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Then . . .

. . . there were chunks of ice, falling en masse, individually, randomly, sporadically. The racket would stop; a calm, silent, pregnant pause that would last a few minutes or an hour, then a fresh volley of frozen winter “fruit”.  Born from an ice storm, the chunks of ice would frazzle the steadiest of nerves as they hit the roof of the house, the skylights, the pavement, the arbor and more.

With frost quakes and frozen cannonballs, we have been experiencing a rather raucous winter,

a winter with tree “fruit” sparkling amid uplifting sunrises and spectacular sunsets.

Snow can be peaceful, pristine and startlingly beautiful. It is a great equalizer; a coverlet, in equal measure on all that it touches, with indifference to income level or social status – at least at first snowfall, before the snowplows work time-and-half or double-time to clear the roads.

Ice, in all its glittering glory, is a lethal weapon when falling from above. It is challenging to walk upon. Its weight bears down on wires, creating outages which can become emergencies for medical needs, heating, communication. We have been fortunate. Our power has remained on, though our cable connections (which include landline, television, and internet) went out the other day. Thankfully, service resumed in a few hours. We really cannot complain.

We are coping, grateful for a warm house, food, cars that start and roads that plowed and are salted.

We have, however, entered into that 5th season –  pothole season. Rough winters and heavy vehicular traffic conspire to create amazing crevices – potholes –  in the pavement. This year, for some reason I have yet to discover, the potholes are harder to see. They are smaller, deeper, closer together and reveal themselves upon impact! I am wondering if the frost quakes have something to do with this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it goes, here on the cutoff. Stews and soups, hot tea and books are good for the winter-weary soul (not that I need a reason). More often than not, I can be found near the front window, a blanket on my lap, tea on the table and a book in hand.

On a recent late afternoon, I pulled out an old friend, “An American Year; Country Life and Landscapes Through the Seasons” by Hal Borland. It is a journal of sorts, filled with Borland’s seasonal essays and accompanied by illustrations from a host of “Distinguished Contemporary Artists”.  These are Hal Borland’s words from February, page 179.

The temperature still falls and the wind still roars, but there is smugness here and comfort and companionship. The night draws us all closer together. Surely it was not by chance alone that hearth and heart came so near to being the same word.

 

 

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How We Survived the Polar Vortex

From significant snowfall and frost quakes, to plummeting temperatures, cancelled airplane flights, school closings, business closings and even suspended mail delivery, we have been held captive by biting winds and subzero temperatures the likes of which will be long remembered in the annals of recorded weather –  and in the memories of those who endured it.

Let me begin by letting you know that we are quite fine, our electricity stayed on, we had contact with family and friends, enough food and water (and coffee and tea) and we remained safe and sound throughout. We are grateful.

I hope that those of you impacted by the Polar Vortex were warm and safe during it and are doing well now.

Predictions for snow, strong winds, and dropping temperatures came with ample warning days before the onset of sleet and snow. By Sunday afternoon, weather forecasts sounded more urgent with a bleak outlook for the week ahead. Early cancellations of meetings on Monday were prudent and appreciated, especially as the snow began to accumulate mid-afternoon.

Talking with a dear friend on the phone, we commiserated over the hardy souls who work in all  kinds weather; crossing guards, those who plough the roads and put out fires, law enforcement and mail carriers. It seemed that we no sooner mentioned mail carriers than I saw ours coming up the road. Tom was using the snow blower out front, clearing our long driveway. I noticed the mail truck wasn’t moving, then the Antler Man pushing the snow blower to the back. I, of course, in the comfort of our living room, kept talking. The mail carrier wasn’t moving, but, Tom was, shovel in hand he headed back down the drive and was soon working at getting the mail truck out of a ditch created by snow plows that had earlier made a pass down the Cutoff.

It was the last mail delivery for several days, not only for our town, but, for a large part of Illinois as well. It was dangerously cold to be outdoors. Even with several layers of clothing and coverings, frostbite is a serious condition and happens quickly in sub-zero temperatures.

 

 

The first “boom” I heard occurred at 5 am on Tuesday. It was loud and shook the house just a bit. I padded down the stairs to have a look, thinking one of the neighbors had slammed a car door. Sounds are different, louder, more pronounced in extreme cold and heavy snowfall. A car was idling in a neighbor’s drive, so I assumed that was the source of sound, even when another one followed and the walls trembled a tad. On Wednesday, we both heard more “booms” – an oddity hereabouts – but it was extremely cold temperatures that had our attention.

