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Penelope Pinafore

Walther_Firle_The_fairy_taleBooks. Books. Books.

I love this painting! Three children seemingly attentive to whatever is on the pages of a book, warm light streaming in, potted plants on the window ledge, and pinafores. I’m a pinafore sort of girl. Penelope Pinafore.

My reading has been rather sparse lately, what with cleaning up the garden, fiddling around with flower arrangements, writing reports, walking down paths – and general socializing, my eyes tend to grow window shades when I sit down to read these days. There are a few tidbits I’ve dipped into, however, and I thought I might share them with you.

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Our book group just discussed Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley; In Search of America”. While we were somewhat divided on whether or not we liked this classic, or finished reading it, we did have an engaging conversation around it. I was taken in with the simpler prose and rich language of the time and of a rural America that was already vanishing.  I found the photo above googling around. It is of Steinbeck’s traveling home, which he christened Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse. The photo is from here.

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An audio book kept me company during a long spell of meetings and things to attend that had me driving to and fro. It was Bill Bryson’s “One Summer: America, 1927” and centers itself on events and personalities leading up to or following that memorable summer. This was a fun book to listen to. Bryson himself reads it. It is chock full of facts and numbers and tidbits of the times with a bit of Bryson’s own humor thrown in.

From the epic trans-Atlantic flight of Charles Lindberg in a “flimsy” plane to Presidents Coolidge and Hoover, Al Capone and Babe Ruth, professional boxing, the invention of television by a young man, and the many nuances of a spit ball, ” . . . 1927 ” was an interesting book that had me pressing “stop” often and reflecting on how the mood of the country and of the world then was in many ways similar to 2016.

Image of book from Bill Bryson’s website.

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Wrapping this all up is a read I hope to get back to soon. On recommendation from our daughter, Katy, I checked out Wendell Berry’s “Jayber Crow”.

Jonas Crow is orphaned as a very young boy. He is taken in by an elderly aunt and uncle, who care for him lovingly and give him some of the happiest  and most secure times of his life. When they die, leaving him still a child, he is placed in an orphanage. Like all the children there, he is known simply by the first letter of his name.  J. J  learns his lessons just well enough to pass classes, knowing he can do much better, and feels he has a calling to ministry, which affords him a college scholarship.

Jayber, as he becomes known, abandons his studies, is a bit of a vagabond for a spell, and eventually becomes the barber of the small town of Port William, Kentucky, where he lives out his life and loves a woman he can never marry. It is where he struggles with his beliefs, and lives a simple life.

After several renewals, “Jayber Crow” found its way back to the library before I could finish it. “Jayber Crow” is actually a book I think I may purchase, for it is yet another book whose language and imagery are rich and whose pages I think I would return to often as it is a rather long, contemplative journey worth taking.

Have you experienced a good read lately?

Prescription

IMG_6301In early spring and fall, when weather conditions are favorable, forest preserve districts, prairie restoration sights, arboretums and other areas are treated with prescription burns.  Prescription burns are controlled fires in specific areas. They are conducted by individuals specifically trained to execute these fires.  Fire departments and 911 (emergency contact systems here in the States) are notified and signs are prominently posted notifying those who are entering a burn area that a prescribed burn is in progress.

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A burn can be in a forest preserve as well as on a prairie. Even before one sees a sign alerting travelers that there are prescribed burns, the distinctive smell and the haze of smoke are indications that a burn is being conducted.

The purpose of these burns is to clear the forest floor or eradicate prairies of invasive species that may have taken hold and bullied native plants out of their natural habitats. It opens up the field or understory for native species to once again thrive and sun can filter in as years of debris are burnt away.

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A prescription burn also serves as Mother Nature more naturally did, providing the intensity of heat and fire to open up dormant native seeds, allowing them to not only germinate and grow, but, to also provide food sources by exposing insects and seeds that birds thrive on in their migrations.

