Archive for the ‘Nature/animals’ Category


DSCN4384DSCN4387There are signs of spring all around me now; frivolous fragments of life emerging from the still cold soil. What a wonderful time of renewal it is here on the Cutoff.


Tom and I pulled up to the Dean Nature Sanctuary on Thursday afternoon. It is a new discovery of local conservation for me. Though it is along a road that I travel numerous times each week, I had no idea of its existence. Isn’t it an unexpected gift when we discover this gems in life?


Just as we were getting out the car, up from the pond arose a magnificent blueish white specimen; a great blue heron! He spread his expansive wings, swooping up and away, catching my breath and taking it with him.


This week has been full of such blue heron moments; from the first daffodils to open, to the slow budding of trees, and the exclamatory chorus of the spring peepers in the pond. I am awash in the glee of springtime.


Yesterday, while at the Morton Arboretum, I pulled into a glen that is usually blocked off. There were several photographers positioned with their tripods and professional cameras and binoculars. I slipped as quietly as I could out of the car, my small, abused Nikon in the palm of my hand, and gazed as the small, blue birds dipped and dived, disappeared and came forward again in their springtime flurry of activity. I smiled as the phrase “the bluebird of happiness” came to mind. A few paused on a branch, here or there, and I captured them, forever, in my mind.


The daffodils were just beginning their show. Even in their prelude, they are so splendid I feel my heart applaud.


I headed toward Crawley Marsh, sure the peepers would be singing there. They were, but, it was a white egret that caught my eye. He came from the west and swooped and swirled in a figure eight; close then further then closer again as he danced on the wind above the water, suddenly stopping, a shiver in space, dropped straight down, breaking barely a wave, arising with his a fish in his mouth and soaring to wherever his table was set. There I stood, Yia Yia in her ancient lumber jacket, gasping “oh my”. An elderly couple scurried out of their sedan, wondering if it was the wood ducks I’d seen.


It’s amazing the conversations one has in blue heron moments. Have you had any lately?



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DSCN4267It was a rather spontaneous decision. Leaving our house on Sunday morning, I mentioned to Tom that we should take a quick ride after church, Chatting with my dear friend Pat after church, I said we were thinking of driving over and she said maybe she and Rick would follow us. Before long, there we were, exiting our cars and walking up to the doors of the historic Oak Park Conservatory.

Sometimes, we don’t realize how much we have missed until it rises to greet us.

So it was on Sunday morn as we opened the glass door to the historic greenhouse, a mecca amid concrete, bordered by traffic. We inhaled all the scents that winter had robbed us of. Ah, the blissful joy of fragrance and chlorophyl and peat, basking in windowpane sunshine.


It was good. Very good, indeed!

Visit the Oak Park Conservatory here.

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Pothole maneuvering at 35 mph is the sport du jour for those of us in northern climes come March, aka mud season, and one needs to have the skill of a pinball wizard to navigate the gaping holes and chasms that are the result of winter’s snow and ice, freezes and thaws.

Just the other day, leaving my little kingdom here on the Cutoff, I noticed a new crack in the pavement as I drove down the road. This morning, the crack was crevice widening, as if right before my wizened eyes. In between precipitation and politics, the news, it seems, is all about the sad state of our streets. The City of Chicago even has a website where one can track where the worst holes are, report them, avoid them, monitor their repair. Hub caps litter curbsides and repair shops are busy with car alignments and tire repairs and all manner of ER auto triage.

Then, there is the muck and the mud. More than two feet of snow that has been resting atop sheets of ice for three months have been melting. With the melt comes the mud. Oozing, gooey, slimy mud; a madcap milieu for the likes of someone as vertically challenged as I.

Late Tuesday afternoon, slithering out to the compost pile, where the deer had taken up their winter encampment, I nearly had a mud bath. There I was, a bowl of carrot scrapings, potato peels and onion skins gripped in my hot little hands, when a splotch of muck rose up to greet me. I slipped and slid and skated across the raw terrain, somehow managing to remain erect. Good thing I had my fire engine red boots on, or there I would have been, Penelope Pitstop, splayed in the season’s sand.

The deer, of course, were watching attentively in the underbrush.

