Archive for the ‘Nature/animals’ Category

IMG_4525A small but sturdy contingency of garden club women who don’t mind getting “down and dirty” ventured out on a blustery mid-week morn.

We met at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, which hugs the Lincoln Park Zoo and the magnificent Chicago lakefront. It was my first time there, and, as I often do, I wondered “why?”, especially as I wandered the enclosed butterfly haven. Butterflies, moths and birds flitted about and I found myself slowing down, changing my own rhythm.

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We continued to explore this innovative museum as classes of youngsters darted in and out, trying hard to stay in their Madeleine lines when tunnels and manipulatives and all sorts of wonders called to them, especially in the exhibit rooms which illustrate where waste goes. Children love this “stuff”. It is fun to see nature from the eyes of children. I think we all enjoyed the Peanuts exhibit, which coupled Charlie Brown and his gang with nature facts. This photo is from the Peggy Notebaert website and information on the Peanuts/Charles Schultz connection with nature here.


After lunch, we donned our rain gear and walked a few blocks, chatting all the way, to the historic Lincoln Park Conservatory. Our engaging docent gave a brief history of the conservatory, which was erected in the 1880’s, we admired the formal outdoor garden, which is framed masterfully by the Chicago skyline.


Once undercover, we inhaled the warmth and peace of the Lincoln Park Conservatory. I’ll stop writing now, and let you see for yourself.





The Conservatory is also getting ready for their Christmas display. The poinsettia are ready and glorious.


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Chances are, if you live in the United States, or have visited here, and do any hiking, walking, running, or canoeing in local, state, or national forests, you have probably passed by or sought protection from the elements in structures similar to these.

IMG_3699Built during the Depression years, shelters and bridges were erected from stone and wood, perhaps made of adobe or other locally harvested and hauled materials. The structures pictured here are found in Fullersburg Woods. The stones were hauled in the ’30s from Waterfall Glen. The structures were built during the tenure of one of the most successful programs ever instituted by the government between 1933 and 1941 – the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC.

It is also likely that your outdoor adventures take place under the canopy of trees; trees planted by the men of the CCC. These crews were often referred to as the tree army. For the men who enlisted in the CCC, it was a meaningful, useful way to work in a time where no work was to be found. They learned a marketable skill or trade, regained a sense of pride in putting in a good day’s work – and sent much-needed money home to their families. They were fed, clothed, sheltered and paid $30, 25 dollars of which was sent home to family.


The CCC was also a massive conservation initiative. The nation’s farmland was devastated by over-cropping and unsustainable farming practices. Much of the country was a “dust bowl”, with land ravaged by soil that nature never intended for farming. Farms were devastated, as were the people on them. With no trees to hold soil in place and no trees to buffer the wind, dust storms turned the skies, then homes and lungs dark with dust, President Franklin Roosevelt led the charge to put men to work building bridges, roads and shelters – as well as planting trees.

On Tuesday morning a small group of us walked through a popular forest preserve in the area, Fullersburg Woods. While I knew that the CCC had a presence in Fullersburg during the 1930’s, I thought of it in terms of what is now the Nature Center. I did not realize, nor, if truth-be-told, even think of trees, assuming they were always part of the landscape. It was a revelation to discover that this forest had been primarily prairie. The trees were planted by the CCC, as they likely were in most of the preserves in Du Page and in Cook County.

Our guide was Chris Gingrich of the Forest Preserve District of Du Page County. He was also the speaker at our garden club meeting last week. He was as engaging and informative a guide as he was a speaker and walked us up hill and down dale through these amazing woods, showing us quite a number of shelters and sites that I had no idea existed here – or just failed to notice.

It is amazing, is it not, what we see in our lives and what we miss?

This is a sitting shelter. Salt Creek wanders behind it. It is open on all sides, with benches on two and a series of logs in between. A sturdy structure, it is well placed and made for resting during a long hike.


IMG_3718We walked up slight inclines, down others, one of which seems vaguely familiar to me. AHA! I think it might have been where I landed in a cup of tomato soup while trying to cross-country ski one winter. We passed a reclaimed prairie where once stood the CCC camp, where men slept and ate, read books, and played Monopoly, a popular board game of the time. Did you ever play Monopoly?


