“When you look at something with an artistic eye and find beauty in everything, that’s something that’s always inspired me.”
— Paola Merrill, the Cottage Fairy
Our little bit of the Black Prairie here in Lowndes County starts in southern Tennessee and runs south through eastern Mississippi, then swings east through Alabama. Its length is about 310 miles and at its widest 25 miles. We live in the widest part. In the 1800s there were large prairies mostly in the Midwest, about 400,000 acres. Our southern prairie lands were about 17,000 acres. Prairie everywhere is now only a small percentage of what was before due to cultivating, farming, development, erosion, suppression of fires, hunting, recreational driving and encroachment of non-native trees and plants. I suppose we would be part of that shrinkage having added a homestead, out-buildings, and a 7-acre lake. Even so there is still a grass and sedge field where deer bed down nightly.
Last week beyond the field and lake a smoky haze hovered over the grassland. Prairie occupants watch closely when smoke is sited or the smell of smoke is in the air. Though much of our fields are bushhogged and what areas we designate as yard are mowed, there’s plenty of dry grass and sedge standing two feet or more providing tinder should fire come close. We walked back and forth to the window making sure the smoke laid low on the horizon. Then smoke settled over the lake. Edging toward the west side of the lake the sun hit the water so bright it was almost blinding. Oak trees are hanging onto many of their leaves. They shine golden between us and the sun. In a few hours the smoke disappeared.
We had a decent crop of Japanese persimmons this year — not great but decent. Sam and I don’t care for persimmons, but we have friends who do. They came over and plucked the crop sometimes from high atop a ladder. Ladders make me nervous. The friends were almost giddy over all the foods they would make with persimmons. For someone who would love to live off the land and harvest our own food, I have no aptitude whatsoever. And honestly, I’m a bit afraid of eating anything wild as I might miss-identify this gift of nature. It’s recommended to thoroughly study guides, preferably with an experienced teacher, or take a class.
If you follow Instagram, you know what you look at you get more of. I look at Prairie life. It would follow that I see posts from people interested in outdoors and country living. There I found the “Cottage Fairy.” She lives in a remote Prairie area in Northeast Washington State. She forages wildflowers, greens, berries, and more and makes them into jams, teas, soups, garnishes, tinctures and pressed flowers. Her voice is calm and soothing, her talents are lovely, the venues are incredible. She’s lived in many places around the world having been raised in a military family. She’s an artist, a school teacher, a book seller, and now a YouTuber and an Instagramer. She has a rabbit named Mr. Darcy. I have a rabbit named Hatcher. It seems quiet and simple this life in the Prairie.
Shannon Bardwell is a writer living quietly in the Prairie. Email reaches her at [email protected]