One early spring day many years ago, I visited a remnant prairie not far from where I live in Beloit, Wisconsin. It was a sunny day, but there was a stiff wind blowing and the nip in the air made me think that winter had its claws dug in and wasn’t in any hurry to scoot off to wherever it likes to hang out over the next eight or nine months. I climbed down a steep hill into a gully and then up another hill, tromping on crackling grass. I looked ahead and glimpsed toward the top, buffeted by the breeze but stretching their pale lavender blooms toward the warming sun, dozens of hairy-stemmed pasque flowers scattered here and there on the slope. The uplifting sight of spring’s first flowers stayed with me and eventually became the setting for an early scene in Prairie Hill.
When I began to think about a cover for Prairie Hill I knew that I wanted, if possible, something tied to that scene. Enter Rob Baller, local ecologist extraordinaire. I’ve known Rob for many years. He is a passionate advocate for native landscapes, from prairies to oak openings and wetlands and is a keen student of their ecology, history and lore. Take a walk with Rob and he’ll identify every plant, every insect, every bird. He’ll tell you what remains today and what used to be here a century or two ago. Rob has been instrumental in saving and protecting several natural areas. Although exacting and scientific, Rob is not immune to the aesthetic beauty of native plants, something reflected in the warmth of his conversation about them and in the loving attention he pays to documenting them in their natural setting. I had a hunch he might have something available and so I asked. A couple of days later he brought a flash drive filled with dozens of images of landscapes and native flora and fauna. “Take your pick,” he said.
As I looked through photo after photo of prairie scenes and prairie plants, I saw some wonderful possibilities, and then there it was, a gorgeous photograph of pasque flowers looking much as they did that sunny morning long ago. There was the perfect cover for Prairie Hill.