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Can you see it?

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Closer?

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Now can you see it? Click on the photo.

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This is one of five caterpillars I could see, ferociously eating a leaf of the milkweed plant. It was eating in a circle, munching and lunching and doing it’s “thing”. I was so excited to see them, a mature Monarch flitting nearby, stopping to sip on the nectar of the flowers atop the milkweed.

Last year, I counted one. One Monarch butterfly. Only one Monarch all summer long in my garden. To see these beautiful insects eating away on their host plant in front of my eyes was exciting. It gave me hope – and it gave me courage. Maybe, just maybe, one by one, little steps, like planting milkweed, that citizen scientists like you and like me can do will help save the Monarch.

Let’s at least try. Okay?

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DSCN5211“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

Oddly enough, or maybe just so, as I was mating Margaret Atwood’s words to my photo, the news came to me that Elaine Stritch had passed way. I gasped. It was as if the water, the words, and the woman were one.

I took this photo at day’s end, about a week ago, while walking the path at the pond in the Dean Nature Sanctuary. I was at the water’s edge, in those ethereal moments of light so bright that they make even color evaporate.

What a remarkable talent Elaine Stritch was – and how brilliantly she flowed through life.

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DSCN4903I wish I had not seen it: that little bit of tan in the sunny grass late on a summer afternoon.

Tom and I had strolled toward the back of our acreage, hoping to spy the fawn we noticed a few days before. We walked the walk that has become our daily constitutional, checking the knoll of prairie grasses and natives, and the more recently planted grasses in a small plot just established this season.

Routines. They keep us grounded and focused and ordered in life. They give us an anchor when the wind shifts and the tide turns.

I wish I had not seen it; aghast when I did, crying softly “oh, no”, Tom, beside me in an instant, shocked and saddened at what we encountered.

That little fawn, hidden in the weeds just a few days before. lay dead in the grass,  just its head and a leg. No mess. No blood.  The remains of nature’s brutality. Obviously, my words of the fawn’s safety and lack of scent made no difference to whatever attacked it, most likely coyote.

Tom gentled me away, admonished me to stop looking, comforted me as we retraced our steps to the house.

It is a joy living so close to nature – except on days like this. Except on days like this.

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DSCN4773There is a rhythm to seasons as they flow from winter to spring, summer to fall, and within the seasons another rhythm flows as well.

One, knows, for instance, that it will rain when the peonies are about to bloom. The irises come first, however, and they show off for such a short time that one must enjoy them in earnest. The Salvia have a longer display, but, deadheading (what a violent word that is for an act that really bring forth new life) insures an encore performance later on. These rhythms all flow within each other.

 

 

Then, there are the weeds, which demand a paragraph in their own. Right now, we are trying to control the determined creeping Charlie, which I pull like a sailor hauling anchors in during a storm, coupled with the insidious garlic mustard. Whoever thought that was a good idea? It thrives here, with its flounce leaves and spikes of white flowers, ravishing our acreage inch by inch. It is the reason I almost look forward to the building of a house next door, for, that lot was a football field of mustard garlic all of whose seeds seemed to settle into our yard.

 

 

As I looked beyond our grassy knoll greening and growing and grateful for the sun and the rain, I wondered when we would first spot a fawn, for we usually do ’round about the time the peonies and irises put on a show. As much as I stomp my foot and huff and puff about the damage the deer do to our gardens, I do look forward to this season when the fawn are born.

 

I noticed something in the garlic, mustardy moat next door; a speck of a something that was probably a bunch of leaves blown about from a recent storm. Still . . . my eye on the speck, I wandered back, inching to the edge of our property. A slight movement in the breeze. Wide eyes watching me. The twitch of an ear. A fawn at rest. Right where his mother put him, for does are known to leave their babes in open fields for hours on end. Fawn have no scent, no predators, in fact, just a seasonally inspired granny who wanders about, dancing the dance of the seasons.

The photo above shows the fawn. Just click on a few times and you will find it center stage, as I did. Click on below, as well, and you should be able to make out the spots that fawn wear in their young life.  You may need to click twice.

 

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DSCN4684In the cool, crispness of  our sunny Sunday morning, I wandered out to the deck to check the newly arisen morning glory vines on their way up the path of strings laid out to train them into some sort of vine-like order. Tea cup in hand, I headed down the steps to a seat in the arbor.

An American goldfinch arrived on the rim of the bird bath, his bright yellow and black body alit for a moment, then flitted skittishly away at his awareness of my presence.

The wren, ah, they sang soprano and darted back and forth as wren are wont to do.

A male cardinal sat on a humble branch, in his royal red plumage, giving what sounded like a sermon.

A young buck, his antlers a mere suggestion, played shadow tag among the rays of sunshine in the trees further back.

In my arbor pew, I sipped my tea, steam drifting upward in the cool morning air, while the prairie grasses bowed with the reverence of prayer.

I finished my tea, whispered amen, and arose from my arbor pew. I walked away from this outdoor chapel and into the house, where I got ready for church, another sermon, and other distinctive voices in the choir of life.

It is good for the soul to begin one’s day on a wing and a prayer.

 

 

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DSCN4611I wait for them to open up; first a tightly wound bud, then the petals pealing away like yarn from a skein, to reveal their true identity. If you have been reading about life on the Cutoff for a few years, you surely know how much I adore tree peonies. If you are new here, waiting for these beauties to open are among my most cherished rites of spring.

These light pink ones opened up yesterday. They were stubborn buds in the morning, but, by late afternoon, they bloomed, filling me with appreciation for their sunny disposition.

From Mary Oliver’s “New and Selected Poems” I found her poem, Peony. The opening lines are perfect.

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

 

 

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DSCN4483Armed with a rake and a shovel, I could hear the lilt of a Baltimore oriole. They always seem to nest in the same tree, high atop the canopy of the Cutoff, usually somewhere just south of heaven atop the stately old sycamore. When I’m lucky, I can see his bright orange chest against the bald, white bark of the tree. Not this day, however, as his voice came floating down to me in the early morning crisp. I scratched the beds, unveiling the newly emerged shoots of ferns and the leaves of poppies, the tips of hostas and the wide green leaves allium, their buds just starting to swell.

We did not get the leaves raked out of the flower bids before the first snow of winter. I fretted, as gardeners are wont to do, but, it seems it may have been the best of things, after all. Although I am in a frenzy to rake it all out now. With two acres and a considerable number of large trees, there is much to do this year. As I continue uncover bits  of our plots, I find that there has not been all that much damage to the plants. I do believe that the carpet of leaves, several inches in depth, followed by three feet of snow, provided an insulated blanket for the perennials.

So, dear reader, it was a busy weekend. Our community garden was officially opened, seasonal plant stands were in the full flush of blooms and buyers, and the first of the outdoor art shows popped up under tents in an historic park, under the magnolia blooms.

I hope your weekend was as full of wonder and appreciation for nature as mine was, whether in the throes of spring in the northern hemisphere, or in the slowing down season of fall in the southern.

 

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Arbor Day

From the earth’s loosened mould
The sapling draws its sustenance and thrives;
Though stricken to the heart with winter’s cold,
The drooping tree revives. From An April Day by Longfellow

 

 

 

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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.

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It was good. Very good, indeed!

Visit the Oak Park Conservatory here.

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