It was a brisk morning; one of the first of true fall-like weather. It warmed a bit as we walked and talked and listened and learned. As we came to the end of the trail, we finished our tour at what it now known as the Nature Center. Chris talked about the stones that were used to build the shelter, originally a boat house. It wasn’t hard to imagine the river frozen in winter with ice skaters gliding across, coming to the boat house to warm up at the massive outdoor fireplace. It is just as easy to admire the building now with windows and doors, for, it still stands and is used, a testament to a corp of civilians who built it – and thousands of other shelters, roads, fought forest fires and helped heal the land.IMG_3388



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IMG_3633The main parking lot was filled. The first overflow lot on the west side was filled as well and a friendly worker was flagging me on to a third lot.

What was I thinking? Noon? On a glorious fall day, when schools were closed for Columbus Day?

I visit the Morton Arboretum regularly enough that I did not need to visit it on Monday – but, I did. I was really on a specific errand to pick an item up at the gift shop, but, soon realized I had chosen one of the busiest days possible to come.

I decided to by-pass the parking lot I was being directed to and drive to the lot at the Thorndale Education center; a good move. The lot was all but empty and the Joy Path was at my beck and call.

As I wound my way onto the footpath, a woman suddenly emerged out of the bushes. “Oh! Here it is. I’ve been looking for the Joy Path. Have I found it? “.  I assured her that she had and we walked companionably for a few minutes. Like myself, she had decided to depart from the “maddening crowd”. She asked me a few directional questions and said she was visiting from North Carolina. We chatted as we walked about the torrential weather in the Carolinas, the magnolias that grow in our respective states and I mentioned a favorite author of mine from Charleston,. My brief walking companion had heard of Andra Watkins and said she planned to read her book about the Natchez Trace, “Not Without My Father . . . “.

The proverbial fork in the road approached, she wended right while I stayed the course along the Joy Path, just as the sun poked out from under the clouds and spread a slice of buttery yellow across my path.


Eventually, the path led me to the Visitor Center, the long line to the ladies’ room, and a very busy gift shop. I stopped in my tracks for a moment, overwhelmed by the glorious colors that have begun to emerge.


I treated myself to a yogurt parfait and iced tea, then headed back  on the mile or so path to my car, the afternoon shadows already beginning to draw their shadows along the earth. As I crossed the road to my pathway back, who to my wondering eyes should appear? None other than my early North Carolinian walking companion. We exchanged pleasantries, then she returned to the Visitors Center while walked upon the footbridge; two strangers in the woods, one from down south, the other from up north, on a glorious September day.


It is amazing how quickly the leafs’ colors turn hereabouts. Where there was but a hint of gold yesterday, the first flicker of reds and oranges have entered the landscape today. This is what I was waiting for in dog days of August, and what I try to remember in snowy depths of winter.

It is the slant of the sun, the sparkle of jewels on the water, and chance meetings along the paths of life that warm the small moments and lighten our steps along the way.


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. . .  well, really rather another favorite.  Can there be too many favorite trees? I think not.

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My heart belongs to the magnificent Copper Beech that sits in the shade garden close to the Visitor Center at the Morton Arboretum. I have written about this stately tree often. Thanks to my friend Janet, I found her favorite tree last year, a Cork tree. I’ve recently grown rather fond of the Bald Cypress and how it changes through the seasons. It has taught me more about acceptance as it sheds its needles after putting on a splendid show, uncommon for its ilk.

My newly acquired addition to my favorite trees list greeted me while on a long walkabout with my lifetime favorite person, aka the Antler Man. We were sauntering along the Joy Path, a new Morton Arboretum adventure for us, and there it was, stretching wizened arms out in welcome. Click on the photo below to get a better idea of how magnificent this tree is -as is the young man standing under it.

Tom:Maple:Arb:Sept:2015This is a Maple-State Street Acer Miyaibei Morton . As magnificent as his limbs are, outstretched and welcoming, the roots of this established specimen seem to hold a story of their own


as does the bark, with its carved nooks and crannies.


I look forward to visiting this magnificent maple in the next several weeks as I am sure he will be resplendent his Autumn suit of color; surely as serviceable as any once found in State Street’s Marshall Field’s.

It is good, is it not, to sometimes wander along a new path in life?




