One Day in the Prairieby Jean Craighead George
Henry Rush is spending the day at the Prairie Wildlife Refuge, determined to photograph a prairie dog doing a back flip. But while he whatches and waites at the edge of prairie dog town, he fails to notice the electricity humming through the air. Or the buffalo aniously pawing the ground. Or the purple-blue cloud building over the prairie grass. A tornado is… See more details below
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Henry Rush is spending the day at the Prairie Wildlife Refuge, determined to photograph a prairie dog doing a back flip. But while he whatches and waites at the edge of prairie dog town, he fails to notice the electricity humming through the air. Or the buffalo aniously pawing the ground. Or the purple-blue cloud building over the prairie grass. A tornado is forming to the west . And when the dark funnel touches down, it will wipe out everything in it's path...
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The sunrise lights up endless miles of yellowing grass on September 28. It is 6:55 A.M. in the prairie under a cloudless sky.
On a grassy mound in southwestern Oklahoma, a herd of buffalo moves restlessly. Despite the dear dawn, the air buzzes with electricity. It lifts the fur on the backs of the buffalo and tingles through their feet. They feel afraid. The mammoth beasts sense a distant storm, as did their ancestors who survived storms and blizzards on the prairie for ten thousand years. The electricity hums to the west.
And yet the prairie grass is motionless where the buffalo stand. The killdeer walks quietly with its family. The prairie horned larks preen their feathers under clumps of grass. The gorgeous scissortailed flycatcher, with his long streaming tail, snatches a droning beetle. Only the trees in the river bottomlands seem to speak of the danger the buffalo sense. They hold up their limbs as if before a gunman. Their leaves fall slowly and too soon.
At 7:15 A.M., twenty minutes after sunrise, the buffalo send out an odor of fear that can drive them to panic, and in panic to stampede.
They lower their heads to butt the unseen enemy.
At 7:30 A.M. they paw the ground. They are begging, but not for attention, which their pawing usually means.They are begging out of nervousness, reacting to the electrically charged atoms. A tornado is forming.
The boss bull tramples the grass. The whites of his eyes flash as he picks an escape route through the flats of prairie dog town.
Henry Rush jumps out of his father's pickup truck at 7:40 A.m. and walks to a black oak tree in the middle ofprairie dog town. He puts down his camera and pack, then glances back at his father.
"Pick me up at five fifteen," he calls. "I'll wait for you by the sign." He points to a board on a post that reads PRAIRIE WILDLIFE REFUGE. His father nods and waves.
A prairie dog pokes his head out of a cone-shaped burrow. Henry Rush laughs at his snappy eyes and pug nose and names him Red Dog. The little animal sees in all directions at once, because his eyes, which are high on his head and somewhat to the rear, give him global vision. He needs it. He is prey for almost all the predators of the prairie.
He sees the prairie sunflowers all around him, the earth at his feet, and the sky above him. He sees the golden eagle hunting her breakfast of prairie dog. Red Dog whistles a warning to the residents of prairie dog town, leaps up in the air, bends backward almost touching his head to his tail, drops on all fours, and dives into his burrow.
The eagle strikes near the creek and flies slowly off with a jackrabbit.
Moments pass. A meadowlark alights in prairie dog town and sings. Curlew parents call to reassemble their family, who hid from the eagle. Frogs pipe, toads croak, and the great blue heron resumes stalking fish in the shallows of Quanah Lake.All the creatures are saying, "The eagle is gone: All is well."
The buffalo do not hear the peaceful message. They are sensing the storm forming far beyond the curve of the horizon.
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