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Archive for the ‘Nature/animals’ Category

Majesty

I turned down the cutoff, savoring the awe that I feel from what I’ve come to call a “hawking”. This past year, perhaps a bit longer, I have experienced the majestic visitations of hawks soaring overhead as I’ve wandered to and fro. On this particularly brilliant Fall day, a hawk did more than soar overhead. He dipped down, close, past my windshield, so close I could see his eyes, the feathers of his wings. It was as if he was warning me of something ahead. In an instant he was gone.

I turned down my road. It is a winding pathway that houses both commerce and the feel of countryside. It traverses two major expressways, is home to equestrian stables, and houses modern “mcmansions” alongside 100+ year homes.

As I wended my way home, the hawk on my mind, there, in the outgoing lane. was a kingly creature. I could not get my phone out fast enough and something told me to just sit in the moment.

He was amazing, staring my way, me staring back, hoping no other cars were approaching. I slowly opened the window, neither of us looking away, his large, liquid eyes staring into mine. He bent his rack forward and down, quite the gentleman, as if to say “ma’am“and then – it was over. I could hear his hooves on the pavement, he had business to tend to, as did I.

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Tea:front porchI was having a cup of tea, late afternoon in that in between time after lunch and before starting our supper. With a few grapes to tide me over, I settled on the front porch, a worksheet and my journal in hand with the best of intentions to to wisely use my time.

The air was still. The chirping of birds and the sawing sound of cicadas were background noise as I worked my way through some readings for a woman’s study I was participating in via Zoom. Zoom and Skype and other online tools are being employed by many of us, perhaps you, during these times of social distancing in 2020.

As I attempted to stay on task, I felt a presence. It was in that instant when all alone you suddenly sense you are being watched. I slowly turned my head and there, about 12 feet from my perch on the front porch, a doe and her twin fawns were staring at me. I nodded and she dipped her head as if to acknowledge my existence, then, with the grace of her heritage, she strode down the driveway as if she had better places to be, making sure her children were following her.

I took a few sips from my teacup, then heard a humming sound. I looked up and there, just past the tip of my nose, was a hummingbird, hovering quite close, trying, I suppose, to see what was in my cup. As quickly as she appeared, she zoomed over to sip from the fuschia hanging nearby and, I kid you not, just then a chipmunk ran over my foot!

These sweet, small, seemingly insignificant moments are treasures to me. They soothe my soul and are a like a handrail to grasp when it feels like I’m falling. They center me, especially in this pandemic.

We are well and keep busy, the Antler man and me. We miss our Up North family, but are thankful for texting and Skyping and staying in touch. We are thankful as well for summer which affords us the ability to be able to have our Jennifer and Jason here for occasional  “socially distanced” meals and chats. While we miss Sunday services and activities at our church, we can and do live-stream and keep connected, and there are so many other ways and the means to carry on through these days.

So it was this afternoon, once again on the aging front porch, that I watched a pair of Monarchs waltzing around the milkweed to music only they could hear and I made myself a promise that I would try my hardest to return to blogging – and to ask how you all have been.

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On an early, April day, sitting in the den, I watched the sun dancing with the dust motes, brushing the desk, the door and the wall as it made its way to sunset. I was hunkered down amid the shelves that groan under the weight of books that comfort, inspire, frighten, motivate and entertain me, recalling the months Tom took designing then making them for my biblio-obsession.

As I sat, nestled in the well-worn easy chair – does anyone else use that term anymore? – I watched the journey of the sunlight until it landed on the small, shelved mirror on the wall. The mirror has a small drawer-like shelf that seemed to be crafted just for me to put things, which I have done over the course time.

One of the items slipped into mirror’s shelf is the remains of a chrysalis, found a few years ago when I happened upon a cocoon hidden in the long grasses of our little prairie. After monitoring the little miracle (my neighbors must think me a tad “off”) I missed the emergence. I took the long stem and remains indoors and settled it into the small shelf drawer . You can find that story here.

So it was that the sun kissed the remnants of what was and what would be.  I sighed, grateful for the reminder that out of uncertainty and chaos we can find hope.

