Making way for new – Prairie & Writing

By Carol / September 20, 2016 /

We lost a grand old willow tree a year ago. Age and weather took their toll, and it finally had to be removed. Though losing the willow with all the associated memories was sad, the newly opened space made room to expand our prairie. As I’ve worked on this new project, I’ve seen many parallels to my writing life.

The willow made way for the blank slate of a new prairie patch.

The willow made way for the blank slate of a new prairie patch.

The idea of expanding the prairie has been simmering for some time. Yet, establishing the new area has not been as smooth as I’d hoped. Step one required killing off the grass. The herbicide we’d been using with good effect in other applications all of a sudden didn’t work. Ultimately, we invested in Roundup. One application and the grass was gone – along with all the prairie plant seedlings that sprouted in the spring.

Now that the grass is gone and new growth is coming on, I’m reminded of things I learned with my first prairie planting – and now must re-learn – with this new space.

  • There are plenty of seeds waiting for their chance. Even though I killed off all the desirable plants that emerged in the spring, more emerged mid-summer. Some may even bloom this fall, though they’ll have to survive the deer who relish these tender shoots.
  • Weed seeds are also waiting for their chance. Rounds two, three, and four of dandelions, pokeweed, and thistles keep popping up.
  • There’s always something new to learn in a prairie. At this point, the difference between invasive and non-invasive plants. An invasive species pushes out and replaces a native plant. A non-invasive plant may move in but won’t take over.
Mullien appear invasive at the moment, but they'll move on.

Mullien appear invasive at the moment, but they’ll move on.

Mullein, is one non-invasive plant. The new prairie is awash in these wooly-leaved plants. Even though they are plentiful now, I am not concerned that mullein will crowd the prairie next year for two reasons. (1) This season’s plants will not have time to seed before winter, and (2) Even though there were a dozen or more mullein plants in the old prairie last year, only one returned this year. Invasive plants like Queen Anne’s Lace will crowd out all else if you let it. Pretty though that flower is, I pull these out as soon as I see them.

Prairie & Writing Parallels

I’m at a point in my writing life where I’m looking ahead to what’s next. Looking at the prairie and my writing, I can make these observations:

  • Like the prairie seeds, there are plenty of new ideas waiting to sprout. In only a few minutes this week, I recorded half a dozen ideas for writing projects ranging from memoir to novels to children’s books.
  • As I work through editing my work in progress, I find weed seeds in the form of crutch words: “that,” “just,” “seem,” “very.” It takes diligent maintenance to root these out and keep them from marring an otherwise well written story.
  • In the prairie and in writing, I’m always learning something new. If I took up the children’s book idea, for instance, I’d be learning an entirely new genre.
  • Ideas for writing projects pop up and move on as do plants like mullein. In this case, however, I’m looking for that invasive idea – the one that will not let go of my imagination – the one that stimulates my writing passion. Unlike invasive weeds in the prairie, the writing idea with staying power is one I’ll nurture and grow.
    Prairie beauty - coming in two to three years.

    Prairie beauty – coming in two to three years.

Both prairie and writing take time and hard work. Both may yield beautiful results if I’m wise in choosing and have the patience to nurture.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about – in the prairie and with my writing life. What’s going on in your creative life? And how does nature inspire you?

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  1. Nan Johnson on September 20, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    Editing and weeding – similar and satisfying! Pull crutch words to tighten prose, pull invasive plants that don’t belong. As a writer and prairie grower, your post hit home.
    When we added pollinator plots to our CRP prairie plan, we had to mow down and spray 6 of our 75 acres of beautiful prairie grasses. It was heartbreaking to destroy big blue stem, Indian grass, switch grass – what we had worked so hard to establish! To your analogy, I felt like we were following the “murder your darlings” writing advice, the painful task of editing out favorite (but irrelevant) prose I’d become personally attached to. Then, once the ground was prepared and a mixture of wildflowers planted, we had to wait for the wildflowers to show themselves while keeping the foxtail and honey locust from encroaching. I don’t know if writing helps me grow prairie, or if growing prairie helps my writing, but for either endeavor, patience and vigilance are key. Thanks for a wonderful post, Carol.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on September 20, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      As both a writer and a nurturer of prairie, you could definitely relate, Nan. The addition of “murder your darlings” to the analogy was excellent. My prairie gives me an interesting and nurturing retreat away from my keyboard, one that encourages me to remember that patience and vigilance are necessary in all things.

