What's Tony Thinking

Prairies and Gratitude


In her “Sunday Prayers” post Nadia Bolz-Weber comments that these days it’s easy for her (and many of us I suspect) to be fearful and angry (worried too), but gratitude may come harder. Here’s a nice bit from her musings.

“And let’s be honest, it’s so much easier for me to long for what I want or resent what I have lost than it is for me to be thankful for what I have.

“Help me know that gratitude isn’t a thank-you note-to-Grandma obligation, but the gift that doubles a gift.”

I usually try to do a daily gratitude list. Some things, like “good health” or “our family” make it on my list most every day. Other things are specific to that day.

High on yesterday’s list was “hike on Zumwalt Prairie.” The Zumwalt is a twenty-five mile drive northeast of us. It is the largest, remaining short-grass prairie (i.e. never to be tilled) in North America. It’s at the southern end of what is known in Washington state as “the Palouse,” a grain-growing region in eastern Washington. In this photo (not mine, from a Joseph, Oregon site on the internet) the mountains in the distance are “The Seven Devils” which are on the eastern side of Hell’s Canyon and the Snake River in Idaho.

Yesterday we took a hike we’ve done many times before known as “Patty’s Trail,” in an area now owned and stewarded by The Nature Conservancy. While providing hiking trails isn’t the main thrust of TNC’s activity, their presence has allowed an access to the Zumwalt that didn’t exist several decades ago.

We decided to walk the trail by reversing the usual direction, clockwise instead of counter-clockwise (as indicated by discreet fencepost signage). Changes the perspective. At the northeast end of the loop I spotted a couple of elk on the ridge above us. Seeing us they disappeared over the ridge line. Later from a distance we could see the larger herd of two dozen or so. A big bull elk hovered at a slight distance from the group.

The Zumwalt is a great place to see hawks, falcons and eagles as well as smaller birds like red-winged blackbirds and meadowlarks. By now many of the raptors have migrated south. Some stick around all winter. Migration has more to do with food supply and the population the prairie can sustain in the winter than it does with a need for warmer temperatures. There’s a marvelous book about the Zumwalt, a classic really, The Prairie Keepers by Marcy Houle. It’s part coming-of-age story and part natural history. Houle wrote at a time when things were quite polarized here between environmentalists and ranchers. She discovered that local ranchers were among “the prairie keepers,” whose wise practices accounted at least in part for the prairie’s health.

What I most love about visiting the Zumwalt is the sense of vastness. The prairie itself, the canyons beyond, the immense sky, all seem to go on forever. They don’t of course, go on forever. But close enough to restore perspective, to leave you feeling small in the right sort of way.

Our grandson Colin loved running through the prairie grasses and disappearing among them, as if he were a fox or a wolf. Which I’m sure he was in his imagination. It’s the kind of place that is big enough to let your imagination and spirit run free. Plenty to be grateful for there.

So NBZ is right, gratitude is good for the soul. It is “the gift that doubles the gift.” What are you grateful for today?






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