There will be no palms this Sunday. No gatherings in churches, temples and other houses of worship. Whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu – our collective tents have their doors shuttered for the time being. They will open again, someday in the future. Until then, we must take care to not shutter our hearts.  It may be a long wait, but, it will happen. Until then, let us open up our hearts to love, to hope, to peace.

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Mr. Crow looks rather dashing, perched atop our Christmas tree, as he governs the woodland creatures below. He wears a red bowtie that he found on his long-ago travels. It ribbons its way through branches where nature inspired ornaments congregate until Epiphany. A raccoon, near wind fallen birds’ nests, sits gnawing upon a branch.  The nests were discovered after heavy winds rumbled through our little acreage as time has gone by. A dove flutters nearby, keeping the peace in this little December kingdom, and a bluebird rests in his favorite spot.

Our nature-inspired Christmas tree faces the front gardens, the road and beyond. It is in the room where we sit to hopefully spot the roaming herd of deer or to watch wintering birds find seeds or squirrels who scamper about looking for walnuts still scattered from Fall. This is where we sometimes see horses trotting past before disappearing into the woods . It is where we read, reflect, chat and dream. This room was christened “the Christmas room” by our granddaughter, Kezzie, when she was very young. It has been forevermore called just that.

Our woodland tree “just happened” our first Christmas here on the Cutoff. A real tree stood twelve feet tall in the family room. It held many family ornaments, lent fragrance and nostalgia to our home. We also had room for a second, artificial tree, which  came about that first winter here as I took out my mother’s collection of birds. The birds fondly reminded me of Ma, who was the person who first brought the tradition of Christmas trees into the big Greek family she married into. I have some of the ornaments that adorned that tree of the 1940’s and I treasure them, but, I digress.

As Ma’s birds took to their places on the woodland tree,  so did other ornaments that reflected on nature. As time went on, other birds appeared, as did other animals. I have several penguins, sheep, deer and  along with a few woodland creatures that had belonged to Tom’s sister, Maura. One-by one, year-by-year, other creatures of nature were hung on our woodland tree – and then I found the crow!

I no longer remember where he appeared, but, I do remember feeling compelled to bring him home. He reminded me of storybook about a crow, a ribbon, and a Christmas surprise.

(cover of Merry Christmas, Merry Crow by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jon Goodell)

Mr. Crow also reminded me of the illustrations, craftwork and lifestyle of Tasha Tudor.

(From Tasha Tudor’s Heirloom Crafts)

I have adored Tasha Tudor’s work for so many years, own many of her books, books she illustrated, prints, etc. and have written about her on the pages of Life on the Cutoff. Her book, “Edgar Allan Crow”, immediately came to mind when Mr. Crow found me, as did photos of her ravens and crows in some of her Christmas illustrations and photos of her craftsmanship in a series of lifestyle books about her some years ago.

There are legends of crows, including the one who overhead animals proclaim the birth of baby Jesus. The crow, it is said, flew across the land spreading the news to other birds. There are other fanciful tales of birds adorning holiday trees, along with poetry, song and on and on. Perhaps you know few.

There are also my own memories of birds and Christmas, starting with the Christmas Yia Yia, my paternal grandmother, was given a parakeet on Christmas. Christos was quite the talker, learned all sorts of phrases, many in Greek, along with some bawdy songs. These are stories for other days and part of family lore. There was also Frannie, my lovebird, a birthday gift. She loved to be out of her cage and was really everyone’s bird. She joined us for supper, perched on Tom’s shoulder and watched the 10 o’clock news, and followed our daughters around the house. Frannie was out other cage on her first Christmas with us, chirping and fluttering and being a bird. Suddenly, she disappeared! We called to her, checked the other rooms, and kept an eye out for her as we opened presents, wondering where she was. As wonderings often reveal, I saw something move, ever-so-slightly, out of the corner of my eye. Aha! There she was, perched like an ornament, watching us all, on a branch of the Christmas tree!

So, it is, that a crow crowns our Christmas tree – and will forever more.

 

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I closed the cover of Delia Owens’ enthralling novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing” with a few tears in my eyes and the sadness one sometimes feels at the end of a story well written – and an ending one did not expect. As I put this book down, I realized that it has been a long while since I last posted any book recommendations or reviews. Actually, it has been some time since I posted anything, for which I apologize. I hope to return to posting more often.

