three Riders in the Kansas Flint Hills

“A rancher on horseback starts a controlled burn by dragging a fiery tire across the prairie in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Ranchers replicate natural fires when they burn the prairie every few years, which preserves the prairie as a grassland.”  This happened so fast that I almost missed it. Several others at the workshop captured it, too.
Photo on Visions of the Flint Hills website here: Kansas Rancher Stating a Controlled Burn

Buttonwood Art Space.

Crossroads Art District First Fridays

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Filed under Art, Kansas, Kansas City, Life, Photography

Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover National Historical Site in West Branch, Iowa

A sign featuring the McDonald’s and Kum & Go businesses marks I-80 highway on the southern border of the restored 81-acre Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa. To the left is a West Branch water tower. A few miles farther east in Walcott is the Iowa 80, the world’s largest Truck Stop.

Today, I drove through the Flint Hills of Kansas.  I do this often enough that I often forget to appreciate that this section of grassland is rare and beautiful.  (In other words, I’m thinking impatiently “Are we there yet?”) The Flint Hills area is one of the few remnants of the vast Tallgrass Prairie that once covered the midsection of North America.  Ninety-eight percent of the great Tallgrass Prairie is now gone, plowed under for crops. Tallgrass prairie soil is very fertile, and some parts of the prairie have some of the deepest topsoil ever recorded.  The Flint Hills were spared the plow, because the ground is so rocky and hard to cultivate. Part of the Flint Hills is now a national preserve. (See link below.)

On a driving trip in June, my husband and I visited another remnant of Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.  The restored 81-acre prairie is just north of I-80 in the eastern part of Iowa.  Nearby is the grave site of Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou.  A block away is Hoover’s birthplace cottage, which is in its original location. There are also several 19th century buildings, including houses, a school, Quaker meeting house and a blacksmith shop.

Black-eyed susan wildflowers are among the dozens of wildflowers that were re-introduced to the restored Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.

Coneflowers sway in the wind in the restored Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa. In the background are orange milkweed plants, also known as butterfly weed.

At the top is the small cottage where Herbert Hoover was born in 1874 in West Branch, Iowa. At the bottom are the graves of Hoover and his wife Lou, which are near the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. The graves are about a block from the Hoover birthplace cottage.

About the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas.

Plants at the Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.

About the Tallgrass Prairie.

Iowa 80, world’s Largest Truck Stop.

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Filed under Environment, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Presidents, Travel

The Prairie Center

 

Botantist and Environmentalist Frank Norman displays a sumac shrub on a recent nature walk at The Prairie Center in Olathe, Kansas. Smooth Sumac is a native shrub that is widespread across the country.

 

October is a favorite time of year in the Midwest.  It’s not too hot, there’s a crisp feel to the air, and a tangy fragrance wafts in the wind.   This smoke-tinged perfume could be just the dying breath of trees as they shed their leaves and hunker down for winter, but it brings back sweet memories of apple harvests, and trick-or-treating and shuffling in the leaves on the walk home from elementary school.  (On the way to school, I trudged rather than shuffled through the leaves.)

I’ve lived in the Kansas City area for most of my life, but I’m still discovering its treasures.  One is the Prairie Center in Olathe, Kansas. On Oct. 10, some friends, family members and I joined two dozen others on a stroll through part of the center’s 300 acres.  Frank Norman of Norman Ecological Consulting led the walk, which focused on native medicinal prairie plants.  Sue Holcomb of Grasslands Heritage Foundation also pointed out many of the native plants in the prairie preserve, which includes 45 acres of virgin prairie. Virgin prairie means that the land was never plowed, which is very rare to find.  Only five percent of the original tallgrass prairie remains today in the United States.

 

 

The Downy Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta) is a beautiful, rare find. It's small, but because of its brilliant blue color, it's easy to spot if you're lucky enough to find some.

 

 

The partridge pea (Cassia chamecrista) is a bright spot among the browning fall grasses at the Olathe Prairie Center.

 

 

In Autumn, sunflowers tower above the asters and other plants at the Prairie Center in Olathe.

