A Love Letter to Kansas Prairies
Lyndzee Rhine is outdoorswoman from Kansas. She serves on the boards of the Kansas Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation.
Grasslands in the Great Plains hold a special place in my heart, the Kansas Flint Hills and Tallgrass Prairies in particular. It’s because of the shallow, rich soil, and limestone studded landscapes that these spaces were saved from being turned into agricultural land. The Tallgrass Prairie once spanned over 170 million acres. Today less than 4% of that remains. Bison, elk, deer, and pronghorn once roamed these spaces in enormous numbers, and now you are lucky to see a pronghorn or a bison as you explore the areas. At first glance, they don’t seem like much, but prairies are one of the most diverse habitats on the Earth. The sheer biodiversity is enough for me to jump out of the car and go hug the nearest bunch of little bluestem or say hello to a soldier beetle on a bloom of goldenrod.
The National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is one of my favorite places on this planet. But why, it’s just a bunch of grass? Oh, but it is so much more than just grass. It’s home to the endangered Henslow’s Sparrow, a species I spent a summer in search of. It’s home to the potato chips of the Great Plains, prairie voles, without which we would see fewer hawks, owls, foxes, and the ever-loved prairie rattlesnake. It’s home to thousands of species of invertebrates, molds, fungi, and bacteria, some of which have likely never been documented before. It’s home to Dorothy, Auntie Em, and Toto — if I had ruby red slippers, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is exactly where I’d want them to take me.
Most folks say their heart belongs in the mountains, but mine belongs in the prairie. Surrounded by grass so thick you can’t see through it, you blend in and become one with the ecosystem, completely unnoticed by the wildlife around you. The never-ending symphony of insect and bird songs lulls me into a dream so sweet I feel as though I could stay there forever. No other place has brought me such peace. Watching thunderstorms roll across the plains, unobstructed by human construction and powerlines, is one of the precious moments I seek out often and cherish each time because every storm is different and powerful on the plains. As the colors change in the fall, and the smell of rain is in the air I can’t help but wonder, is there someone out there who can paint this and still make me feel this way? I’d sure like to meet them.
I carry a small token of that place with me wherever I go, in the form of a silver circle around my left ring finger. My partner and I began our journey into the future there, on top of a hill where you can spy little grasshopper sparrows merely 15 yards away. It is this place and other protected prairies where we will teach our families, friends, and children what it means to care for the world and our wild spaces, and how to defend them. After all, there’s no place like home, and you protect your home.
We’d love to hear about the public lands you love! If you’re interested in writing a love note, please email us at OurPublicLands@nwf.org for guidelines.