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We exchanged pleasantries, sitting in a cozy room that was flush with ambiance and age; names, information, insights. The room was more a parlor than a 515bzkkRXyL._SX369_BO1,204,203,200_lobby, with a bowed window looking out toward the river and the muted tones of music gathering us in.

After a time of conversation, we gathered in a row, like schoolgirls heading to English class. We walked down the hall to the room of the woman I would be visiting with, a centenarian named Virginia.

I will tell you about Virginia one day. For now, however, I will tell you about where my short conversation with a remarkable woman in her 106th year steered my thoughts as I travelled along the road back home, in a pouring winter rain.

Virginia was a gardener of some renown. She still recalls the lines of poetry she learned as a student some ninety years ago.  Though frail and unable to see, her mind is sharp and her words well spoken. I thought about them as I drove.  Once home, I settled in, wrapped in a blanket against the damp, chilling day, a hot cup of tea in hand, and I spent some time with another centenarian, Stanley Kunitz.

Mr. Kunitz’s book, “The Wild Braid”, is a though-provoking  journey through his gardens, his poetry, his prose. It is a small volume of conversations, thoughts, and a generous sprinkling of his poetry.

The book was a gift to me, some years ago. Debra, who knows my love of gardening and appreciation of poetry, sent it to me. A kind and thoughtful gesture from a special friend. I was not familiar with Stanley Kunitz. The book was an awakening to yet another U. S. Poet Laureate and weaver of words.

As I re-read passages from “The Wild Braid”, I thought of lives well led, and led well. Of men and of women who live life to the fullest, in good times and in bad, who garden and write and do a myriad of other things, throughout their lives.  They take their places here on earth and they make it a better place.

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.

From “The Round”,  Stanley Kunitz

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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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IMG_5223Earlier this month, in our year of celebrating 90 decades, our garden club looked to the 1960’s, which was great fun. A fair share of hippies and flower children were in attendance and ’60s food nourished us, especially this darling porcupine/hedgehog cheese log.

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It was an awakening to look back at the ’60s; not only for the memorabilia that members brought, but, in the video display of the major events of that decade. While there is no doubt that we live in often violent times, definitely turbulent times, make no mistake, the 1960’s was an equally frightening decade. We made it through those years, and I have hopes that we will make it through these.

We just need lava lamps to light the way. :)

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When our luncheon was over and our business meeting adjourned, we wandered into another room in the Wilder Mansion where Mark Spreyer gave an engaging and informative presentation on owls, as well as speaking about the Endangered Species Act, which came out of the 1960’s. Mark is with the Stillman Nature Center in South Barrington. He is an outstanding speaker with a remarkable rapport and respect of these beautiful birds of prey.

The owls Mark works with often come from other nature centers, such as the Willowbrook Wildlife Center, which cares for sick or injured animals. Once recovered, some of these creatures, whose injuries are such that they cannot be released back into the wild, are taken in by the Stillman Nature Center. I was impressed with the respect Mark has for these birds – and they for him. At one point, he made an owlish call as this beautiful Screech Owl recognized him, returning his call (they don’t screech).

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This Barred Owl was magnificent, often spreading his wings. These birds are such glorious creatures and I left both in awe of the birds and grateful for such caretakers as Mark and such places at the Spillman Nature Center. Barred owl

Do you have owls where you live? Did you have a lava lamp? Do you remember the 1960’s?

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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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A Newborn Day

Some days just rise without the need of a camera or an image, a painting or photo. It is what it is and imprints itself upon memory.

This morning was one of those awakenings. It caught me by surprise, just as I awakened, the eyebrow window above me framing the sliver of moon in the still darkened sky. I could see it slicing through the weathered limbs of the maples and oaks, the sharpened peaks of The Barn, with a lone star twinkling below it.

I remained there, prone. I watched as lunar magic pulled me into the newborn day and the dark sky gave way to light and hope and promises to keep, until I needed to rise, and did so just as the sun decided to paint the sky with colors only nature knows, a masterpiece painted into my memory.

 

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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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