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Cough drops.

All I needed was cough drops.

I parked as close to the door as I could on a recent cold and rainy day. This was one of a few short errands that had me in and out of the car for a few minutes at each stop. Gas station. Cleaners. ATM. The grocery store was on the route and had a pharmacy, so, there I was.

I didn’t need a cart, or so I thought, silly me. One always needs a cart in the grocery store, even if just running in for one item. If nothing else, a shopping cart is something to hold onto when you are navigating the aisles and trying to find your phone, which, at that moment was ringing. Loudly. It is set to chirp like a bird!

Missed call.

I was momentarily stunned by the visual display of tulips, daffodils and orchids in the floral department. I know. It is hard to imagine someone like me sidelined by flowers, but, there I was, soaking in  the radiance of blossoms. I must have admired every petal before recalling my mission as a coughing spell commenced. It abated just long enough for me to wander down the sale aisle where ornaments, candy, paper napkins and doo-dads were reduced. No, thought my reasonable self, head down, Penelope, and off you go to the pharmaceutical aisle.

It was just as I turned right that my left eye caught something moving in between the styling gel, hairspray, and deodorant.

Penelope Pitstop, ace sleuth in the supermarket, off on another amazing adventure.

I slithered down the aisle, muttering to myself,  hoping no one was watching me. I could be wearing ear buds, a Bluetooth, toothpaste, paste wax, or whatever those ear thingies  are called. I could be on a mission of utmost importance.

There is was. Again.Under the shelves.

I tiptoed, in my galoshes, slowly, step-by-step, and there is was, looking at me as if hearing the call of my phone, then quickly crossing the aisle and ducking under another row of shelves.

Aha. Playing hide-and-seek are you? Be careful. There’s a clerk over yonder, stacking shaving cream and men’s deodorant. Actually, she didn’t see the bird,. She was eyeing me with a measure of suspicion. Sometimes I wish I had an invisibility cloak. 

I tiptoed around, following it; not a mouse (thank goodness), but, a sparrow gathering tidbits under the shelves. In and out she slipped, from magazine to cleaning supplies, under the peanut butter and over the canned peas. If she keeps this up, i muttered, she’ll end up in the meat department, but, no, there she was in produce, before the next round of hacking coughs sent me back to what I came for.

Humming Peter, Paul, and Mary’s rendition of Keep Your Eye Upon the Sparrow (Wish I Was a Single Girl), I grabbed the Luden’s, paid for my purchase, and hoped the little, lost sparrow found her way out of the grocery store and back to wherever she nests, humming my way back home.

I hope all is well with you and yours.

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Hawk

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I saw him as I rounded the bend in the road.

It is really just a slight incline that opens from the small forest that borders our little island of homes. It is a pleasant enough bend in the road as we rumble along to the main street.

I have noticed him several times recently, but, had not expected to see him right them.

I slowed down, engaged the emergency flasher on my car, and watched, hoping no one would drive up behind me.

There he sat, a prince perched on a lofty branch, surveying his principality. He seemed to stare at me, daring me to open my window on a bitterly cold day – so, I did! No sooner had I clicked  – or whatever it is that a cell phone camera does –  when he swept upward, exposing his red tail and underbelly, executed a brief half circle, then soared across six lanes of interstate traffic before he dipped onto the small hill of opposing vegetation, then swooped up to a tree on the other side, prey in his talons. Phew!

 Luncheon was served.

As I engaged my still mocha colored VW with a latte interior, eyes on the road ahead, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but, another red-tailed hawk! This one was atop a light pole, and did not wait for me to capture his likeness. He just lifted up and across, following the west bound traffic on the other side before disappearing from sight.

It was a good day.

I won’t attempt to write about the silly sparrow who chose to shop at the grocery store!

 

 

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img_1495On a recent November morning, members of the Elmhurst Garden Club gathered in one of the meeting rooms of the Elmhurst Public Library for a viewing of a cautionary tale; From Billions to None.

This is the story of the passenger pigeon, which once blanketed the skies from Canada to Florida, breeding, nesting, and passing through more than half of North America. These pigeons were revered by indigenous Americans for their beauty and an abundant source of food. Early settlers, ornithologists, keen observers, and notables documented the billions of passenger pigeons that swarmed the skies in such large numbers that they would block out the sun for two or three days. The fluttering of so many wings would cause drops in temperature. The tons of excrement left on the fields enriched the soil. Their iridescent feathers adorned hats and they became a seasonal commodity in markets throughout the continent.