 

 

Milkweed pods and willow-leaf purple aster at the Prairie Center in Olathe.

 

Here’s a post I wrote in the summer of 2008 about the Kansas City Symphony’s performance in the Flint Hills: Kansas City Symphony in the Flint Hills.

To learn more, click on these links.

Olathe Prairie Center

Grassland Heritage Foundation.

Dennis Toll has stopped blogging here, but the blog still contains a lot of information about the prairie, as well as useful links.

Flint Hills, Tall Grass

Sumac.

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Filed under Biology, Conservation, Education, Environment, History, Kansas, Kansas City, Life, Nature, Photography, Science

Kansas City Symphony in the Flint Hills

 Cowboys herded cattle during the music of \

SYMPHONY in the FLINT HILLS   A symphony concert in a pasture?  Hmmmm?  Concert veterans Matt and Sue R. told us about the Kansas City Symphony’s third annual concert in the Flint Hills of Kansas on June 15.

A cowgirl along the path to the concert.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.

A cowgirl along the path to the concert. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

I love the symphony, but I thought of some drawbacks.  Chiggers, mosquitoes, snakes.   And Kansas summer weather.  It changes from hour to hour.  Hot, humid, thunderstorms, lightning, mud, floods, even tornadoes. Take your pick.   I experienced nearly all of them at Girl Scout camp……

(Later, I discovered a hazard I hadn’t thought of, though I should have known better.  Cowpies!  I stepped in one.  I worried about the other possible calamities for nothing.  I returned home unscathed without even a sunburn!)

Another attraction was our friends who had a vacation house on Lake Wabaunsee, which wasn’t that far away from the concert site.  The lake is interesting its own right because it was built by the CCC crews during the Great Depression, and cabins there housed German prisoners of War during World War II.

The two Sues make the long trek to the concert site.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The two Sues make the long trek to the concert site. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

This year, the concert was just south of Council Grove, a three-hour drive from our house.  The location changes every year for variety and because the audience of five thousand people can do a lot of damage to the land, even if only for a day. 

 Matt and Sue, the old friends who’d gone to the second annual concert, did the hard work of dialing for tickets, which were sold out within an hour. 

To get to the concert area, we walked a mile from the parking lot, hauling our chairs, soft coolers full of food and drink, hats, sunblock, umbrellas, bug spray and cameras.  There were wagons and shuttles for those who couldn’t make it on foot.  Or were smarter than I was.  Our group arrived early enough to sit close to the stage, but Sue pointed to an an area at the top of the hill.  She knew that the higher you sat, the better to enjoy the sweeping vista.  She was right! 

A group of music lovers stake out a spot. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

A group of music lovers stake out a spot. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The symphony patrons are seated in front on hard seats that they paid extra for, but the cheap seats are the best. 

In the afternoon before the concert, experts gave talks in tents on many Flint Hills topics, such as archeology, Kansas birds, ranching, geology, the prairie grass and wildflowers. You learned something, and you got out of the sun.  (More about the Flint Hills below.)

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius addresses the crowd. Photo by Cathy Sherman

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius addresses the crowd. Photo by Cathy Sherman

Now, we’ll go live.  Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, honorary chair, greets the crowd.  The first half of the program features Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 ) and works by Chadwick and Copland.

Matt and Sue R.

Matt and Sue R.

 As the sun sinks in the west (sounds like a Zane Grey Western), it’s still hot, humid and sunny.  Cowboys herd a river of cattle on a hillside as the Symphony plays “The Great Westerns Suite,” a medley of powerful music from four western movies.  The setting sun brushes everyone and everything with gold. My eyes tear up as the theme to How the West Was Won fills the valley.  I loved that movie as a girl.  I still love it.  (Spoiler alert) I cry over Jimmy Stewart’s death yet again.  “Oh, Linus,” I can still hear Carroll Baker’s character say.  Also featured is music from The Magnificent Seven, Silverado and Dances With Wolves.  I’m a sucker for every western archetype.  Sue later discovered that the cattle drive — so perfectly timed — was not part of the program.  We’d thought the arrival of the cattle was choreographed to match the magestic western music. Instead, the cattle had broken free from their alarmed cowboy escorts and headed toward the music on their own!