Prairie fires were a natural occurrence in this vast land; before farming, towns and cities arose across the prairies and great plains. So were forest fires. Lightening strikes on particularly dry tinder or native grasses happened with more regularity. Indigenous populations also purposely set fires when needed, observing nature’s ability to revive their hunting and gathering areas.

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So it was, on several fine spring days, that I came upon prescribed burns, sometimes seeing the flames and smoke, other times seeing the dark, scorched earth where fires had recently been. I know that they will soon be alive with new growth as I saw birds swooping in to gather what only they could see, feasting on the forest and prairie floors.

Closer to home – well, actually at home – the Antler Man and I have been busy clearing away Winter’s leavings; twigs and reeds and weeds that we leave out of the mulch piles that are too small for the city’s brush removal and too big for composting. We live in an area where brush can be legally burned. Our neighborhood is often lightly peppered with smoldering brush piles in spring and fall.

After many-a-day that were too windy for fires, and the subsequent additions of fallen debris because of the winds, our pile had grown quite large and the day had bloomed quite adequately for a burn. I was heading out when Tom asked me to stay nearby for a bit as he was going to start a fire. So, there we were, adding a few more remnants of nature (there always are some) and a fire was lit.

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As Tom stepped away for a few moments to get something-or-other, I reminded him to make sure the hose was turned on. It was. The fire, my friends, was quite hot and the wind kicked up and before we knew it the fire jumped,  just a bit of hop, but a hop is hop and Pop was not on top!  I shouted for Pop to bring on the hose for the fire was rushing toward the garden.  I wasn’t as worried about the garden, which is a prairie garden, after all, but,  I was worried about the arbor and barn and lions and tigers and bears, oh my !

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All’s well that ends well.

We quickly snuffed out the errand flame’s path. The area is already alive with new growth, birds have been rummaging around in the charred spot, and so life goes, here on the Cutoff.

Sprung

Spring has sprung!

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We have been enjoying some bright, sunny, warm days and pleasant nights for sleeping with the windows open.

Robins have constructed a nest in the crook of the gutters, Mr. Woodchuck made a brief appearance, the spring peepers have performed with a great deal of gusto, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard have returned from their winter down south – and I saw an owl, perched upon a dead tree, seemingly directing traffic on a busy route.

Life is good.

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I took some time to walk about at the Sagawau Canyon Environmental Center; a slow walk with the sound of songbirds, the babble of a brook coming tumbling out of the canyon. At first, I thought this was a bluebird oh, how I hoped it was!  He sat on the pole for the longest time, serenading with all his might, then, suddenly swooping into the cerulean sky, his true love joining him in a a dance of love.

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I never, ever tire of this, dear reader; this primal rhythm of love and life and nature with the slow pull of wonder that leads me to wander about my garden, into the woods, across the arboretums and conservatories and lands that have been wisely conserved for generations upon generations to enjoy.

Redbud?

I “get it”.  I think I understand Mr. Emerson’s words that “earth laughs in flowers”.

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There have been several days of hard work in the gardens, for sure. Two beds are now raked clean of winter’s wrath, three more beds still sit await, including the swath of prairie we have been slowly developing. There is a bit of a story of our little prairie that I will try to share in another post. Let me just say that where there is smoke, there is fire (and not-to-worry, all’s well that ends well).

Along with my “walk-about”, there is “here-about” the tender emergence of Mayapples, brunnera, and celandine poppies. Lily of the valley are pushing through, as are lungwort and feverfew, marjoram and lavender. Siberian squill is abundant – and then, there are the sweet violets that I first noticed while walking the grounds on my mother’s birthday.

Ma’s name is Violet.

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How it is

IMG_6044The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

– From the poem Two Tramps in Mudtime”  by Robert Frost

Bloom

IMG_6484A mid-afternoon errand took me into La Grange, first to the post office, then Trader Joe’s, where they were holding some flowers for me to use in an arrangement for our garden club’s luncheon. Once those stops were made, I crossed over the tracks and my car just did what it often does, it veered left (when I should have been heading due south). I heard that a new florist had opened, and, well . . .

