for Bryan Stotts, District Ranger

This is the shoreline of a glacial lakebed.
Some of its flora, fauna are endangered.
Not so the leafy spurge, vile interloper,
the milkweed puffing cotton to the breezes.
Not so the cottonwoods or dwarfish scrub oaks,
the white-tail deer that multiply like chipmunks.
Here autumn daubs its trees above the stockponds
by fours or fives. We have no soaring forests,
just refuge for the wild, pinnated chickens
on a last vestige of the tall grass prairie,
a gift the cattle graze and take as granted.
Feeney just flushed a frantic, dustpan dancer
from silverberry bushes in these sandhills,
the blown dunes of the Sheyenne National Grassland
where so much rain has fallen this October,
that tall grasses binding erosive hillsides
are succulent and seeding out of season.
In a damp oxbow looping by the Sheyenne
I once dug up a white-fringed prairie orchid,
fragrant by night, pollinated by sphynx moth
or butterfly, the rare Dakota skipper.
I pried it from the soil. It promptly perished.
Spare this land my trowel and the ploughshare.
Broken for barley in the Nineteen Twenties,
a decade later much of it was moonscape,
now colonized by stands of quaking aspens,
each of those clumps a single organism.
Feeney and I shall trace our tracks come April
when the pooled hollows trill with hatching peepers,
when ferns unfurl their fronds in every gully,
grasses and forbs turn sunshine into fodder,
when calves that boys can sling over their shoulders
nuzzle the udders of their mooing mothers.

Articles by Timothy Murphy

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