Image source here.

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A Little Patch of Hope

DSCN4203I am NOT going to fret about the six new inches of snow that fell  early yesterday morning.


No, I will dwell, instead, on its sparkling beauty as it glistened in the March sun,


and I will revel in the little patch of hope I found before the snow and wind and cold came tapping on our windows.


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A Cat's Life Dulcy's Story by Dee ReadyWhen I introduced you to my two left feet last month, I had every intention of spending some time showing you some books that fellow bloggers have written. This is still my intention, but, good intentions sometimes go astray. Eventually, I show you some very good and varied reads, or, at least, tell you about them; just as soon as life quits getting in the way.

I do, however, want to talk to you about a cat, named Dulcy, and how she came to train and then love her human, Dee.

Do you know Dee Ready? She writes an insightful blog, filled with personal memoirs about her early life and childhood, her years in the convent and as a nun, her teaching and activism, and her gently peaceful approach to life. Coming Home to Myself is posted every week or so, depending on what is happening in Dee’s life. It is always inspiring and thought-provoking reading.

It is from reading Dee’s blog that I came to know of her published writing, particularly of her book, “A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story”.  Quite some time ago (was it over a year now?), I acquired Dulcy’s Story. As often happens to books and plans, the book proceeded to sit in a pile, waiting, patiently, for me to turn its pages. Finally, I did. These long, hard winters open up opportunities, don’t they; especially for reading books?

This compact book is a tome of wisdom and feline love, its ninety pages filled with vignettes, told through Dulcy’s voice. We learn how Dulcy come to be with Dee, how they learn to live together, and how Dulcy trains her very nice human in the ways of a cat. We wander with Dulcy as she explores the outside world and tremble with her at the vet. We mourn losses with her and understand jealousy when other cat’s enter Dulcy’s world.

What we really learn in “A Cat’s Life . . .” is about unconditional love.

This little gem is filled with nostalgic illustrations by Judy J. King, whose renditions of Dulcy remind me of our first cat, Zoe. Zoe, who was a wedding gift from a friend, was a calico cat, who graced our lives almost as long as the 17 years that Dulcy graced Dee’s. I imagine them together, kinfolk in a heavenly kingdom of cats.

Thank you, Dee, for this peacefully gifted story.

The back cover of your book says it all. “At the end, all that matters is love . . . “

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DSCN4155I almost missed it the first time. It was an afternoon not too long after Tom’s eye surgery. I was driving, slowly, as one must when taking in the scenery at the Morton Arboretum. My giant pirate was clicking photos from the passenger window, the snow covered wonderland posing with crested limbs and scarves of white.

I stopped, then backed up, slowly.

“What is that?” 

An apparition, it seemed, materializing,  right then and there, in the snow and shadows, just for us.


Two months later, with several more feet of snow accumulated, we once again crept through this winter wonderland, my pirate without his patch at the helm of our polar arc, me positioned like a passenger pigeon with a camera, when I barely saw it.

Wait, Tom. Stop! Back up, slowly, slower . . . ” and out of the car I bounded like a winter hare.

It is amazing, is it not, where one can find strength just when one needs it?


There, under the strong limbs of a mighty oak tree, my Antler Man and I  found strength, hiding under a very strong and well positioned bench.


Do, please click on the photos to get a better view.

Addition to post: below is a picture of the Strength bench up close, which I hope to sit on one fine WARM day. The letters are metal, the seat I believe is oak. 





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King of the HillOne of huge piles of wood chips, remains of the day. Woody remnants, if you will, of the dozens of trees felled last Autumn  on the lot next door and left to fester like a boil on the skin of the earth here on the Cutoff. Oh, it’s been a long winter and I do go on. This, my friends, was the view Monday afternoon from my kitchen door; recess for the marauding herd of does and yearlings, who were playfully going up and down the hill of chips, taking turns at being king of the hill, pushing each other for top spot. Better to see the queen of kitchen, perhaps?

Really.  I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Make sure to click on the picture for a better view.

Did you ever play King of the Hill as a child?