Registering at -23 degrees (F), it became the coldest temperature for Chicago on record for that day.

(photo from WGNTV.COM)

BOOM!

In between the falling temperatures, the draft slipping in through the windows and doors, and the furnace that never stopped running, I kept apprised of family and friends through phone calls, emails, and social media. It was on social media that a news item appeared from out local television station, WGN. The sounds we were hearing were actually a weather-related phenomenon called cryoseism  – also called frost quakes or ice quakes!  The ground was quite sodden from warmer temperatures and rain, followed by snow and then rapidly falling temperatures. Suddenly, all news sources and social media were a buzz (or a boom) with this unusual weather related occurrence.

(photo from WGNTV.COM)

We are a hardy bunch, we Midwesterners. We adjust to the variable temperatures, the heat and humidity, the freezing cold and snow. We experience appreciable temperature variations often enough, especially here near one of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. I think, however, that we will all remember the Polar Vortex of 2019 as we remember the Chicago Blizzard of 1967, Mother’s Day snow and more.

As I write this, Saturday night, it is 40 degrees (F). It was -21 degrees (F) on Friday morning! The groundhog saw his shadow, a yearly ritual to predict an early or late spring. Who knows? Maybe spring will be early this year. Predictions are for 50 degrees in a few days. As for me, I’ll wait and see.

Spring will come when it will and I will rejoice in all it brings, but, for now we are still n the heart of winter and February has just begun. I am a few days late in wishing Rabbit! Rabbit! to all, which is a greeting come the first day of the month. I blame it on the Polar Vortex – as did the bunnies when Tom came down the stairs on February 1 to discover this mayhem pictured below. Neither of us heard the crash, and the bunnies aren’t talking. I’m pretty sure it was the vibrations from a frost quake that jostled the glass top just enough to create this little scene.

THAT was the week that was!

(Do any of you, on both sides of the pond, remember that television show?)

 

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Tom awoke even earlier than usual to shovel the drive and carve a path to my car before leaving for church to help with set up for Sunday service. I heard the door close and lingered a little longer under the warmth of the covers, then padded down the stairs where the kettle was filled and sitting atop the stove. A few tea bags and a cup and saucer were set out, as they are every morning, waiting for me. I forget to thank him, far too often, for his thoughtful gesture each morning – a gesture for which I am always grateful.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

G. K. Chesterton

I took the long way home after church, as I often do. It gives me time to ponder and pray, to sing along to tunes with the volume at “rock the car” loud, or to simply hold close the gift of silence, solitude, and scenery. I drove through stately old neighborhoods with bumpy brick streets and wound through pleasant subdivisions and past neighborhood parks that brush the suburban landscape.

I had a William Kent Krueger audiobook playing in the car today. “Sulfur Springs”. Krueger’s mysteries hold my attention. I appreciate his writing, in part for his ability to create with words a vivid sense of place and in part for strong character development in his tense, tangled mysteries, which are usually set in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. In this latest book, I was taken along with Krueger’s main character, the protagonist of most of his mysteries, Cork O’Connor. A frantic call from Cork’s new wife’s son on July 4th thrusts the reader into the oppressive summer heat of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. This was, actually, a welcome change of scenery as the heater in my car was being fussy.

I headed toward the sloughs and preserves that I often visit. The Saganashkee Slough was frozen and still and reflected the mood of the frosty afternoon. I sat for a few moments then turned onto the route home.

A summer monsoon was drenching the Sonoran desert in Cork’s audio predicament while the temperature gauge in my car showed an outdoor temperature of 19 degrees (F). Homeward bound, I made a quick stop at Crawdad Slough, curious see if there were any ice skaters gliding across this pond. With nary a blade or a hockey stick in sight, I turned the car around and was greeted by this heavenly glow which arrived, as if on cue, to  guide me home.

 

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The morning was bright and clear with dashes of sunshine stroking my life. Decorations were scattered about our rambling abode; angels rested on high, books stacked within reach, and there were even a few batches of cookies stored in decorative tins. A rare December day with no meetings on the calendar, a tank full of gas and a list of wonders that I wanted to see, so, off I went with a purpose in mind.

