Prairie paths and wildlife

By Carol / October 7, 2009 /

A friend asked if I planned to mow the prairie off. It hadn’t occurred to me until she said something. I had been thinking to let the snow and rain mat the grass down to mulch. The prairie plants appear to push through no matter what, though it takes longer with grass competition.

Once she planted the idea, though, it took root and grew until I found myself on the tractor headed for the prairie. Not to mow it all off. More to see what I’d find if I mowed some.

My first swath followed a curving line that approximated the line of a path I imagined walking while Big Bluestem wave over my head and Gray-headed Coneflowers blink in the sun (three years from now). It took two swipes to get the long tendrils of wiry crab grass clipped off. Sure enough, small prairie plants were hidden under all that shade.

I grew braver, mowing swaths in other directions, each time making sure to cut around the still-blooming Partridge Peas and avoiding by a wide margin my newly blooming Common Sunflower.

At one point, I looked back over my shoulder. There in an area I’d just mowed was a rabbit. Not injured, but scared out into the open by the tractor. I stopped at the edge of the prairie, got off the tractor and walked back, to within a few feet of the rabbit. It never moved. Just huddled still, looking at me with its black eyes. I walked all around that rabbit and it never moved. I had anticipated prairie plants under the crab grass. I had not been thinking of prairie animals.

To be honest, I’m not a fan of rabbits. More often than not, they’re nibbling at some plant I’d rather keep – like the broccoli and kohlrabi in my spring garden. I have no doubt this was not the only rabbit in my prairie. It occurred to me it might be a mama with a late-season nest of babies hidden elsewhere.

After considering that rabbit for quite some time, I stopped mowing all together. After a hard freeze, I may go back and finish the task. But for now, I’ll just let nature take it course. My prairie should have diversity of flora and fauna. Even if it means rabbits.

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