“Where the Crawdads Sing” came to me from my dear friend Elaine, who rushed up to me, book in hand, and said “you have to read this“. She was correct, I did. Once opened, it was a book I could not put down. How Kya survives abuse, abandonment, loneliness, poverty and being ostracized from the community while creating a family of sorts with wildlife and waterfowl is amazing. It lives up to all the hype and worth a read. Our book group will be discussing it at a future date – a discussion I look forward to.

These two books (below) were audio, from local libraries, “read” while I was out and about in my old car that had 6 slots for DVD’s – one of the few things I will miss from that now ancient vehicle. You know, the one with the latte body and mocha interior. (or was it mocha with latte interior?).

“The Library at the Edge of the World” was a delight to listen to about returning home, belonging, family conflict and, of course, books! “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” was equally delightful. It is historical fiction about Joy Davidman’s life, friendship and love of C.S. Lewis.

 

 

“A Fatal Twist of Lemon” by Patrice Greenwood is the first of several books in a murder mysteries series, the Wisteria Tearoom Mysteries. The books are set in and around a haunted house/tearoom located in Santa Fe. Mystery, murder, historic preservation, opera, seances, weddings, culture – you name it, the series is delightful. Short in length, they are best read on a winter afternoon with a cup of tea and a tasty morsel (a few recipes are included in the books).  This first book of the series, found in the library, was truly a book judged by its cover.

 

 

 

Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore is a small, charming, well established purveyor of histories and mysteries in Forest Park, just barely outside of the boundaries of the City of Chicago.  It is a bit out-of-the-way for me, but, worthy of a trip a few times a year to see what they have on the shelves over their unique plaid carpeting, and their knowledgeable and conversational owner. I think of Sherlock Holmes whenever I enter.

The bookshop has books concerning Chicago and the surrounding area and holds many events at the store, including book signings and author lectures. If I lived closer, I would be there all the time. I stopped in one chilly spring afternoon and was drawn to this short novel about a teenaged girl, Sarah, who is the second daughter of Jewish immigrants. Sarah’s family lives in a multi-cultural neighborhood surrounding Hull House during the late 19th century. Sarah wants to be an artist. Her father is a butcher, the shop close by, her mother holds a secret from the past, her brother is often ill, her older sister has romantic interests with a young Irish lad – and the Columbian Exhibition is about to open. Juvenile/young adult fiction, I enjoyed reading this. My father’s family settled in this area, his parents immigrants, his friends of many different cultures. When I was in 5th or 6th grade, our class had a field trip to Hull House, leading me to want to learn all about Jane Addams (who makes a few appearances in the book). A short read, “Her Mother’s Secret” by Barbara Garland Polikoff is a book you might enjoy.

One afternoon, some time ago, I had our local WGN/Chicago radio station turned on in the car. Do any of you listen to John Williams, or listen to local personality in your area on the radio?  John was reviewing and praising a book he couldn’t put down, “The Feather Thief:  Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century”” by Kirk Wallace Johnson. I was so intrigued by John’s enthusiasm that I purchased “The Feather Thief”, only to let it sit and collect dust. My garden club will be discussing it early in 2020, so, I opened the pages and was immediately immersed in the history of bird and feather collecting and categorizing in the 19th century, detailing the places scientists, ornithologists, and others traveled to collect exotic birds, skins and feathers for ladies’ hats –  and for salmon fishing lures in the Victorian era. They travelled in harsh, hazardous conditions, obliterating species for fashion, sport and greed.

But wait – there is more.

The book begins with a  20 year old flautist, Edwin Rist, a gifted, talented American, who, in 2009, hops on a train after performing at the the Royal Academy of Music in London. Under the cloak of darkness, Edwin travels to the Tring Museum at the British Museum of Natural History, climbs a wall, breaks a window and methodically steals hundreds of rare bird skins, coveted by salmon fly-tiers, of which Edwin is one, and hold many awards.  This is a fascinating, true story of ornithology, fashion, the fly-tying craze, environmental issues, autism, the internet, crime – and more.