. . . this is what I found.

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Bloom3 is a unique florist with unusual flowers as well as garden inspired objects,

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and through this door, which looks like the original door to what must have been a safe, was another long table and chairs. Such an atmospheric space can be used for small gathering, planting workshops, and, I suppose, wherever one’s imagination might wander. I can imagine a garden club making arrangements, or a group of youngsters learning how to transplant violets, or even a small bridal shower.  What a fabulous place to bloom.

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A Sea of Pink

IMG_6517A sea of pink flowers,  artfully arranged by the ladies of the garden club. A simple set of instructions: clear vase, pink, white, green and black flowers and adornments.

A historical presentation of The Little Black Dress, modeled in vintage dresses covering the nine decades our garden club has been celebrating this year, in the grandeur of the magnificent Medinah Country Club.

More than 130 women, elegantly attired in black and pink, green and white, tailored and flowing, long and short, sipping drinks and chatting with friends as they perused more than twenty artistically adorned raffle baskets.

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A delectably plated luncheon of tomato bisque soup, salad topped with warm chicken, and this pièce de résistance.

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It was a remarkably memorable afternoon. Two wonderful women, my friends,  were honored as Women of the Year. Our garden club members and their guests forgot their worries and troubles for a few hours, or, at least felt those burdens lift.  They were, hopefully, feeling as special as they are in this all-too- brief  but very special moment in time

A few glimpses into the Elmhurst Garden Club’s annual luncheon – A Little Black Dress.

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Birding Notes from an Old Coot

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Singularly, or together, Tom and I often visit this slough; the Saganashkee. Four miles long, it is only about six feet at its deepest spot. There are several pull-offs from the boundary roads for cars and motorcycles to park, a boat launch for kayaks, and canoes On many half-way decent days, fishermen and women can be found on the shore. often young children in tow learning to fish.

Co-mingling along the Saganashkee’s shoreline, waterfowl, songbirds, and birds of prey seek shelter in the trees, take refuge among the cattails, and soar overhead looking for a meal  – or dancing their mating waltzes. Geese, egrets, herons, hawks  – even Sandhill cranes abound, along with their home-sapien counterparts,who come equipped with cameras and binoculars . At the height of the migratory seasons, tripods and stilted legs are in equal fashion with long-legged Great Blue Herons.  It is an area known by birds and birders alike.

I turned into one of the pull-offs and parked the car, an eye to the sky. My friend Phyllis identified a Bald Eagle in the area and I was hoping to catch a glimpse, which I did. The eagle was soaring in the distance; a magnificent sight to behold.

Cell phone in hand (it counts my steps), I walked a short distance, surprised by a gathering of dozens of birds I did not recognize. At first, it looked like aIMG_6359 herd of black sheep. A few steps later, perhaps wild turkeys?  Closer still, I could tell they were smaller in size than the common geese that were sharing their mid-afternoon snacks.  Eventually, they sensed my presence.  Long-legged and flat-footed, the scurried into the slough, a few fly-skipping.

Were they ducks? Swan? Black Swans have been passing through the area in the past several years, but, they seemed too small.

I asked my Facebook friends if anyone knew what they were, and they commented with some interesting choices. I must tell you, it was really great fun. Guinea fowl, mud hens, mergansers – and several other birds were suggested. I clicked on all sorts of birding sites, hoping to identify this flock.

DSCN9944I even dragged Tom to the area, not once, but, twice, and have returned as recently as two days ago, where these birds are still around. I believe they are migrating north and have stopped for a while to rest, eat, possibly convene for a bird convention.  We estimated around 60 birds as they floated along the shore on Easter Sunday.

It was, in fact, on Easter Sunday that I was able to get close enough to capture enough features; beak, head, coloring, feet, flight.  Coots!

I wonder if they will still be around today?

Have you met a new or interesting bird lately?

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Juliet Batten

Author, artist, speaker, teacher and psychotherapist

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