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Penny in snow:ArborThat’s me, several weeks ago, when I could still walk through what is commonly known as Penny’s Arbor House; hours before another foot or so of snow barged in on the tails of winds and sub-zero temperatures. I’m wearing my decade’s old wool coat. It gives neighbors and passers-by the ominous impression of a hooded crone wandering the Cutoff woods scavenging eyes of newt sorts of things. My old coat keeps me warm, however, and serves as padded protection should I slip and land on my sit-upon – all of which is not why I posted the picture of yours truly.

What I really wanted to talk to you about is establishing a Wildlife Habitat, which I’ve written about many times throughout the past year, especially in a July post HERE, if you should want more information, or, just need to see the Cutoff when the sun was out and the flowers were blooming.

A Wildlife Habitat is just as important an element in February as it is in July, no matter how big or small, no matter if winter where you live is in January or June. While the gardens and  trees and all vegetation sleep here come winter, many animals and birds that winter over do not. They are adapted for cold climates, but, winters such as this one, can be hard on them, with food scarce and shelter harder to find. Established wildlife areas help them to fend through the hard, dark months of winter.

The birdbaths we leave out for winter have sported muffin tops of snow most of this season. We often see scattered on top of the mounds little lace snow prints of wintering birds who have come for a sip. Just as often, we’ve seen big chunks bitten out of them, most likely deer or squirrels, getting water from nature’s snowcones.

Smaller animals nestle under the pile of brush and twigs we leave in our designated habitat, which gives them shelter from the storms. It also, often dramatically, provides a spot for hawks to keep a keen eye on. The other day, Tom saw a hawk swoop out right in front of the second story windows where his office is above the barn, grabbing some lunch from below on his way to a barren tree.

Most recently, as the sun is coming up, I’ve noticed several deer resting on the edge of the grassy knoll/prairie/native garden, where our Wildlife Habitat sign is stationed. Just beyond this is a large composting area. It as a haphazard affair, with undefined boundaries. On it go the leaves of autumn, holiday garlands and wreaths, wilted bouquets, food items and coffee grounds we compost from the kitchen as well as plant material from the gardens. We dig and turn the piles, of course, but often, especially in winter, scraps and peels and such are just tossed on top of the near frozen mass. We know they will eventually decompose . . .

. . . and that some hungry sojourners may nosh through the piles during lean months of winter. When the deer dig down deep, one can see the steam rising from below, where Mother Nature is brewing some leaf mold stew, nourishment for our herd, many of which are heavy with child.

Deer:snow:compost 2Deer:snow:compost

How about it, my friend? Have you given any more thought to establishing a Wildlife Habitat?

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DSCN4144 The snow ate the sun and all was white, with muffins rising up all over.


Less than two days later, the sun came out, and the muffins are just about gone.

Do you know the muffin man?


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stag-in-the-moonlightThey are ghostly forms in the night and seem to be always among us this long, long winter.

The car’s headlights illuminate them in small groups, nestled up against the house, huddled close together for warmth, or yarding up in the garden, deep circles on matted snow with leaves and sticks and summer’s leftovers, latent evidence of their resting spots.

One morning, from our half-moon window on the second floor, I saw several resting alongside the sleeping prairie garden. At first, they looked like boulders set up against the background of snowy grasses. Then, from my bird’s-eye view, movement. An ear twitched, then a head uplifted. One, then the other, arose and stared up at the window, one stomping her leg in a primal code, warning the others. So acute are deers’ senses that they were keenly aware of my presence at the bedroom window. Suddenly, nine deer materialized, leaping from corners and caverns and crevices known only to them, as they leapt to wherever their safe harbor was.

I watched again, mid-afternoon, from the livingroom window as the herding family leaped effortlessly over mounds of snow bordering the road, then down the paths they have paved, across our lawn and into the barren lot next door. There, on the border between lands, two yearlings nibbled on decomposed leaves, unearthed from the depths of snow, while another, a doe already heavy with child, scattered snow like a cat in a litter box, rooting for something to eat.

In between the pages of my book and baking a loaf of banana bread, I noticed flashing tails, darting and leaping and head bowing, and knew there was a stag nearby, looking for his lady – and there he was, near the neighbor’s pines, searching for a winter mate.

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