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IMG_7424Sunday was reported as the area’s coldest May 15 in more than 120 years; a colder morning than even Fairbanks, Alaska.

Anxious to put color and springtime into their gardens, eager beavers who had planted their annuals scurried about Saturday to haul pots into garages and cover tender plants already in ground beds with bedsheets, tablecloths and other means of protection.

It is always a guessing game in Chicagoland when it comes to the weather. We actually hit 80 degree temperatures a few weeks ago. The weather has seemed even more mercurial this year. Gardening centers and nurseries keep waiting for a sustained break in weather for business has surely been slow for them this year.

The good news is that cooler temperatures have afforded a long season of spring blooms. From the sustained performance of the daffodils, to the surprise emergence of Jack-in-the-Pulpit, the fragrant lilac blooms to the exquisite tulip displays, it has been a good spring for early bloomers – and Mayapples!

I purchased a few divisions of Mayapples at our garden club’s annual spring plant sale a few years ago. There are many reasons for joining a garden club, and this is certainly one of them. Our member plant sales help fund the rich and varied programs we have at meetings. They also provide tried-and-true plant stock for members. It is no secret that here on the Cutoff a good portion of our garden beds are filled with the offspring of plants from my garden club friends.

May Apples are a vivid example.

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In establishing  a woodland garden, the celandine poppies, Jack-in-the-pulpit, trillium and now Mayapples all came from Mary’s garden. Waiting in the wings (the garage) are bluebells, also from Mary’s garden. Interspersed are anemone, from Bev and Jerry. Many of our daffodils are from Jerry’s bulb divisions. The darling of the patch, Lady’s Mantle, catches dewdrops in between them all.  M’lady really needs a bit more sun, but, she serves us well in the woodland garden) and was from Dorothy.

Underneath the umbrella of leaves, small buds appeared this year on the Mayapples. I observed this plant,  both in the garden here, and in my forest wanderings. They are abundant throughout the area and quite visible on the forest floors this year. They seem to have sensed the need for umbrellas long before we did as they sent out their bumper-shoots in anticipation.

With my yellow rain slicker and red rubber shoes (I am a sight to behold) I slogged about in the biting wind on Saturday afternoon. This is what I found.

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I will be checking these Mayapples as we swing into summer, hoping to see an “apple” or two come from these sweet May flowers.

Do Mayapples (mandrake) grow where you live?

Image below from here.

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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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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.

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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.

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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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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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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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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