Little reflections on the prairie

I decided to do some field research this week. Literally. I did sermon and Bible research (Ephesians 4:1-16) while sitting in a Flint Hills field. In the process, I reflected on this prairie piece written by my dad, Keith Harder.

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A prairie reflection by Keith Harder

The Flint Hills prairie has always been an important landscape for me. But returning to central Kansas in 1985 from a more hemmed-in environment, fostered a deeper appreciation.

I have come to appreciate how little it has changed over thousands of years. Where the prairie has remained untilled, it is probably much like it was since the recession of the great inland sea. Human inhabitants are very recent.

The prairie is sustained by its deep roots. There is much more activity below the surface than above it. Left to its own resources and devices, the prairie endures.

Prairie plant life is a perfect match for its habitat. Dozens of native types of grass and flowering plants seem to get along and make space for each other without any one species dominating or taking over. They seem to care for and feed each other.

As I have become more appreciative of the prairie I have found myself more interested in the names of my new found friends and so deepen my relationship with them. So to identify some of the grasses—Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, Switch Grass and a few of the flowers seems like a small gesture of dignity and respect. Walking on the prairie and identifying its inhabitants by name feels like an act of friendship. The understated beauty of the prairie is invisible from the road at seventy miles per hour.

With the advent of humans, the original invasive species, other invasives now threaten the natural balance of the prairie. Hedge trees, cedar trees, musk thistle, sericea lespedeza threaten to reduce its natural bio-diversity. Should we try to control the invasives? Have there been other invasives in times past that were eventually tamed and brought into the prairie community?

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Is it hubris to want to take care of the prairie, to preserve it? It did fine for thousands of years without us humans. But now that we have introduced our roads and fences and towers and turbines and oil wells and over-grazing and invasives, what is our responsibility?

The open horizon of the prairie landscape unimpeded by trees, mountains or tall buildings still nurtures new ideas and possibilities.

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To be continued on Sunday, especially the part about musk thistles….

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