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Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

dairy-farmwalking-to-barnThe way to the barn was a well-worn, rutted path, uphill and scenic, past acres of pasture on a Illinois Centennial Farm, now in its 5th generation of dairy farmers. As we trudged up the path, we noticed most of the herd in the distance, congregating companionably under a brilliant sky. We headed toward one of the farm buildings. This was our third stop on the McHenry County Farm Stroll.

I first heard about this free event from a University of Illinois Master Gardener publication, which caught my attention. This year, 12 private farms would be opened to the public. The properties included orchard, vineyards, dairy farms, hobby farms, and the Loyola University Retreat and Farm campus.

Tom and I marked our calendars and bookmarked the event, intrigued by all the options available, familiar with the rolling hills and farmland in McHenry County, and knowing the wide and well-informed network of the University of Illinois Extension Services and Master Gardeners, as well as the McHenry County Farm Bureau.

We knew we would not be able to see all 12 farms, so, selected 4 that we were most interested in,  mapped out a route and off we went for a Sunday stroll.

This dairy farm was our 4th stop and different from the others. We soon found ourselves observing the cows and their bairn eating in the barn, followed by a very informative mini-lecture on hay and straw, how hay is harvested and stored, the often “iffy” reliance on erratic weather in the midwest. Our docent in the hay stall was from the Farm Bureau and she was a gifted and knowledgeable speaker who had all ages of visitors engaged in her subject matter.

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One of the farmers also walked us through a typical day of milking the cows with insight into small dairy farms versus large conglomerates, how he knows the names of all of his cows, and reminding us to check out his Guernsey cows and a calf just born who were just outside the barn.

I did take a few photos of the newborn Guernsey, which did not show well. It was not yet 24 hours old, curled into a brown ball of body and big eyes. If it had some spots I would have thought it was a fawn. Mom, however, was close by, keeping her eyes on the intruders passing by.

 

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So it was on this enlightening leg of our Farm Stroll, that we wandered back down the path, rutted with decades of use. Onward we went, headed toward our car. We stopped as we departed to thank the volunteers stationed there who asked how our visit was – and we were given a choice of carton of milk.

White or chocolate?

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We chose wisely.

 

 

 

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Just after the reverberations of musket fire and the resounding boom and hazy smoke of a cannon’s call,  shouts came, proclaiming

 “the voyageurs are coming“.

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This was once the clarion call heard up and down rivers, lakes, and waterways from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains and down to the Gulf of Mexico. It signaled the approach of canoes bearing goods from the French-Canadians. Goods to be traded with native Americans and with the settlers along the water routes. This water bound trade route opened the way for exploration that followed.

These voyageurs, as they were called, paddled up to 70 miles a day; powerful men singing songs that kept them rowing and set a cadence to match the pull of oars in the water.

Alouette, gentille alouette,
Alouette, je te plumerai.

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This weekend, we witnessed a reenactment of voyageurs disembarking on the banks of the Des Plaines River and we saw settlers and traders welcoming them as they came ashore. They were greeted and asked for their “papers”, which seemed to have fallen overboard. No problem, for there was liquor to proffer instead.

 A River Thru History – The Des Plaines Valley Rendezvous is an interesting and historical reenactment of the early trading and lifestyles in the Des Plaines Valley during the 1830’s. The rivers and rowers were the rapid transit systems of their time and predated the City of Chicago.

We have been meaning to go to the Rendezvous for several years and decided that it was time to make it happen. Busses shuttled visitors from an expansive free parking area to Columbia Woods, a Forest Preserve in Cook County, not far from our life here on the Cutoff. The Woods follow the river and are a scenic spot for fishing, canoeing, and birding – except on the second weekend in September, when it becomes an encampment for blacksmiths and tanners, weavers and potters, local historians and history buffs – and modern-day voyageurs of time.

As we disembarked from our 21st century means of transportation, we saw an expanse of 17th century tents, tools, wares and costumes. Campfires held that welcoming allure of being outdoors (or pretending to be in the wilderness) and we strolled around seeing what was to be seen.

img_0385img_0386img_0419img_0446img_0421img_0426It was fun to watch children attempting to make toothpicks and a potter turning her wheel, the milking of goats and the blessing of landing on soil by a priest. It was especially fun to hear our names called out in greeting as a relative who we haven’t seen in a decade recognized us. I love when these chance meetings occur, don’t you?

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Voyageurs.

We are all voyageurs, are we not?  So goes life here on the Cutoff.

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img_9997Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? 

Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

I no longer remember whose post it was that first introduced me to Mary Oliver, but, I am forever grateful for it and the moment when I first experienced her words; words so well woven that they continue to ring the clarion call to nature and life for me.

It was the quote above that captured my attention, probably six or so years ago. I am still trying to form an answer. Perhaps, for me, what I plan to do is what I have always done; searching for meaning and purpose in my wanderings through the pathways of life.

On a recent pleasant, clear and less humid evening, I had an itch to be out and about in nature. Not quite dusk, I knew it would soon be, so needed to move with some purpose and plan, which led me to Lake Katherine and the mile or so walk around the lake.

