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Thursday, Oct. 7, 2004 07:36 am

prairie notes 10-7-04

The big bluestem, dressed in its fall red-wine colors, glows in the late-afternoon sun among the bright-blue New England asters and a scattering of yellow goldenrod. From the center of this acre of prairie, nothing is visible except the sky and the tops of the oaks and cottonwoods along the creek.

I like to imagine how this landscape must have appeared to my great-great-grandfather, Wm. F. Bishop, when he arrived in Illinois from Virginia in 1835. It's said that he raised wheat, corn, and wool and hauled it to Springfield to trade for coffee, sugar, salt, and print cloth. We know that he and Mrs. Bishop built a log cabin 50 feet by 12 feet at Brush Hill and raised 18 children there. She must have been an amazing lady to have lived so hard and done so much.

Now my tiny prairie is just a zoo of grass and forbs and I am a visitor from another reality. But the connection is real. Bonds of blood and love of the land and hope for the future persist through the generations, even as the landscape and the lives of those on it are irreversibly altered. I imagine their hope was to help build a better world as they envisioned it. That's my hope, too.

Wherever we're going in this virtual world, one thing remains as a simple fact of life: We cannot exist without or be healthier than the soil in which our food is raised. It is truly the source and destination of all life, including ours. To live close to the land is still the greatest honor of all.