What are you reading?

Centuries and Sleuths – https://www.centuriesandsleuths.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Wild Kingdom

It started when I opened the back door to go into the house. A frog hopped boldly in front me, over the threshold and headed toward my purse, which was on the floor inside. Silly frog. I didn’t have any money.

Pictured is our newly acquired “weed whacker”. As long as it stays out of the potted plants, it will be a peaceable kingdom here – or so I thought just as I turned and saw the hanging pot of fuchsia suddenly swinging a bit too fast.

Out the front door, wheezing as I went, just as a chipmunk scurried down into the pot, staring at me behind a leaf – in defiance. “Outofthere” (which became one word as I rapped on the pot, causing the chipmunk to literally bounce up in the air, out of the pot and into the weeds, er, hosta, whilst the crew of construction workers next door stopped to stare at me. (Chippy the Chipmunk was fine – just momentarily dazed.)

All’s well that ends well.

 

Just as the chipmunk scurried out of our little kingdom, a hummingbird arrived and proceeded to sip from the blossoms adorning the hostas then flitted over to the fuchsia flowers. I love these little moments in life.

 

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. . . in which the beginning of visits to three Japanese gardens that I began suddenly posted before it should have. It can be found here  My apologies if it was confusing (I’m confused 🙂 )

It is what it is, so,  let us walk together across this stone bridge from the Charlotte Pardridge Ordway Japanese Garden at the end of the previous post and travel together to the first of the Japanese gardens I visited.

 Watch your step.

One more bridge and then we will be . . .

. . .  at the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois.

As with many of my adventures in gardens and parks and forests, this was an excursion organized by the Elmhurst Garden Club’s Conservation and Education Committee. This committee, along with the Horticulture Committee, organize most of our trips. I have been wanting to go this garden in ever-so-long, so was as excited to go as these koi were to see us.

I have been to Japanese gardens before, but, this one seemed to be special – and it was.

We had a docent led tour, which made the experience more meaningful and insightful. We had two docents. One of the docents offered to take those who wished on a slightly less strenuous path with fewer steps to climb and places to stumble. Both were knowledgeable and engaging. We were asked to silence our phones, but, encouraged to take photos and to keep our voices low.

Our docent spoke of the elements of Japanese gardens; moving water, placement of living materials, paths, bridges, tranquil spots to sit and reflect, master craftsmanship and reverence for nature.

 

 

The garden was imagined by John Anderson as a young student and grew over the years. It was when he returned home from a trip to the Portland Japanese Garden in 1978 that he was inspired to turn his swampy back yard into a Japanese garden. Hoichi Kurisu, who directed the Portland garden, designed the Anderson garden. It grew over the subsequent years and was donated to the Rockford Rotary Charitable Association in 1998.

 

 

 

 

This was a most delightful tour, followed by a most delicious lunch in the restaurant on the grounds and good conversation with kindred spirits. The food, our next project or trip, books – everything that women talk about with laughter in the traveling sisterhood of gardeners,  followed by the restroom, the gift shop and then the return ride home.

As I left the Rotary Botanical Gardens, mentioned in my previous post, I thought of the other two Japanese gardens. Each was designed in the Japanese tradition, each unique yet distinctive of this honored form of gardening. They were all tranquil and gently led me to a bench or large rock where I sat for spell and listened to the water, the birds, the whisper of leaves.

The gardens shared some facts. Benevolent gifts of land and of funds made them possible. Swamps, dumps and land used for other purposes were artfully developed into what we see today. Two were eventually donated to Rotary clubs. One (at the Como conservatory) was a gift of the people Nagasaki. These Japanese gardens were all close to industrial areas and all provide tranquility and peace for a small donation – or free. Two of them were conceived in the late 1970’s, the Anderson garden just a decade later. I visited two of them as the opportunity arose while traveling through three midwestern states.

They all gifted me a sense of peace in a troubled world – and I gladly accepted it.

Have you visited a Japanese garden – near you, while traveling?

Is there a Japanese garden near you?

 

 

 

 

 

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The art of stone in a Japanese garden is that of placement. Its ideal does not deviate from that of nature – Isamu Noguchi

Homeward bound with much of the long road behind me, I needed to stretch my legs. It was a pleasant day, I had been in the car for several hours, and I knew that the Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin was a perfect place to stop for a break in my journey.

