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Harry_Volkman_WGN_TVIt was not quite midnight on a New Year’s Eve. One of the typical bitterly cold Chicago New Year’s Eves that are common hereabouts. I was wearing a long, black dress. It had colorful rick-rack on the hem and neckline and long black sleeves, accompanied by my long, brown hair; a girl in the ’70s dressed up for a movie, Love Story,  downtown on New Year’s Eve. A college student with nary a nickel to spare, my Aunt Christina gave me with the dress. I had casually mentioned seeing it in the window of a little dress shop near her house. A few days later, she gave me the dress so that I would have something nice to wear for my Uncle George’s surprise birthday party. I was so touched by her generous gift and her thoughtfulness – I still am.  I loved that dress and I wore it on many  occasions for years.

My New Year’s Eve date (can you guess who it was?) and I walked out of the Oriental Theater – and directly into bright lights! Really bright lights, and a television camera, only we didn’t see the camera right away. We didn’t see it until we accidentally walked right in front of it and Harry Volkman! Tom swiftly steered us away from the camera, whispering “it’s Harry Volkman“! We had just stepped into a weather forecast. There he was, Harry Volkman,  a weather map at his side, giving the late night weather report in downtown Chicago, the last forecast of 1970!

Tom and I reminisced about that New Year’s Eve on Friday. We hadn’t thought about it in decades, but, it was one of those moments, part of our own Love Story, that works its way back into our long running conversation of life. These moments in time that stay with us, sometimes hidden from thought for decades, but, reappear when such things as the news of the passing of a celebrity occur.

If you lived in the Chicagoland area between 1959 and the early 2000s, no matter which television station you got your news from, you probably heard your weather report from Harry Volkman at some point in time. He was among the first to use weather maps, sometimes drawing in crayon or chalk, to show weather patterns. Sometimes silly, even outrageous for the times in his on-air weather reports, he was a daily fixture in Chicago news television for many decades.

Harry Volkman brought many young children, now adults, to their television sets as he would often visit area schools to talk to students about the weather. It was customary for schools to honor him with a boutonniere. Mr. Volkman would then wear it during his evening’s forecasts and he would mention the school during the weather report. He also visited retirement homes.

Harry Volkman also encourage young viewers to call in weather conditions. He would mention them by first name on the air; names like Tom from Aurora reports . . .  It would be anything from cloud formations to rain or snowfall and temperatures. By-the-way,  that kid named Tom grew up to be our revered meteorologist, Tom Skilling, who now gets paid to report the weather and is a well-known and respected meteorologist in the Chicago area.

I was thinking about all of this as the news of Harry Volkman’s passing hit the airwaves last week, as well as of this rather noble idea of citizen scientists, which I mention here on the Cutoff from time-to-time. Harry Volkman made weather interesting. He captured our attention with weather details in a new way that we could relate to, and invited his viewers to be part of the process of not only predicting weather, but, in being active citizens – citizen scientists – as they noted weather conditions. He was a true mentor to those entering his profession, and a moment in time for two college kids out on a date.

Rest in peace, Mr. Volkman. Rest in peace.

Image from here.

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It was one of those mornings.

I wandered around the grounds checking for blossoms, deer damage, and caterpillars, a cup of coffee in one hand, a camera in the other. I enjoy the quiet of early morning with hazy hints of the day ahead.

The swallowtail caterpillars have vanished. Day-by-day, one-by-one they disappeared, having grown as large as my thumb.  I was surprised by a Swallowtail butterfly that flitted out of the meadow rue; exactly where the caterpillars had been munching. The Monarch caterpillars have also disappeared, though I can find no cocoons, I’m hopeful for a few more butterflies this summer.

I sipped my morning brew while the bees sipped the Echinacea and dipped into the August Lily, dusted in pollen and sated with nectar.

Early mornings are like this, here on the Cutoff. A buck roaming from yard to yard, his proud demeanor and growing rack leading his confident stride. Chipmunks and squirrels, telling one another off.  A yellow wooly caterpillar making its way toward colder weather as a wren scolds me for being too close to her nest.

The sun was inching toward the purpose of this day, sending its golden rays through the nooks and crannies of our little acreage. As I looked toward its  rising, in between the branches and brambles of the boundaries between our little acreage and the clear-cut lot next door, I saw a few strings of silk glistening.

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There. Between a branch and thicket was the weaving of a web.

