Prairie home comedian

What well-known prairie grass does impressions of old Hollywood prairie movie stars? Why, Rich Little Blue Stem, of course; and when they roasted Harlem Hills Prairie last spring, what old stars did Rich impersonate? Well, John Weed, for one; then Jimmy Prairie Steward, Henry Fondock and the prairie the Little House was on. Others included Marlon Burned Off and Carrot Top, Bottom and Middle. Rich Little Blue Stem is very successful for a clump of grass, yet he gives no credit to his roots, which he says just hold him down.

Singer Prairie Como has delighted prairie enthusiasts for years with his prairie parodies using Beatle songs such as “Restoration” sung to the tune of “Revolution”; Rattlesnake Master” sung to the tune of “Paperback Writer” and that other one I can’t quite remember. In 1969, I lost my virginity to the Polish Bikini Team in a prairie. Well, enough with the comedy. Let the truth flow.

For anyone with a severe mobility disability, gaining access to quality natural areas is usually tough. I, like many nature enthusiasts in the Midwest, experienced a love affair with prairies. My affair was in the ’80s and ’90s. My disability made my affair long distance, like falling in love with someone who lived 50 miles away with little chance of frequent visitation. I’d joined the local prairie group, attended the meetings, showed up for the walks, but usually just got to hang around the parking lots. Fellow group members, like Severson Dells’ Don Miller, sympathized but never fully understood. Thank God, I was carried, chair and all, into a few prairies. These occasions were not frequent, though, and the better prairies I rarely got to visit.

I chose the best prairie, which was Searles Prairie, as my goal for access for the disabled. Searles was owned by the Rockford Park District, and park officials sided with my cause, but we were up against the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission with all their protective rules—rules I’ve come to appreciate over the years. Searles Prairie is such a gem, I’m glad it was never pierced by a hard-surface trail, but at that time in the early ’90s, I was very frustrated. Using a sense of humor to guide my anger, I wrote a song called “What if Bob Betz Broke His Back?” Bob Betz was and is a professor at Eastern Illinois University, where he was Illinois’ godfather of prairie restoration, prairie studies and prairie cheerleader. What if the great Bob Betz broke his back, would prairies be made more accessible? He couldn’t live without prairies, and he couldn’t get into them without drastic changes in access.

It’s difficult to pray for a spinal cord injury, especially for someone like Bob Betz, though it wasn’t much easier praying for Don Miller to break his legs. I reasoned that if Icon Don were laid up, prairies might become more accessible. Well, times have changed. I can get to almost any prairie I want around these parts, though getting into some is still a problem. They can put a rover on Mars, but they can’t put a wheelchair in Harlem Hills. Actually, I made that statement at a gathering, and two weeks later received a photo of a wheelchair in Harlem Hills. But what I meant was a wheelchair with someone in it.

Be careful when you wish someone harm because what goes around, comes around, almost. Let me elucidate on this further with a recent personal example. I drove to a local natural prairie/ savanna area and parked in a lot somewhat close to the curb, so no one would park to my right, preventing my van’s ramp from coming out. When I got out of the van, I had a rough time; I couldn’t get off the ramp straight on because the ramp was close to the curb. Instead, I had to go over the lipped side of the ramp and almost tipped over.

A couple hours and 10 renditions of “What If Bob Betz Broke His Back?” later, I was approaching the van. A light bulb came on in my head. I’ve got it! I’ll just back up against the curb, and when the ramp comes down, I’ll start up it before it straightens out! The ramp came down, but it didn’t come unfolded under my feet, it came down on my feet. I couldn’t back up because the curb was in back, and could not move sideways because the ramp was holding me, and ever so slightly, pulling me out of my chair like super-slow quicksand. I reached for my cell phone in the chair backpack, but the twisting motion was pulling me out of the wheelchair faster by the feet, so I quit reaching immediately. I was trapped and sinking slowly. I screamed for help for a minute, but no one was near. I’m doomed, I thought. Then I looked down at the keychain in my hand. I pushed the button, the ramp went up, and I was free. I lowered the ramp again and got on over the lipped side, feeling relieved and overly stupid.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!