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Leaving Green

People of eastern lush zones
according to Stegner*
see many greens
prairie people see only one

but we have in our hands
an expansive palette of browns
the rust-brown slough-side dock we like to call fireweed
near to matching the rich furry cattail seed heads
that fling their downy seeds about
the spectrum of browns of a distant prairie hillside
a cascade
from mottled deep brown in the coulees
to the bleached and sun-torched
dry-to-dying hillside grasses

and there the distant glint of red-tinged patches of grass
the telltale sign of warm-season grass
little bluestem, not blue at all
the shimmering fawn-brown of August grasses ungrazed
and the dirty grey-brown of grazed-to-the-clubmoss patches
where ungulates fed

Early summer hosts the rich
violet-brown of extruded anthers of grass
dangling in the wind, wafting yellow-brown pollen about
not forgetting the secularly worshipped
dark green-brown to brilliant golden wheat fields
ripening sure as the sunrise of a summer morning

In another quadrant of our crayon box lie the sky blues
one the rich, laundered, after-the-rain blue
another dark brooding grey thunderstorm blue
there a hazy harvest-sky blue
that will later birth a giant orange-brown harvest moon
yet more in a sequence
from deep, zero-degree-air blue
to frost riddled crackling minus thirty, barely blue air
that allow us to estimate temperature
with one simple glance out the window
apparently not everyone has this tool in their box

So we may only have a few swatches of greens,
most muted by the glare of August sun
or by the armor of fleecy hairs against drought and cold
but our days leap with a rich array of raw
resonant prairie browns and sky blues

We get by…

© Heather Peat Hamm
Forget, Saskatchewan
This poem was originally published in Blue Grama, 2014


Photo Credit:

Crocus buds push up through winter-killed grass like clusters of furry snouts. Their pale petals enclose a splash of sun-bright, sun-warmed stamens. Photo by Candace Savage.

Did you know ..

Grasses are highly evolved organisms, especially adapted to cope with extreme climatic uncertainties, including frequent droughts. About 140 different species of grass occur on the Great Plains. That’s twelve dozen distinctly different native grasses! Even when they are brown and dormant, they remain high in protein and other nutrients, making them important winter-time forage for many animals.

*[Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) considered the colours of prairie landscapes in Wolf Willow, a reflection on his Saskatchewan boyhood.]

Author: Heather Peat Hamm

Heather Peat Hamm is a plant ecologist by training and prairie advocate at heart. Years of agricultural and ecological research have left Heather with a keen observational bent and drawing skills honed at the microscope. Her roots are prairie and although she has strayed around the world, the prairie has drawn her back again. Music has always been a part of Heather’s life and songs merely another form of poetry for her.  Learn more about her work here.