  2. Merril Smith on September 20, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    Interesting post, Carol. That’s too bad about your tree, but thank you for all the information about prairies. I can definitely see the parallels you’ve pointed out. I know from your posts and comments that you definitely work hard at everything you do.

    I am not a gardener, but I suppose my creative spirit is inspired by nature and just by life, in general. Somehow it all gets connected in my brain, little seeds that sprout. 🙂

    • Carol Bodensteiner on September 20, 2016 at 2:17 pm

      You are so right – everything is connected, Merril. For me, getting out of my writing head and going someplace else, whether to the prairie or on a road trip or to an art museum – wherever – brings me back to my writing refreshed and inspired. I see nature in many of your poems. The ocean. The moon. It all comes together.

  3. Diane Stephenson on September 21, 2016 at 11:01 am

    Great post, Carol. I had never heard of creating a prairie before, but it sounds like a fascinating project, one I would probably enjoy. I am inspired by nature, but unfortunately I live in an apartment and have no opportunity to plant a real garden. I do have a lot of indoor plants, but it’s not quite the same as getting out in the sunshine and digging in the dirt, planting, weeding, watering, and enjoying the fruit of labor. But there are places I can go to walk through nature. I am fortunate to live in a city with many such areas where I can find peaceful walks. I am most inspired on my annual vacation where I can sit on the rocks and watch the water which is the color of the Caribbean. Actually, in my novel (not yet published), my favorite spot on The Georgian Bay has a significant part in the story details. I love to describe nature in my writing.

    You seem to have the same “crutch words” as I have trouble with. I am getting better at keeping them out in the first place, but they do sneak in where you least expect them and will take root if you’re not vigilant to remove them quickly. Just like weeds in the garden. I hope your prairie overflows with all the right plants to bring you joy.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on September 21, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      Iowa was once covered with prairie – the source of our rich, black earth. Almost all of the original prairie has given way to agriculture, but there is growing interest in re-establishing prairie. My little prairie is more aptly called a “patch,” but it does its part. We’ve seen a marked increase in butterflies and insects of many types since we put it in. Also an increase in various kinds of raptors – hawks and owls – since the prairie is packed with small creatures. They’re all welcome.

      Sounds as though you’ve brought nature indoors with your apartment plants, Diane. It is so nurturing when cities create green spaces for everyone to enjoy. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Laurie Buchanan on September 21, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Carol — When we had our brick-and-mortar healing studio (HolEssence) in Crystal Lake, Illinois, one of my favorite medicinal herbs was mullein. Boasting anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, astringent, demulcent, and expectorant properties, it helps address a wide brushstroke of ailments including congestion, coughing, ear infections (one of the main ingredients in ear drops), and sore throats. Some people even use it to help kick the nicotine habit.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on September 21, 2016 at 3:08 pm

      I did a little research into mullein a few years ago and found just what you say, Laurie – the plant is useful for almost anything that ails you. One of my future writing projects includes a look into the medicinal properties of all the prairie plants. I expect someone has done this already, but my project will be more focused – what I can cure with the plants in my front yard. Before we had all the manufactured pharmaceuticals, plants were the answer. They still could be.

      • Laurie Buchanan on September 21, 2016 at 3:26 pm

        Carol – Now THAT’S an amazing project!

        • Carol Bodensteiner on September 21, 2016 at 3:41 pm

          It will be, won’t it? The kind of project that can slip in one plant at a time.

  5. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on September 21, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    I’m looking forward to my “Monk’s Hood” blooming in October. Although I planted it several years ago, it wouldn’t bloom and I thought I had planted it in the wrong place (too much shade.) Then, to my utter surprise, it bloomed last October. What a gift. (see my blog of Nov. 12, 2015 at Blog: I noticed this year that it is full of buds and will again delight me in October. I love plants that bloom in October, late bloomers like me. I’m beginning a creative writing course this fall and hope to begin writing a memoir for real, not just in my head!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on September 21, 2016 at 3:04 pm

      I’m excited to hear about your Monk’s Hood blooming after several years, Elfrieda. My long awaited bloomer was Rattlesnake Master. Now I’m waiting patiently for Monk’s Hood. A friend gave me seeds some time ago and I eagerly tossed them into the prairie, but no sightings yet. Patience, patience, patience. This is the biggest lesson I learn from the prairie – and re-learn every year.

      Good luck with your memoir writing project. Like the prairie blooms – everything comes in its own time. I look forward to reading about your progress on your blog.

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