My City Sanctuary

May 18, 2022 NEBRASKAland Magazine


A female great-horned owl sits on a new nest. Photo by Marissa Jensen.

Story and photos by Marissa Jensen

Quiet amid noise seems like a contradiction, and yet, I’ve discovered it in the most surprising of places.

Omaha is a bustling city where everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere — now. This incessant busyness is overwhelming. Every day, as weekdays feel longer and demands scream louder, I feel a part of me slipping away in all the noise. It was on such a morning, while in search of something “more” both within myself and outdoors, when I found the cure I was looking for. While walking a path near my house, I stumbled across a newfound love nestled deep within the city: Bluestem Prairie Preserve — a section of vestigial habitat of native grasses and wildflowers.

A monarch butterfly nectaring on milkweed. Photo by Marissa Jensen.

Like my own Central Park, these 21 acres serve as a memory of what once was and the inspiration of what could be. Although that wasn’t my first visit to this nearby prairie, this day marked a transition within myself, and over the past year, I set about to explore this sanctuary and found a land teeming with possibility and life.

Hidden gems lie within the confines of all cities. From parks to ponds and paths to prairies, wilderness exists in the most unexpected places, waiting for our curiosity to find it. As the New Year began, I met a pair of breeding great horned owls searching for their perfect nesting site. I’m glad they found one here, which allowed them to raise their chicks at a safe distance from the noise that wrapped around them. Watching this next generation grow and thrive was a reminder that life is much bigger than ourselves.

My red-tailed hawk shadow. Photo by Marissa Jensen.

A red-tailed hawk became a beloved friend who visited me on multiple outings, as if he were a shadow on my walks. He didn’t seem to mind my presence, and in fact, may have used it as a tool to hunt. He often followed me, scanning the grass for critters I kicked up. Watching him enabled me to see this land in new light. With him, I bore witness to the circle of life, the elegant dance between predator and prey.

As winter thawed, the prairie awakened, and the sights and sounds of spring slowly came to life. The seasonal restlessness of spring is carried upon the wings of migration, and sanctuaries such as these provide a much-needed respite for many birds on their long journeys home. Lying in bed at night, I listened for the coyote’s lonely cry. With my window cracked in invitation, the timbre of the prairie helped me drift off to sleep.

A bumblebee gets nectar from a lovely coneflower. Photo by Marissa Jensen.

Summer brought warmth and colors, with a canvas of wildflowers to greet me and the insects each morning. Monarch butterflies floated among the milkweed, while a symphony of grassland birds sang their songs. A mulberry tree, heavy with the ripe taste of summer, would provide a welcome treat. Sitting in its ancient shadow, I reflected upon the history of this place and how it was becoming a part of me. Days after this visit, a reminder of those mulberries remained stained on my thumb.

Then, like in the blink of an eye, the season fades into fall and winter, as once again, waves of wildlife move on with the tide of migration. Vibrant colors lie dormant until rising up with spring’s new growth.

An American goldfinch showing off its winter plumage. Photo by Marissa Jensen.

Left behind to watch the seasons and wildlife transition each year, I ponder what this place has taught me. Quiet patience and appreciation of little and seemingly common things were all subtleties I had previously taken for granted. During visits to my city sanctuary, I developed a love and adoration for these little gems, all tucked within my neighborhood city. Each walk promised a glimpse of something wild and the realization that wilderness is never too far outside our reach.

A cedar waxwing takes rest under a canopy of trees which line the prairie. Photo by Marissa Jensen.

Now, I wait. As winter’s cold breath wanes, I patiently anticipate the prairie’s green shoots. What lies in wait for this city sanctuary, and likewise, myself? How will the coming years transform who we are and how we grow? Only time will tell. All I know is that I will continue to walk the trails and search for meaning, regardless of the season. And perhaps someday, a kindred soul will visit and find what they’ve been searching for as well.  ■

About Marissa Jensen

Omaha native Marissa Jensen is a writer and photographer who spends her free time exploring the unexpected wilderness of Nebraska.

The post My City Sanctuary appeared first on Nebraskaland Magazine.

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