Brooke.

Brooke watches the cattle make their way toward the music, which we later discovered was not choreographed as we'd thought. Sue R. said that the cattle broke free from their alarmed cowboy escorts. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The sound is huge, but you can still hear the chirp of crickets and appreciate the rolling hills and rhythm of the cattle as they flow across the land.  It makes you think of corny phrases like “The hills are alive with music.”  Everything is grand. The music, the view, th"Ashokan Farewell" plays as the sun sets.e history.  The real tear-jerker is the last song on the program, Ashokan Farewell, the theme from the Ken Burns miniseries, The Civil War.  The Kansas State Song, Home on the Range, plays as we prepare to leave.  Everyone knows the words…..

The crowd of 5,000 winds its way to the parking lot after an inspiring day. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The crowd of 5,000 winds its way to the parking lot after the concert. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

 

THE FLINT HILLS —I’ve lived in Kansas since I was two, but I haven’t spent much time on the Kansas prairie after my days at Girl Scout camp.  The Flint Hills are a band of hills stretching through the center of Kansas into Oklahoma, comprised of limestone and shale.  Zebulon Pike named the hills for the flint-like chert stone he saw in the limestone.

I studied prairie grass in college botany classes and driven through the Flint Hills at least a hundred times on the Kansas turnpike, which bisects it, but until I walked through the tall grass itself I didn’t realize how beautiful and diverse it is.  And it definitely isn’t flat.  Geologist Rex Buchanan can tell you by looking at each hill what layer of rock lies underneath.

Prairie once covered a third of the North American continent.  The largest portion of virgin tallgrass prairie lies in the Flint Hills, which escaped plowing because it’s so rocky.  The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, the first national park devoted solely to the preservation of the nation’s prairie heritage, is 11,000 acres near Strong City.Blue Wild Indigo, a wildflower in the Tallgrass Prairie of the Flint Hills.  It was used as a dye. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Not so long ago, the tallgrass prairie reached into eastern Kansas, where I live.  Tallgrass prairie once blanketed Mount Oread in Lawrence, the home of the University of Kansas.  There’s plenty of rainfall for trees, but fires periodically killed the trees and shrubs.  Modern man keeps the natural fires from burning the trees (and the buildings.) Now mature trees are everywhere in eastern Kansas, making it look more like Missouri than it did when Quantrill’s raiders swept in.  

My backyard, which is a mile from Missouri, is part of that state’s oak – history forest and has walnut, redbud, mulberry, hickory, hackberry, elm trees, plus the Campanile on the campus of the University of Kansas, surrounded by trees where once there were none. Photo by Cathy Sherman.oaks– burr, shingle and chestnut.

On the KU campus, an acre was devoted to the tallgrass prairie that once prevailed there (I don’t know whether it’s still there), but you need thousands of acres to make a prairie.  And it’s a living thing, too, made up of hundreds of different species of plants, animals and insects.  A fire every now and then burns out the shrubs and trees and regenerates the grass and wildflowers. Lightning used to start the fires. Now, mostly ranchers do.

One April I was driving to Wichita for an Easter weekend.  As I passed through the Flint Hills during a controlled burn, huge dark flakes began to cloud my windshield.  It was snow, tinged with ash.  Ranchers burn every spring, and it doesn’t take long before the hills are green again.

 

Symphony in the Flint Hills websitewww.SymphonyintheFlintHills.org   

Interesting websites about the prairie:

Tallgrass Prairie National Preservewww.nps.gov/tapr  

Geologist Rex Buchanan points out a rock formation in the Flint Hills in a talk about the geology of the area. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Geologist Rex Buchanan points out a rock formation in the Flint Hills in a talk about the geology of the area. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Kansas Wildflowers www.kswildflower.org 

The Nature Conservancy in Kansas — www.nature.org/Kansas

Kansas Wildlife & Parks www.kdwp.state.ks.us
 

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