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“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts…There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”   –  Rachel Carson

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There is some fretting hereabouts; too much rain, not enough sun, cool weather, stiff winds, etc. All true – but, then there are those “repeated refrains of nature” that slow us down, still our souls, give us pause to cast away our worries.

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I have been fascinated lately with the way Mother Nature bends the water , the trees, the floral tones of flower petals and pine needles.

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We are often frustrated with the cool, cloudiness of our recent days , yet, it is this coolness that has kept a long, sustained performance of daffodils  and tulips, apple blossoms and bluebells.

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Spring has been more of a slow waltz than a jitter bug. I find myself enjoying the tempo this year,  with some gentle dips in the winding paths I dance upon, and Mother Nature wearing her softer, more subtle shades of green and purple and blue. I marvel at the bend of light in water and the slow turn of the earth as I find myself reveling in “the repeated refrains of nature”.

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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.

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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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IMG_6421My posts seem to be arriving as sporadically as Spring. Business and busyness are wiggling their way into my life these days.  I wonder about your life as well.

We had a quiet Easter Sunday here on the Cutoff. Following a moving church service and a time of fellowship with good friends, we wound our way home, taking the scenic route through towns with estates, down country-like roads. on to the vast acreage of the Cook County Forest Preserves. We do this as often as we can, appreciating the beauty that anchors our lives, feeling fortunate and blessed to live so close nature and thankful of those who came before us who preserved such large areas of forest and prairie, fens and marshes, trees and wildflowers.

We were also on a mission. Earlier in the week I noticed a flock of birds, unfamiliar to me, who had congregated along the shore of the nearby Saganashkee Slough. I will write more about them in another post, but, below is a photo of our migratory visitors.

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Once home, our cameras loaded with nature shots,and a few of my feet or Tom’s nose, we each found a nest of our own to nestle in, relax, read, watch television, even take a little nap. It is good to relax and refresh sometimes.

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A big meal really wasn’t practical for just the two of us, but, a nice dinner, by candlelight, filled with flowers and reflection rounded out our Easter.  It was a simple supper; pork tenderloin (which I stuffed with apples and raisins), fresh, roasted asparagus spears, and baked sweet potatoes. Peter Rabbit joined us, munching on his carrot, and I, dear reader, felt once again the warmth of the season before us, the sacrifice so long ago behind made, and the hope of what lies ahead.

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I hope you are enjoying your emerging season, whether here in the northern hemisphere where the grass is turning greener and trees are showing buds, or you are enjoying autumn and look toward the  winter ahead in the southern hemisphere. I wish you peace as you begin your week, and soon a new month.

 

 

 

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IMG_5463Do you ever feel that your core, your inner reserves, your oomph needs a charge?  I just needed an hour or two to reboot; to be in nature.

 Already halfway there, with a pocket of daylight before me, I steered the car westward to one of my places of renewal – the Morton Arboretum. The volunteer attendant cheerfully checked my membership card and we chatted ever-so-briefly; just enough to put a smile on both of our faces, before I rounded the bend into the grounds and veered toward the east side of the grounds.

I was looking for, and I found, strength.

I have written about this bench before. It has become somewhat a totem to me that I reach for in every season. I’m glad I don’t need to wear it around my neck, for the bench is really quite large. There is something about it that makes me smile and fills me with joy.

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Catching the bench at its best through my open car window, something caught my eye, high above, casting a shadow, dancing the dance of nature.

I turned the car off, crossed over the lane and stepped onto the frosty grass. I stopped and stared as this hawk overlooked his kingdom. What did he see? How far did his powerful vision telescope? What unsuspecting rabbit or vole was his prey? He was stolid and still, master of his dominion. Then, suddenly, he swooped and circled again and again before he drifted away on the waves of air until I could see him no more.

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These moments are such rewarding gifts.They remind me of how small I am and how much I have yet to learn. 

I did not stay long in this outdoor stadium of strength. Back in the car, I finished the loop, then I stopped at the Visitor Center where I checked out some displays. As I walked out the door, I looked, as I always do, for my favorite tree, the Copper Beech, and remembered one of you asked to see in it winter.

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I drove around the west side, then headed home, my oomph once more charged.

How do you regain your core, your strength, your groove?

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“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

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 It is a often a chore to embrace beauty in winter, especially when it is bitterly cold with a shameless wind that bites through layers of fleece and wool and even  our mere determination to get where we must go.

I remind myself, on these outings, that this winter is nowhere near the challenge of our past two winters. The mud, the patches of snow, the ice – all are mild compared to three feet of  snow to push through or the days upon days of freezing temperatures that the last two winters brought.

On Wednesday, I went out in the early morn to 1 degrees (F) temperatures. On Friday, my day started at 40 degrees.

Here on the Cutoff, we get “lake effect” snow as well as “snow fog”, magnificent sunsets and white-out conditions – sometimes all in the same day. It is what it is, for we ARE in a cold climate, near a large and deep lake, but, there IS beauty to find.

Salt Creek is flowing right now, although there are many sheets of ice. It was frozen the other day. Have you ever seen water frozen on its descent over a dam? It is pretty magnificent. It was from this creek that ice was harvested years upon years past. I’ve always found this an intriguing concept; harvesting ice. We take our ice for granted. Open the door, push a lever, tada! Ice cubes. Open the door, pull out eggs, milk, produce, anything and everything whenever we want. Refrigeration keeps products cold and safe for us to eat. We do not need to go out to the ice/spring house, to the frozen creek, to find get our food, we just have to open the refrigerator, where a magic light goes on.