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IMG_3185 - Version 4It was a Goldilocks sort of day; not too hot and not too cold.

It was, in fact,  just about right with a soft breeze and a few wispy clouds, stimulating conversation with kindred gardening spirits and more than a sprinkling of hope for the future following the footsteps of two bright and energetic high school students.

An inquisitive contingency of garden club members began our excursion wandering the grounds of Lake Katherine. I’ve taken you to this nature center and its grounds often, so, I will leave it to your imagination (or a click onto the featured installments you might like), and just tell you that we enjoyed the waterfall and botanical gardens, the nature center and a long walk around the lake. It was a perfect morning for such an outing.

After time for lunch and time to rest our weary feet – for there is always food for the ladies of the garden club, we headed but a few city miles to one of the more innovative high schools in the City of Chicago.

Set on a busy south side corner of Chicago, a high school sits; not unusual in any big city and certainly not unusual in Chicago. The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences is relatively new in structure and occupies land, some 72 acres, that was the last farm in Chicago. It is a fully accredited college preparatory high school with core classes and the usual extra-curricular activities, only this school has cows and horses, grows corn and bushels of vegetables, scattered with farm machinery and students who don Wellies.


After an informative briefing by staff, we began our tour of the CHSAS. Our docents were two of the most delightful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable women who have ever led me around a high school – and believe me, I’ve toured many-a-high-school in my life. From computer labs, classrooms and library, to the machine tech labs and a barn, they guided us through a high school as rich in academic studies as it is in animal husbandry and horticulture.

We spent some time in the greenhouse where students were tending to seedlings,


and met some four-legged staff in the barn and pens.


One of our docents is also a student bee-keeper. These hives were in a courtyard which was teeming with apiary activity.

Bee HIves

We walked along a hallway of honors, common in high schools, but this one had honors from the renowned Chicago Flower and Garden Show, 4H, and US News and World Report.


This is a remarkable high school whose teachers, staff and students give me (dare I say all of us on the tour?) hope for the future. An emphasis on agricultural sciences is not uncommon in a state that produces corn, soy beans, and pumpkins. What is remarkable is that it sits in a large urban city that was once the” hog butcher of the world”.

I am sorry there aren’t more close-up photos. I was being mindful of not showing students. Instead, I will show you two of my favorite friends.

A day that was just right.

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IMG_2914 - Version 2This has truly been my summer of gardens with my pages filled to their paper white brims with daffodils and daisies, bees and butterflies. Hopefully, I’ve added a bit of sunshine to your life in the process of showing you everyone else’s garden, with a dash of my own.

We don’t travel much these days, but we are fortunate enough to be invited inside the garden gates throughout the Chicagoland area. Good things should be shared, so, I hope you don’t mind my giving you a few glimpses of gardens and sights I’ve enjoyed  recently.

Last Sunday was the last of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days in our region. As a glorious day dawned, we made haste to get to the first garden, certain to be popular as it was the garden of renowned landscape designer,  Craig Bergmann, at the Gardens at 900.



What a joy it was to run into some friends: bright flowers in the garden.

Right down the road is Ellawa Farm. Both gardens and the structures in them on the Open Day were originally part of the Armour Estate.

Ellawa has been refurbished and is under the protection of the Garden Conservancy. Thank goodness for organizations that preserve and maintain such wonderful gardens and open lands, for now and for the future, and that they are opened to garden and nature enthusiasts on select days.


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. . . is blowing in the wind.

Late Sunday afternoon I found the chrysalis changing colors just a bit, and wondered.


When I went to check the chrysalis Monday afternoon, I discovered that the Monarch had already emerged, leaving just a trace of its cocoon; a wisp of whispering goodbye hanging on the stem. I wish I could have witnessed the emergence, but, nature works on its own schedule, not mine.

I am grateful to have come upon the chrysalis as I did and thrilled that one more Monarch butterfly is flitting about, perhaps depositing her own eggs. Soon, that amazing generation will wend its way to the overwintering spots in Mexico as the Monarch migration begins. Who knows? Perhaps one of them will rest upon one of Debra’s butterfly bushes in Southern California where she provides a restful haven.

It does matter, dear friends, that we do our “bit” for nature, be it birdbaths and nesting materials, host plants – or giving to a favorite foundation so they can expand conservation efforts.


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