by Doug Bowen-Bailey
It’s late summer and the Memorial Prairie Garden on the hillside below Peace Church is in full bloom. Soon, autumn will arrive and the flowers will fade, passing on into winter and waiting for the coming spring.This changing of the seasons is simply a part of the natural cycle, but also sheds light on the underlying meaning of the flowers now blooming. For the Memorial Prairie Garden is about more than just grasses and flowers. Tears and sorrow; fire and ashes; death and renewal has been a part of the story that has led to the transformation of this hillside.
The roots of the prairie actually lie in sorrow. My wife, Holly, and I experienced two failed pregnancies. As we worked through our grief, we quickly discovered that we had become, as a family friend described it, “members of a terrible, silent club.” Pregnancy loss is all too common But like it or not, we had to deal with it. So, we turned to our church community who had been so supportive initially through our losses. Born partly of the fact that Holly’s dad has worked restoring native prairies for the past 25 years, we came up with the idea of a Memorial Prairie Garden. A place that would honor the memory of not only our children, but of other children from the church and the greater community.
So, with the church’s blessing, in the spring of 1997, we killed off the grass and took a tractor to the hillside. We had a service of dedication and planted the prairie with both seed and seedlings. At that point, I wrote these words:
We come, farmers all, not to bury our grief but to plant. Sprinkling ashes with sadness and hope. This is where we sow our faith and call beauty forth from death. Where our tears water the soil and bloom in their time.
And that hope for renewal has realized itself in the prairie. But not without effort. Along with planting a native prairie comes managing it. Part of that strategy involves fire. So, those who live close to Peace Church may have noticed how in the spring of 1999 and 2000, we burned the prairie. After convincing the Fire Marshall that it was a good idea, we received permits to go ahead with a controlled burn. This year, we burned all the previous growth down to the ground and left the hillside black with ash. Amazingly, within a week or two, fresh green shoots emerged among the ashes and the prairie returned to life.
And now, the hill is covered with colors. The flowers of black-eyed susans, Wild Bergamot, Blazingstars And native grasses with names to match their beauty goes on and on. But below all the splendor of this summer display lies the memory that this is life called forth out of death. In the church hangs a memorial for the lives and hopes to whom the prairie is dedicated. On it are listed the names of 28 children with blanks yet to be filled. Blanks because we know that there will be more loss ahead. And because we believe that in remembering and celebrating our love for those little ones, we allow our hearts to step through the fire and find new growth.
So, come and enjoy the beauty of the prairie garden. Sit on the benches by the bell tower and watch the flowers and grass sway in the wind. But in doing so, please remember that this is not just another pretty place.