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As I aimed my camera, shooting at different angles, at times not even sure I was capturing the handiwork of an industrious spider, a hint of red caught my eye. He moved quickly, so assuredly, that before I could aim my camera’s lens he was across two acres and out of view.

So goes a red fox on a sunny August morning whilst I was webbing.

I’m sure there is a fable in here somewhere, but, I have not as yet learned how to knit one on my web.

 

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As summer begins her slow bend into fall, her riotous colors fade to more subdued tones. Tree frogs begin their nightly chorus, while crickets accompany them on their strings and I look to one of the garden’s later season blooms for some visual distraction before Autumn’s splendor.

The August Lily really isn’t a lily at all. It is a member of the hosta family; Hosta plantaginea. It is a late season show stopper, both for its exotic beauty and its seductive scent.

The ideal location for an August Lily is near a window or door, or along a well-worn path, for there is such a sweet fragrance as one’s clothes brush against this plant and its scent drifts past an open window or ousidet a door.

DSCN9422This August Lily sits quietly in a corner of the front border, hugging a coveted place of honor, waiting for me to open the front door and enjoy its sweet scent on a late summer’s night. Other August lilies sit along the arbor, where they wait for brief interludes after I’ve been working in the prairie garden or the arbor’s adjacent shade garden.

Like many white flowers, the August Lily’s scent grows strongest at night, which also makes it an attractive night pollinator. Some plants work harder at night, attracting moths and small insects who are nocturnal and spread pollen when the rest of the garden’s cast of characters is at rest . . .

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. . . and if one of the August lily’s stalks should happen to bend under the weight of its blooms, what finer spot could there be but in a vase placed in a prominent spot, such as the kitchen counter?

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That revolutionary rascal, Benjamin Franklin, is the most recognizable “citizen scientist”; someone who volunteers his or her time in the IMG_2400pursuit/study of science, often assisting professional scientists with day-to-day observances. A citizen scientist may gather data, monitor bees or dragonflies, note migration patterns of birds bats, chase tornadoes or measure water depth, reporting to a specific site or merely taking a photo and recording where they saw in a journal. We know a great deal about climate year’s ago from the daily weather journals farmers recorded.

If you have been tagging Monarch butterflies for Monarch Watch or photographing bees for university extensive services, you are a citizen scientist. Even if you are posting a slow moving turtle on Facebook, you are such a scientist.

Last week, while our Minnesota branch of the family tree was visiting, I noticed a caterpillar on the meadow rue during my early morning walk. I believe it to be a Tiger Swallowtail as they have chosen this plant to eat and grow in the past. You might imagine my glee at this discovery, for these little occurrences in life are really rather grand for me.

I hurried inside to announce my discovery, especially to our Keziah, who had already spent a considerable amount of time chasing after Monarchs and moths in our garden. We slipped on sandals and scurried out faster than a Beatrix Potter rabbit. Still in our pajamas, we snaked around the peony bush, tip toed through the ferns, the Echinacea and the brown-eyed Susans.

There it was, a very hungry caterpillar with yellow and black stripes, stripping a leaf in the slow and steady fashion of a caterpillar.

IMG_2330We talked and talked about caterpillars and cocoons and such, then I mentioned that we could watch this one while she was here. She was now a scientist. A citizen scientist, to be exact. We would watch the insect and I would take pictures and we would see what happens. Each morning, she queried “how are the caterpillars, Yia Yia?” and out we would go to check on their progress.

Kezzie was excited to receive such a distinction. Such things are important to children employed in the occupation of learning about life. Papa showed her how to use his magnifying glass and, as the days wore on as August days do, she and I frequented the meadow rue. We found a second, then a third caterpillar, which allowed us to observe how much and how fast a caterpillar grows and eats and to see them in a few different sizes. I made a promise that I would take more photos to share with her, and so I have.

It is such grand fun to experience nature with children and to see such things as caterpillars inch along from a child’s point of view. For your own point of view, remember to click onto the photos to see the caterpillar a little better.

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DSCN9324 - Version 4A delightfully unplanned, but heartedly welcomed family of visitors descended upon the Cutoff last week. They filled our home with laughter and curiosity, playfulness and adventures. It has been a week of blissful family time and all that comes with having small children about, as well as our own daughters and sons-in-law.

 I am so grateful.

While we have taken walks in the woods, had picnics and playtime and plenty of meals that I would love to share with you, it is children and water that flows in my thoughts right now. So, dear friends, I hope you won’t mind if I take you to a few of our recent watering holes.