Until September 1, 1914 – and then there were none!

From Billions to None is the story of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, with the documented death of Martha, the last of her species, who died on that sad September day at the Cincinnati Zoo. It is a fable about the passenger pigeon and what happens when greed, disrespect for nature, what we today might call over harvesting, and how, in the end, there is nothing left. It is the documentation and, hopefully, illumination, of what and how fast extermination of a species can happen. It brings to mind the near demise of the buffalo and the American eagle, and our over harvesting of fish and fowl, and the cause massive outcomes of deforestation.

Joel Greenburg, who is central to this film, went on to write “A Feathered River Across the Sky: the Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction”. The image at the top of this post is from Greenburg’s book, which goes further in the documentation of this event. The book can be found here.

We watched the film, at times with a collective, audible gasp at photos of enormous hills of dead passenger pigeons, and how business manipulated political sentiment to continue the practices of killing thousands upon thousands of these birds. Some of you may have seen this documentary on your public television stations. I would like to encourage you to watch this short trailer, and consider asking your local library to purchase From Billion to None as well as  “A Feathered River Across the Sky: the Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction”.

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On my way out of Wilder Mansion, following a Garden Club meeting, Marilyn handed me a heavy tote bag. Showing concern, she told me to go home and put my foot up. She also encouraged me to spend some time enjoying her book which was weighing down the bag.

I have been missing my long walks with the seasonal shuffling through carpets of fallen leaves, as well as observing the many migratory birds stopping for sustenance and rest at local watering holes. Trips to the local forest preserves have all but abated, though I have been enjoying drive-by leaf peeping.

Marilyn’s book was a welcome diversion for me.

I have heard nature photographer extraordinaire, Mike MacDonald, speak and was aware of his inspirational book, “My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders”. I had not yet journeyed into his luminous creation. Since I cannot physically wander the wilds around me, I truly appreciated being able to vicariously roam them by leafing  through this glorious book.

Mike MacDonald wears many hats, including humorist, poet, naturalist, speaker – and photographer. His command of lyrical prose and eye for natural beauty are hallmarks of his talent and are gifts to the reader of “My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago”.

My own nature wanderings came to mind through Mike MacDonald’s exquisite images of prairies, savannas, and preserves. I instantly became an armchair traveler and felt a wee bit smug knowing that I have actually frequented many of them. I was also humbled, curious, and anxious to journey to so many more that I either have not been to, or was not even aware of. Some are but a few miles from our home, others just over the Wisconsin or Indiana border or an hour or so away.

With his breathtaking photography , MacDonald takes readers to oak savannas and mystical fens, through the changing midwestern seasons amid the changing light of day and the dark of night when the prairies alight with winking and blinking movement. Bull snakes and egrets and dragonflies offer startling scenery and interesting photographic dilemnas. From Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, the McGinnis Slough in Palos Park, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area near the Illinois/Wisconsin border, such natural wonders abound in the greater Chicagoland area.

“My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago” is more that a coffee table book. It is a photographic celebration of the diverse ecosystems and prairies of Illinois, filled with evocative prose and poetry, humor and facts, tips on photography and insight into wildlife – and more. Much, much more.

I am grateful to Marilyn for lending me this treasure. It has allowed me to travel to some of my favorite preserves, to explore so many I did not know about, and to experience the sunrises and sunsets and seasons in Mike MacDonald’s “My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders”.

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“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”

 John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In

img_1376(This tree reminded me of the Whomping Tree at Hogwarts, taken from the inside of my car. I’ve had enough whomping lately. )

Still hobbled from my recent fall, long walks in nature have abated while my wanderlust has not. I miss my rambles, especially in this season when the trees  paint the sky with the russets and amber and crimsons of Autumn and fallen leaves create tapestries of color at our feet.

Fall colors are peaking late this year, giving us one of the most colorful November I can remember. The trees are putting on a brilliant show, but, this late in the season, the color is likely to be short-lived. I was anxious to take a drive to take in the colorful leaves – so, I did, on a misty, moist midmorning this past week. The silver lining behind the broken footed cloud is that it is my left foot that has the fracture. I can safely drive with my right foot.

