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  • We’ve been really busy the past month, with out-of-town guests and meetings and work. The fall means Steve is back out doing bids, this time on lawn seeding and trees. Many nights he gets home from work, we have dinner, and then he goes out to do bids. Weekends are a good time for bids, too.

    So Sunday we decided to go on an outing up near Alexandria to see a prairie. Steve’s coworker Jeff has been talking about this prairie for a long time. He calls it “Gradeen’s Prairie,” after a former owner. Jeff goes out there often, he says, to collect seed. And, we think, just because Jeff loves mature prairies and it’s a good place to walk around.

    I’m not easily impressed by prairies. We’ve been to a few, in Sherburne County and down by Starbuck, and they’re all in various stages of “restoration.” Still, it was a nice day for a Sunday drive. Before long, though, we both began to get frustrated by how far away it was. It’s actually closer to Fergus Falls than Alexandria. And Fergus Falls feels as far away as Fargo.The view from the highway is pretty uninteresting, and the two tiny towns we passed through were completely uninspiring. Google maps was off, and we didn’t see our turn. FInally we decided that we would take the unpaved road that was not Hwy 62 and then give up.

    Then we were there.
  • This place is subtle, not a mecca of wildflowers or even showy grasses. What was there all summer has mostly died back. But it is beautiful. The landscape is contoured hills, and the prairie is dotted with clumps of oak savannah. The sumac made vibrant red stains across the hills.

    Again, as in my other discussions of mature prairies, the beauty of this one is that it is low. You can walk through it pretty easily. There are no scrappy trees, no brush, not even the sticker-bushes and thistle that seems to be everywhere when you’re fighting to get land back to prairie.
  • And there is just the astonishing realization that this property has been left alone for thousands of years. It was never farmed, probably because of the granite all over the place. It was not turned into pasture, like much of the land that surrounds it. It was not planted with trees and turned into a forest. It has been left alone. Jeff and another guy, Tony, were brought in a few times to do burns in order to maintain the natives.

    And it has looked like many things throughout its history. But it has come to look like this. It is beautiful.
  • As we walked back toward the road and our car, we saw a 1992 Ford Escort wagon, gray and low to the ground, moving quickly over the dirt road. It was Jeff’s car. It had to be. He didn’t stop– he was on an errand, returning some pots he’d borrowed from a nearby nursery. He was 90 minutes from home running an errand. We were gone by the time he came back, so he walked around for another hour or so collecting seed. It will no doubt turn up in a prairie mix for another project. Prairie seed is expensive stuff, running $300-$400/lb. Like saffron, it is hand-collected. By Jeff. Out about 25 miles northwest of Alexandria, just past Lake Christina.

    Photos by Susan Sink.
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