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I was thinking about his as I drove past Fullersburg Woods. It was too cold and I wasn’t properly dressed for a trek in the woods, but, with no cars behind me, I opened the window and took a few cell phone shots of the old footbridge, which is pictured above. Two hawks were soaring overhead, dancing their primal dance, and a gaggle of the ever-present geese goggled about who knows what?

Later, finally able to navigate the muck and the mud of our own worn acreage, I slogged the distance with a bowl of kitchen peelings, eggs shells and coffee grounds to the haphazard compost pile. There were eyes (and not potato eyes) watching me. This doe was a few yards away. I did not zoom in with the camera. The rest of the clan was rummaging for nourishment in the ravaged lot next door.

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Bowl in hand (I guess I thought it would give me leverage) I made my way further back.

We have a “kill zone” on our property; a spot where we sometimes come upon nature’s leavings. Feathers and bones and remnants of lost life appear. Birds, smaller animals, feathers and such things that were once life here on the Cutoff.

 Earlier, before Christmas, there was a massacre. Tom came across what ended up being two doe. He suggested I not go back there. I could see the amount of blood on the then white snow from the windows, and I heeded his suggestion. Since then, nature has taken its course, and so I wandered back. It was not a pretty sight. It must have been coyote who took these two resting deer and along with other scavenging prey, they pretty much picked the bones clean.

I thought a little prayer and trudged back to the house, retracing my steps in the snow and the mud. As I walked, I silently counted the resident herd, all doe and yearlings, enjoying their late afternoon snacks. I counted. 17. A buck had been strutting about. This fellow is most often seen, the crowned head of the kingdom, though there are at least two more boys who wander these woods. They really are magnificent to watch.

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The trees, the creek, the carnage and the beauty; the endurance of Rachel Carson’s words. Something to contemplate here on the Cutoff.

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IMG_5315 - Version 2The rain was relentless, casting a fine, gray mist over everything. As I drove to the supermarket, the mist turned to rain, slowing down traffic and rendering the parking lot a hazard as shoppers pushed carts against the pelting rain, neither looking left or right to see if cars were approaching. It is the kind of weather situation I try to avoid, but, a sack of potatoes, some bacon for flavoring, and gallon of milk were needed for the promised pot of potato soup for our evening supper.

I located a parking spot and pulled into it, turned the ignition off and stilled the windshield wipers. It was there and then; one brief moment of magical transformation. The raindrops became splats and splotches and then, as if a wand from Hogwarts brushed the the air, giant snowflakes landed, one by one by one, upon the windshield.

Have you ever experienced that moment when a droplet of rain becomes a snowflake, then two and four and eight and more, like a row of kindergartener holding on, grabbing the first grade and second and so forth until a whole school of flakes take hold?

I hurried inside to make my purchases and then out again, into the elements, and home. My potato soup is simmering, waiting the addition of milk and egg dumplings. The snow has painted the Cutoff white; a pristine portrait for now, until the deer and squirrels and other creatures scrawl their signatures like footprints in the sand.

There was something about the snowflakes that brought to mind a story about a man who gained the reputation of being Snowflake Bentley. Do you know about him?

Wilson Bentley was born in 1865 and lived his entire life on the family farm in Jericho, Vermont. He was educated at home by his mother, reading her set of encyclopedias, in between working the farm with his family. Experimenting with his mother’s telescope, he became fascinated with snow crystals (snowflakes), observing that each one was different. Wilson talked his father into buying a camera that would enable him to take photos of the snow crystals through the lens of the microscope, and eventually catalogued some 5,000 snowflakes, discovering that no two are ever alike.

A shy man, different from most, with a good sense of humor, he became known as the Snowflake Man, or Snowflake Bentley.

Some years back, while on a leaf-peeping trip to Vermont, we stopped at the Old Red Mill in Jericho, and saw an exhibit of Snowflake Bentley’s photographs. I bought a snowflake ornament and this charming children’s book.

http://snowflakebentley.com/bio.htm

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I tried to capture some snowflakes as they tumbled upon my windshield. All I got were droplets of water, which are pictured above, though the reverse image of corners of our house and The Barn can be seen in many of the droplets, reminding me, in an odd sort of way, that Bentley also photographed and measured raindrops.

Funny, is it not, how transformative a trip to the supermarket can be on a snowy winter day?

If you click onto the picture of rain, it will enlarge. Scroll around and see if you can find corners of our house.

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There is a special magic that envelopes us among the trees and bushes, sky and water, and clings to the night  air when all is dark and still. It comes when one walks upon solid ground that suddenly becomes a mystical path alive with unexpected glimmers of flickering lights and shafts of dancing beams of color; an imaginative adventure in the living museum that the Morton Arboretum is.

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 The approaching eve’s cloud cover afforded a dramatic prelude to the illumination about to start.

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We had the pleasure of attending a reception with tasty tidbits and the best hot chocolate ever, laced with Irish Creme, just as nightfall drifted over the Arboretum grounds. Fueled by our refreshments, we donned our coats and scarves and gloves, and embarked upon the path of light and sound and imagination.

Meadow Lake mirrored the artful art of skipping stones and the illusion of roots upon the water.

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The vast collection of trees danced the night away in a perfectly choreographed Nutcracker.

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We had fun with light beams and we magically colored outside the lines along the Conifer Path.

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It was a walk in the wonder, wonderland arboretum, filled with colorful lights and sounds, and a reminder that sometimes, maybe more often, it is good for the soul to color outside the lines.

Illumination:Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum

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