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I meandered like a lazy river along the leafy lanes of the Arboretum. For the most part, I was alone, able to stop the car, roll down the windows, and take photos to my heart’s content.

Winding lanes and panoramic vistas

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greeted me at every turn.
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All-in-all, it was a luscious, leafy escape into nature’s grand, golden, glorious goodbye.

Where have you escaped to lately?

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Betwixt and between the midnight hour and dawn, in that never-ending zone when sleep evades the weary soul, the night grows still and the crickets set down their bows, I found myself wide awake.

It is in these soulful hours that I found myself wandering the darkened rooms of this old house, hearing the faint fall of my footsteps as the floorboards creaked and groaned. It is in these wee hours that I often catch sight of the ethereal shadows of our wandering herd of deer and, perchance, a lone car, heading home from the graveyard shift or venturing out to an early morning flight – but this night, I was alone.

I don’t mind these occasional sleepless nights, though I know they can be lonely times for many. I still have my health and always a book to read or a post to write. I’m grateful for that. I know the time may come when occasional becomes always, but, for now, my late night hours are few. While I don’t mind the occasional sleepless night, I know the awakening day will be long and I will feel a heavy weariness by mid-afternoon. It is what it is.

So, I roamed the rooms then placed my book near a comfortable chair and lamp. I set a cup and saucer out and filled the teakettle, put a few errant kitchen items in their place, and walked to the wide door overlooking the deck. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could see a crafty spider knitting her web. She worked her magic upon the air betwixt and between the eaves and the glass;  knitting and purling, tatting and knotting her lacey snare. She paid me no mind. I let her go about her solitary task, amazed, once again, at the marvels of nature.

The teakettle whistled, breaking the lure of the web. I steeped my tea and sweetened it with a bit of local honey. Wrapped in a blanket, I watched the steam rise from my cup, then settled in to sip and ponder, read and write, betwixt and between the midnight hour and dawn.

Do you have sleepless nights? What do you do when sleep evades you?

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dairy-farmwalking-to-barnThe way to the barn was a well-worn, rutted path, uphill and scenic, past acres of pasture on a Illinois Centennial Farm, now in its 5th generation of dairy farmers. As we trudged up the path, we noticed most of the herd in the distance, congregating companionably under a brilliant sky. We headed toward one of the farm buildings. This was our third stop on the McHenry County Farm Stroll.

I first heard about this free event from a University of Illinois Master Gardener publication, which caught my attention. This year, 12 private farms would be opened to the public. The properties included orchard, vineyards, dairy farms, hobby farms, and the Loyola University Retreat and Farm campus.

Tom and I marked our calendars and bookmarked the event, intrigued by all the options available, familiar with the rolling hills and farmland in McHenry County, and knowing the wide and well-informed network of the University of Illinois Extension Services and Master Gardeners, as well as the McHenry County Farm Bureau.

We knew we would not be able to see all 12 farms, so, selected 4 that we were most interested in,  mapped out a route and off we went for a Sunday stroll.

This dairy farm was our 4th stop and different from the others. We soon found ourselves observing the cows and their bairn eating in the barn, followed by a very informative mini-lecture on hay and straw, how hay is harvested and stored, the often “iffy” reliance on erratic weather in the midwest. Our docent in the hay stall was from the Farm Bureau and she was a gifted and knowledgeable speaker who had all ages of visitors engaged in her subject matter.

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One of the farmers also walked us through a typical day of milking the cows with insight into small dairy farms versus large conglomerates, how he knows the names of all of his cows, and reminding us to check out his Guernsey cows and a calf just born who were just outside the barn.

I did take a few photos of the newborn Guernsey, which did not show well. It was not yet 24 hours old, curled into a brown ball of body and big eyes. If it had some spots I would have thought it was a fawn. Mom, however, was close by, keeping her eyes on the intruders passing by.

 

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So it was on this enlightening leg of our Farm Stroll, that we wandered back down the path, rutted with decades of use. Onward we went, headed toward our car. We stopped as we departed to thank the volunteers stationed there who asked how our visit was – and we were given a choice of carton of milk.

White or chocolate?

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We chose wisely.

 

 

 

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