Isn’t it funny how a place can sometimes beckon us?

I am glad I answered the call.

My reward was a time to reflect after a busy day and time to clear my head of details and worry. As I walked, I could feel the beat of my heart and the echo of my steps. A gaggle of local geese held a conference and two small children crept close to a pair of black ducks. Runners slipped past me and young lovers toward me as the sun slowly swallowed the shore and a lone Great Blue Heron waited patiently in the reeds for his next bite.

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Mary Oliver’s birthday is today.

While I am still not clear as to what is my plan, I am clear that I will continue my brief but meaningful wanderings in nature as my steps creep all the closer to my own setting sun.

So it was on another day’s walk-about that I came upon a field of gold. I thought I could hear the “goldenrod whispering goodbye” as I marveled at its bright, yellow color; a mass of madness in nature’s closing performances as one season sets into another. Here’s to Mary Oliver and to each of our own wild and precious lives.

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Song for Autumn by Mary Oliver

In the deep fall
don’t you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

From “New and Selected Poems Volume Two”

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IMG_9731I find that I need to get out to stretch my legs and ease my back on long car rides, especially if I am driving alone. The urge to move a bit and take biology breaks add extra time to the journey, but also afford an opportunity for exploring. The Wisconsin rest stops along the usual route to our Up North family are safe, clean, and often quite scenic and most have historical markers or honors to veterans. The scenery becomes more breathtaking, the terrain more varied, as the road wends northward. The trip remains just as interesting on the return route.

The weather could not have been better Tuesday as I headed south toward home. Finding myself in need of a walk, I decided to exit the interstate in Janesville and visit the Rotary Botanical Gardens there. It is a mile or so from the exit and a little piece of paradise, much of which is maintained by volunteers.

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So . . . I took a little walkabout down the paths and through the gardens, working the kinks out of my muscles and shaking the cobwebs from my brain.

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The flowers were in full form with a riot of color and texture and scents – and the pollinators were busy feeding from the many garden hosts.

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Moths and bees and butterflies flitted as if on their last fling before school starts.

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The gardens were just what my heart and soul needed, along with my muscles and bones. Being in nature always renews my spirit and calms my everyday worries, while giving me a chance to exhale.

I walked and sat and walked some more, wondering how the Antler Man was getting along on the Cutoff. I was thinking how encouraging it was to see so many bees and moths and butterflies when a Monarch floated by, looking for a place to rest.

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There has been fretting over the Monarchs again this year. Last year brought some hope that their numbers were on the upswing, but, this summer their numbers seem to be down and I have spotted only one on our little acreage on the Cutoff. There is an abundance of milkweed and butterfly weed and other host plants, but nary a Monarch egg nor caterpillar to be found.

The Monarch danced on the breeze and the landed on the big, green chair which is seen in the background of the photo above on the left, basking in the sun and casting shadows in the most magical of ways.

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Renewed and revitalized, I walked back to the car and set to navigating the last leg of my journey home with a sense of wonder that always befalls me in among flowers and trees and God’s good earth. As I drove back toward the concrete lanes of the interstate highway, the shadows of the Monarch cast a wee bit of wonder in my mind at how this one regal member of butterfly royalty happened to find me miles and miles from home.

 

 

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IMG_8144Homeward bound, we decided to take a small detour. I wanted to check out Crawdad Slough, where I have spotted an egret. She is usually hidden along the reedy edges of the shore, stock still or slowly moving toward an unsuspecting target. I saw her, recently, high up in a tree and wondered if she was building a nest. The detour was my wandering hope that Tom could see it on our way home.

There we were, chatting significantly about the insignificant, just moseying along in the late afternoon, when I saw it!  Not the egret, but, instead a sign. No. Not an omen or an octagon, saying STOP. It was a big, bright, yellow sign, just out of the corner of my eye as I drove right past it.

Did you see that, Tom?”.

“What?

That sign?”

I hung a quick left into someone’s driveway and whipped my way back from whence we came.

RAW HONEY — >

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The sign pointed north. As soon as I turned, there it was. Just up a drive. A big yellow box with bold black letters.

 RAW HONEY.

We pulled into the driveway and hopped out of our mocha VW with a latte interior – such a trusty traveller she is – and looked around to see if anyone was outside. I called a cheery “Hello. Anyone here?” IMG_8759With nary a soul in sight, we walked up to the box. It had a few latches but no lock and key, and some bold honeybees painted around it.

There we were, the ever-patient Antler Man and Penelope Pitstop (she who stops at every box) and looked to see if we could open it. We fiddled a bit with the latches, then we slowly opened one door, then the next. One must be very careful when opening a newfound box – especially one with such large bumble bees depicted on it!

Inside was a sign with explanations, and an honor system for any customer wanting a jar of honey. How nice! Honor systems are not unusual down country lanes or in rural areas, but, they are not very common hereabouts, even in our semi-rural neck of the woods.

What a surprisingly delightful discovery this was; while not a white egret, a very sweet cache of local honey.

