One glorious summer morning years ago I left my children with their grandparents in a small town in Iowa and went off to my first encounter with virgin tall-grass prairie. Armed with field guides and an indistinct map, I wandered down washboard gravel roads, not sure I’d recognize prairie when I found it.

I did know corn fields and soy beans and what I saw broke my heart. The corn and beans had been planted on time but heavy rains had swamped the fields and most of both crops had not survived the relentless flooding. Occasionally a vacant field caught my eye, rich in grass and a few wildflowers. Was this the prairie or just a field in some federal program?

I soon discovered the parallel between labor pains and prairie…if you have to ask, “Is this it”, it isn’t. I knew when I found that prairie! A quarter section that had never been plowed. Ever. I got there at the same time as a couple of other women. We compared field guides, jumped the ditch, climbed over the stile, and spread out, careful not to make a path for invasive plants to get a foothold. For hours we wandered over those 160 acres. “Oh look, rattlesnake plant” and “Hey, is this leadplant?” “Have you ever seen such vivid wild roses?”

Not once in our trek did we encounter mud or drowning plants. When I wriggled my fingers through the dried remains of last year’s growth, I couldn’t find bare ground, just further decomposed remains of plants long gone. Grasses, flowers of every plant family I could think of, and even small trees, grew in abundance.

Eventually I reached the fence separating this natural garden from the flooded corn field. I wondered if the farmer would even make enough to cover the cost of his seed, much less the fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, and fuel for his tractor. Yet on my side, there was no fertilizer, no chemicals, no labor at all. And there was life in abundance. Everything that grew there, died there. Everything that died there fed what grew there. Thus it had ever been, as it is in every natural environment.

I am not so naïve as to advocate a return to a hunter-gatherer society. Our progress and security depend on agriculture but there is so much we can do to close that circle of nature.

Nature replenishes itself at every step and it is man that breaks the cycle. Let’s learn to recognize the ways in which we can re-establish the cycle and work with nature instead of against her.

Photo credit: hougaardmalan, South Africa

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Today's guest blogger − and Nature Connection Messenger is Esther Miller, a Shenandoah Valley neighbor and fellow amateur radio operator (KK6AD). Esther has been a Virginia Master Gardener for over ten years. “I've been gardening since I was a kid,” she says, and her love of Nature is evident whenever you're around her. She has traveled all over the United States and brings a wealth of experience and observance of Nature to her writing.

Born and raised in the midwest, Esther lived in California for over 30 years before moving to the Shenandoah Valley over 10 years ago with her husband, Larry.  “I was an Occupational Therapist when I wasn't being a fulltime homemaker and mother, working with children who had learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and autism.”  She has two children and two grandchildren and has been married almost 39 years.

Besides gardening, Esther is interested in genealogy and travel in the U.S.

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