by Judith Strasser

What It Takes to Restore the Tall-Grass Prairie

Dozens of eight-year-olds collecting
thimbleweed, yarrow, dodder, aster,
sweet joe pye, rattlesnake master....
Three months to gather the plants.
Five weeks to clean the seed
in the Dane County Parks garage.
Dancing feet that press umbels
of Golden Alexander until
they drop grains on a dust-gray tarp.
An off-season nursery owner
with push-broom, sweeping up
chaff. Retired mechanics
in surgical masks, running
the fanning mills--ancient Clippers
bought cheap at auction,
farms gone to developers.
Farm wives with plastic bags,
hay-forks, and chippers.
Scales to weigh milk vetch
and compass plant. Sharpies
to mark purple coneflower
on lunch bags full of clean seed.
Wayne, who’s in charge.
Louise, who recruits volunteers.
Girl Scouts who come in the spring
to scatter the seed on the ground.
The vision to see corn
as tall grass, prairie as park,
the past in the future,
our mark on the wilderness.

Published in The South Carolina Review,
Spring 2004