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I dutifully signed the guest sheet. We slipped our payment for our jar of Hilltop Honey in the appropriated container, closed and latched the bright yellow doors, and set back on the road-less-travelled home, where I promptly made a cup of tea with honey – and very good honey it was.

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I try to buy local honey, not only to support local businesses and beekeepers, but, also because it is said that ingesting local honey helps counteract seasonal allergies. I do not know if this is scientifically true, but, I do not that my own seasonal allergies have abated since I have been using local honey. Most of the honey I buy is from this general area, usually a farm stand, appropriately called The Farm, but, none of it is from hives only four miles from our home.

So it goes; a sweetened tale of life here on the Cutoff, where small detours sometimes lead to large, snowy white birds – or honey pots and the honor system.

(I did feel, just a wee bit, that I had just discovered the Bee Tree in the Hundred Acre Woods.)

 

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IMG_8656I was sitting with my laptop, on my lap, my eyes on the computer screen. my ears on the strains of music.

I always look forward to PBS’s airing of A Capitol Fourth and enjoy the program; the music, the people, the tributes, and the memories.

I was relishing it all, from military bands to pop stars, my eyes wandering from computer screen to television screen, watching performers and attendees enjoy our national birthday party.

Kenny Loggins came on, first playing Convictions of the Heart, then rolling into Footloose. Not really a song one would expect on Independence Day, but, then, again, why not? We ARE free to dance where we want. Flash Mobs pop up and invade social media, those being “flashed” seem to enjoy them, but, I digress.

My feet always start to move when Loggins’ Footloose comes on, and I did right then;  I felt footloose and started dancing around, hoping I didn’t bump into the furniture, knock a lamp over, or bungle my back. Sometimes it is fun to just cut loose.

We saw Kenny Loggins in concert a few years ago. It was a wonderful outdoor concert at the Morton Arboretum. By the time the stars and fireflies came out, even  the trees were swaying to Danger Zone.

Kenny’s songs played often and loudly in our house. The House at Pooh Corner was a strong contenders for Katy’s father/daughter wedding dance. James (you know who) won out.

Kenny was singing, my toes were tapping, the Capitol rocked – and my memory wheel started turning back several decades to the year we spent the 4th of July, Independence Day, in Washington D.C. The girls were old enough to appreciate the trip, young enough to go along with all the historical venues (well, most of them).

We spent the entire day, July 4, touring D.C. sites, starting with the reading of the Declaration of Independence in front of the National Archives, and ending with the fireworks display on the Mall. We rode the trolley to Arlington National Cemetery, quietly taking in the rows upon rows of burial markers. We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and also paid respects at the Kennedy graves, then onward to the Lincoln Memorial, which was full of people, the reflecting pond suddenly coming to life for me where it had been before only in historical photos, Forrest Gump, etc. We spent time at the Smithsonian’s museums and more changing of the guard at the National Archives. We spent time on the Mall, witnessed the Viet Nam Memorial, and listened to a bit of a character expound on why he was running for president . . . let’s just say there have always been characters running for president. This candidate wore a safari outfit, complete with a whip, like Indiana Jones, and he shared his arrest record.

Unplanned and unprepared, we found a spot on the lawn of Mall to wait for the fireworks – after we dined on the worst hot dogs imaginable and lived to tell about it! We sat on our sweatshirts, as we did not have blankets to place on the grass. Religious groups, aging hippies and folks from all walks of life and countries made what appeared like a human blanket on the nation’s lawn. It was really one big block party. I think the four of us will always remember it, though in different ways, with different but valid convictions in our hearts.

 

 

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IMG_8077As with many adventures, ours began in a train station; the Riverside train station, to be exact. A group of 23 garden club members met in this historic depot for a customized tour of six private gardens, led by several docents of the Frederick Law Olmsted Society.

The entire town of Riverside, formed in 1868, was designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The entire town of Riverside has a National Historic Landmark designation and is often referred to as the town in a forest. The quaint downtown with its unique tower is the centerpiece of Riverside; a town with gently winding streets, a variety of stately trees and boulevards that meander, much like the nearby Des Plaines River,  down charming lanes reminiscent of another era and past homes designed by noted architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frederick Law Olmsted is widely regarded as the founder of American landscape architecture.

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Our tour was arranged by the conservation and education committee as we wrapped up our garden club’s 90th anniversary year. We were hoping to see how a town can develop in harmony with nature. We decided to tour Riverside (the past) and visit a relatively new enterprise in nearby Brookfield, Root 66. The owner of Root 66 gave us a program on hydroponics and aquaponics (the future) at our June meeting.

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As we “motored in our machines” to the gardens, our cars in procession, hazard lights blinking, racing through town at about 20 mph, we must have looked like a funeral procession. Some of the gardens were more fitting to the architecture and era of the home with prairie type plantings and natives, while others were more precise and controlled. We viewed the grounds of the Avery Coonley Playhouse, designed by Wright, as well as five other gardens.

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I found it to be a delightful and inspiring adventure, tired but smiling as I got back into my car at the Riverside train station, where our adventure began.

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