I exited the interstate, went the mile or so to the road leading to the gardens, and soon found myself marveling at the early summer blooms and lush greenery, the art installation and statues, the formal gardens, woodlands, vegetable gardens, and other botanical delights.

I was, as I often am, drawn to the entryway of the Japanese gardens . . .

. . . and I am always drawn to this bridge. Another of my photos of this bridge was the header for this blog quite a long time.

The Rotary Garden was a calming place to stop. I felt renewed for the last leg of my journey home.

As I walked back through the Visitors Center (and the restroom and the gift shop, of course) I realized that this was the third time in ten days that I had visited a Japanese garden. I wondered again at the coincidence as I merged back onto the interstate. I would pass Rockford (Illinois) on the next leg of my trip. It was the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford that the first of my trio of Japanese gardens was.

My son-in-law, Tom, knows me well. While visiting with my Up North family, Yia Yia was unsupervised for several hours while everyone else was at school or work. Just before she left the house, Katy remembered that her Tom (as opposed to my Tom) thought I might like the conservatory at St. Paul’s conservatory in Como Park. Katy gave me the necessary information, my GPS was soon loaded, and off I went.

This was my destination. The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in Como Park. It is an amazing structure and home to tropical and exotic plants, as well as well  as as roses, lilies, and flowers you many have blooming in your own garden. The Conservatory is worthy of a post on its own, which I will endeavor to compose soon. I want to show you the sunken garden in particular.

I roamed the conservatory’s lush garden rooms, then turned a corner and found myself in what I believe is a newer wing.

Saint Paul and Nagasaki are sister cities.

The Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden was a gift from the people of Nagasaki. The garden opened in 1979. It has been renovated several times. This bright, airy passageway leads to a remarkable collection of Bonsai plants. In a rare moment for me, I did not take any photos of them. I wish I had. They were amazing, calming in their peaceful way.

I wandered outdoors, taking my time, enjoying the warm weather, the soft breeze, the stone lantern along the path and the soft chorus of waterfall. 

My visit over, I headed back having enjoyed a very sweet few hours.

Now, dear reader, something has happened with my wordpress account as I was writing this, so . . . I will do another post about the the third Japanese garden and hope that this update posts and in some way makes sense.

 

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The door is an unmistakable shade of Campbell’s tomato soup. It is as unremarkable as it is dependable, keeping the big, bad wolf without and us safe and sound within.

There is little reason to open the front door except to water the planters, shoo deer, chipmunks, and squirrels away, or to meet the occasional pizza delivery van. The business end of the house is in the back and most folks visiting know to go to the back door.

So it was that, on a mission to check the fuchsia Tom had given me for Mother’s Day, out the front door I went.

Something swished past as I stepped onto the porch. I paused, looked around and realized an awfully agitated robin was flitting about, expressing her displeasure at my sudden presence, just as the Antler Man meandered down the driveway to the check the mailbox and unaware that I was out on the front porch.

I said I could hear a disgruntled bird but wasn’t seeing it. I looked around then turned to straighten some twigs, leaves and raffia on the wreath hanging on the wall. Tom’s mom made the wreath from grapevines many years ago. We hung it up front a few year’s ago. I usually add a big, seasonal ribbon and put dried flowers, twigs, string, acorns and walnuts – items to keep it attractive and, at the same time, provide nesting material for birds.I hadn’t gotten to it yet this spring.

Just as my hand was setting to rearrange some errant raffia and dried plant material from last fall, the protective mama swooped past me, chattering away. My hand stopped midair. A mother’s intuition, perhaps, or just my own curiosity,  I moved closer, slowly upon my tippy-toes, and looked closer inside to the wreath.

There it was!

The reason for this engagement in my own version of Angry Birds.

How do you like my spring wreath, just outside the front door?

Meanwhile, this was already established at the back door.

Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm

 John Muir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The saddest noise, the sweetest noise,

The maddest noise that grows, –

The birds, they make it in the spring,

At night’s delicious close.

– Emily Dickinson

 

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