Lessons from the Prairie

“The disappearance of a major natural unit of vegetation from the face of the earth is an event worthy of causing pause and consideration by any nation. Yet so gradually has the prairie been conquered by the breaking plow, the tractor, and the overcrowded herds of man…that scant attention has been given to the significance of this endless grassland or the course of its destruction. Civilized man is destroying a masterpiece of nature without recording for posterity that which he has destroyed.” – John Ernest Weaver, North American Prairie

Lessons from the Prairie
encaustic mixed media
12×12 inches

The severity of weather patterns across the nation and across the globe has got all of us asking ourselves, what is going on? Possibly, yes, it is partly a natural part of climate change that just happens on its own. But to me, it only makes sense that how we treat and abuse the Earth can only have a profound effect on the winds, the rains, the droughts, and the storms.

After witnessing the severe flooding that happened in the neighborhood we were living in last year, I couldn’t help but wonder how this could happen. My neighbor and I would discuss the possibilities while we tried to wrap our heads around the destruction that had just occurred and we kept returning to the fact that the area had changed quite drastically in the last 10 years. There had been a huge tract of land, over 1,000 acres, not too far away that had been undeveloped land. Well, it belonged to the Navy, and had miles of airstrips from what I understand. Then it was sold to developers the area turned into a shopping center surrounded by neighborhoods of huge houses. I am not against development, but it seems to me that such a huge change in the landscape has got to have an effect on the land’s ability to take care of itself.

In the immediate area of where we were living, one could actually see changes that had also been occurring there as well. It had been a wooded neighborhood of modest ranch homes. But in the past 10 years of so, many of those homes had been bought and then made bigger because bigger is better in this day and age in the United States. Regrading of lots also occurred with the building up of larger homes. I remember when the water was coming down, how you could see the water running down to our lot and the immediate neighbors. Anyone who has been in Chicago and north suburbs will find this incredible because there are no hills. Like, none. No inclines of any kind that one would notice with the naked eye. But apparently we were at the bottom of an incline! I believe it was due from all the regrading.

I realize, I am rambling. Part of me thinks I should just post the painting and delete all this writing. I am not a scientist, climatologist, ecologist, or any other -ist. I am not qualified to speak to why the flooding occurred. But I witnessed this, experienced it and I can’t help but have these questions follow me. These are the issues I was thinking about as I painted this particular painting. We need to be aware of the landscape around us and we cannot ignore these issues any longer. Prairies and open land have a huge natural storage capacity for rain water and snow melt. Now that the prairies are gone and the land has been developed into mega shopping centers and mega homes, where is the water supposed to go when there are these major storms hitting the area?

The dark image in the painting is a transfer from a photo of prairie grass that I took at a prairie preservation up in Lake Forest, IL. We need to heed the lessons we learn from the prairie.

“Without a complex knowledge of one’s place, and without the faithfulness to one’s place on which such knowledge depends, it is inevitable that the place will be used carelessly and eventually destroyed. – Wendell Berry


  1. I echo your thoughts Bridgette and also find myself asking what these serve changes in weather are about. And I love the work you have created as well. Glad you shared both.

  2. Careless use and destruction of large natural areas makes my blood boil and one feels so helpless especially when powerful developers or the government are involved. Sometimes huge expanses of land are stripped and leveled without people even being aware that it’s happened and by then it’s often too late to do anything about it. The first quote gave me food for thought. “Yet so gradually has the prairie been conquered…. ” I’m also thinking of the rain forests. It starts with slow encroachment ….
    Though the message is grim your painting uplifts me somewhat. I think awareness offers hope.

    1. Thanks Robyn for sharing your thoughts on these very important issues Yes, awareness is key. And then motivation to make changes. To make smart development or abstaining from development in certain areas.

  3. While you may not be scientist, climatologist or ecologist you are an artist and with that comes having a voice. You raise some valid points that have many of wondering about the changes we see in and around our homes.

  4. The bulldozers have taken over. No where is this more obvious than when you go out to the desert. In Tucson, a place I love, it pains me to see and hear the constant “beeping” of the bull dozers. They are everywhere degrading the landscape and causing destruction everywhere in the name of bigger homes. More homes. The inhabitants of these homes are as much to blame. everyone wants a “new” home” What is wrong with the old ones that are already in place? Don’t get me started. Oh wait, you already have……

    1. Thanks for chiming in Roberta. We all need to get started talking about this, I think. I love Tucson too although I haven’t been there in almost 20 years. I am sure it has changed quite a bit!

    1. Thank you Kimberley for visiting and for your comment. We do need to pay attention. Sometimes I feel like we’re headed towards a Margaret Atwood novel! Or some other dystopian world. 🙁

  5. I love the new piece, Bridgette, but have to say that I also enjoyed what you call your “ramblings”. Wendell Berry says it best, but it’s good that people are noticing and calling attention to our mis-management of the land and its consequences. In Kentucky, (where Wendell Berry is from), there have been a few small efforts to restore some of our lost prairie vegetation, and hopefully that’s being tried in other places as well. Awareness is the first step, so I’m glad to see this post.

    1. Thanks Sharmon. It really is up to informed citizens it seems to stand up for the wilderness. It’s tough because I understand the need for development……but we need to be aware and make smarter decisions. It seems that humans have felt that we can find ways around nature, but not so sure that’s the case anymore

  6. I’m happy, too, that you shared your ramblings, thoughts and beautiful art. And I’m also very concerned about our land and our world. I have two grandgirls in Tucson but haven’t visited in a long time … I sure hate to hear what Roberta said about such a lovely place.

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