The Little Red Schoolhouse Woods is a favorite spot of ours, so, we were thrilled when son-in-law Tom suggested we go to the nature center there and take a walk. I think it is a spot that will build some memories for our Kez and Ez, and appreciate Tom’s willingness to go there, especially with his very short turn-around time before returning home.

Kezzie noticed this frog eating Cheerios in a pond in the woods. She also noticed a water snake and some interesting dragonflies, but, those are stories for another time.

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Water features are prominent in the Children’s Garden at the Morton Arboretum, and really, what child can resist the lure of dripping water and walking barefoot between stones in a creek?

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Then, there was Ezra’s unbridled glee in a splash park near our house.

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I am a wee bit tired right now and have much catching up to do, but, I wanted you to know I wasn’t all washed up. I’ve just been enjoying family time and all the joy that it brings.

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There were two open gardens at the Garden Conservancy Open Days this past Sunday. One was Mettawa Manor, the other was in Highland Park.

The Highland Park home does not have the celebrity of Mettawa Manor, but, it is rich in architecture and lush in texture. The wooden bench, above, is just one of many features in this garden that were both beautiful and inspiring.

This bench also provided these two characters, who were flitting about, a quiet spot to rest their feet after oohing and ahhh-ing as they strolled about and had a delightful time talking with the homeowner.

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Since I was one of those characters, the one who talks too much, I’ll be silent now and show you a few highlights from the Highland Park garden,

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“I think I hear someone calling your name, Penny” said Tom.

“Look who it is”

How nice it was to run into Jan and Mike.

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Meanwhile, back at the Manor . . .

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Speaking of manor houses, look what’s coming to Chicago’s Driehouse Museum.

Downton Abbey (PBS) Season 1, 2010 Shown from left: Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern

Downton Abbey (PBS) Season 1, 2010
Shown from left: Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern

image from here.

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IMG_2009Sunflowers, and their kin.

They always give me the urge to glean the seeds and preserve their petals, and capture all the sunshine within them.

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The photos are my own gleanings, taken at Mettawa Manor during a recent Open Day for the Garden Conservancy. The owners of this estate graciously open their property every year for the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days.

Bill Kurtis and Donna LaPietra have a gracefully determined respect for the land and the presence of place. In the 25 or so years they have called Mettawa Manor their  home, they have reclaimed prairie and ponds, added new features and gardens, and have enriched and enhanced those already growing. They are the epitome of what garden conservation can and should be.

Folks go to Mettawa Manor in hopes of seeing Bill Kurtis. They return, again and again, because of the lure of the prairie, the stillness of the ponds, the majesty of the woods, the history of the area, the exquisite formal gardens, and even the hope of a small ice cream cone or tasting of grass-fed beef, one of Bill Kurtis’s many ventures.

You may know who Bill Kurtis is. If you don’t, you likely recognize his voice. He was a reporter for Chicago’s local CBS news for decades and is well-recognized for his investigative reporting for which he has received numerous honors, including a Peabody award. He has reported and anchored news from both coasts, as well as nationally. Bill Kurtis also reached wider audiences through programs he conceived such as “Cold Case Files”, “Investigative Reports”, “The New Explorers”,  “American Greed”, and most recently  “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!”, for public radio on PBS. I love hearing his voice on Saturday mornings on a radio show I’ve long enjoy.

I admire Bill Kurtis and his partner in life and in business, Donna La Pietra. Ms. La Pietra has an impressive resume and career of her own and is well known for her charitable work. You might be interested in reading about them here.

It is Kurtis and La Pietra’s collaboration in the 65+ acre  Mettawa Manor estate for which I personally have my greatest admiration. At this historical country estate they have shared a vision of what it means to be good stewards of God’s good earth. They have also shared the gift of hospitality as they frequently open the garden and even their home for good causes.

I came home on Sunday renewed, anxious to inch our little prairie forward, seed by seed, and to plant more trees along the way. I have a book on harvesting to read, for the owners generously gave visitors a book from their personal gardening library. Really, dear reader, the gift of gardening and conserving comes in many forms, especially at Mettawa Manor. What more can I say?

Well, I really can say much more, but, this is already getting long in the tooth, and I did want to show you some photos of sunshine. I hope to share the book I brought home with you soon, and to share more photos of this garden and another we visited in future posts.

For now, I’ll just glean a few photos of flowers.

Black Hollyhock:Mettawa Manor Lily:Mettawa Manor

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