My first stop was to see an exhibit about one of my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life,  at the Elmhurst History Museum. Alas and alack, I arrived to discover it would not open for several more hours, so . . . I promptly reversed my plans and headed, first, to the Wilder Park Conservatory. The Conservatory is an oasis of growth and warmth, history and soulful nourishment nestled into an award-winning park in the western suburbs.

Opening the door, a couple I have known were exiting, two charming grandsons toddling out with them. These two youngsters informed me that there were “fishes” and “elves” inside.

Well, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but, elves here and there and everywhere in the conservatory, along with this poinsettia tree and a cheerful display of the plants all around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In need of a “cuppa” of something warm and a bit of bite to eat, I headed to the north end of town and Brewpoint Coffee and Roastery where I had a tasty blueberry scone and a hot mocha (called Sacagawea).

As luck would have it, on a day filled with good luck, a perfect parking spot awaited me smack dab in the center of town. Like many suburbs around Chicago, parking is at a premium, so I quickly signaled my intent to park, claiming my curbside cradle. My first stop was The Pink Elephant, a well stocked charity shop. I chatted for quite sometime with a woman I did not know as we good-naturedly tried to talk each other into buying something we did not need. Do you ever do that? As a result, this caroler sang her way into my arms and followed me home.

I stopped at a new store, Bread and Butter, where I had purchased a darling pair of earrings a few weeks earlier. It is such a cute shop and the owner, a enterprising young woman, is as delightful as her products. I left with these cute stocking caps meant for bottles that Rudolf absconded with to keep his antlers warm.

My final stop, which was my first on what became a delightful circuitous route, was a tour of the exhibit at the Elmhurst History MuseumIt’s a Wonderful Life. Posters and “stills” from the movie lined the museum’s wall with informative narratives describing scenes, props, biographical information and other tidbits of knowledge about a beloved movie.

Included in this exhibition are photos and information about Elmhurst’s own Christmas traditions and photos of the city around the time depicted in It’s a Wonderful Life.

I did not take many photos, in part to maintain the integrity of the exhibition, and in part to lure you into the museum if you live in the area or are visiting. It is truly worth the visit and is within a short walking distance of not only the conservatory, but, of the renowned Elmhurst Art Museum.

Here are two characters from the movie, the original Bert and Ernie, and another character you might recall, Toots, with her earrings dangling and her infamous red coat.

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“Gratitude can transform common days into
thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change
ordinary opportunities into blessings.”

 William Arthur Ward

I rolled over, checked the clock, and wished for a few more moments of sleep and a dozen or so more degrees in temperature.  At an unseasonably cold 17 degrees (F), I was signed up for a guided walk with a friend that I had not seen in quite a while. A nature enthusiast and photographer extraordinaire, I didn’t want to let Peggy down – nor myself – so, a mantra of “up and at ’em”  pushed me forward and into the frigid early November morn. After a cup of tea, an English muffin and then a shower, I layered warm clothes on: a hooded fleece jacket, my blue winter coat, and a red shawl to brace myself against the wind, and headed out to the Mayslake Peabody Estate.

Peggy greeted me as I got out of my car and we headed in to the mansion where other attendees had gathered. We  met our docent, signed in and chatted while waiting for others to arrive before hearing an overview of our morning’s walk with a focus on gratitude.

I can not say enough good things about our docent. She was knowledgable about the mansion, the property, and the history of the area, while having a calming aura about her, encouraging us to observe what was around us while being mindful of the beauty and sense of place. At several locations, taking from the indigenous people who once lived here, we had moments of instruction and then moments quiet solitude.

As we were guided through the grounds, we were encouraged to feel the pull of the land we stood on and to feel the encouragement of those who may have helped us or lifted us up in our lives. While this wasn’t the intent of my participation, I none-the-less felt the overwhelming sadness of this past year as well as the abiding appreciation of those who helped in the caring of my sister, Dottie, as she entered into the final stages of her journey with pancreatic cancer. There were many who lifted us up and in so many ways eased the load of caring for someone at end-stage cancer. Unintentional in my choice to participate in this walk, I was quite mindful of a cathartic elements this walk afforded me.


We spent some time around the chapel, used by the monks who inhabited the estate after Mr. Peabody suddenly passed away and the property was sold to them. A few walkers remembered the youthful legends of Peabody’s Tomb and the monks who lived there; teenaged adventures of the fearless and those who dared to trespass on the property. We walked around, admiring the chapel and the site, some of us writing thoughts down, others taking photos, talking or just being present in the moment.

 

We walked the restored prairie amid native grasses and plants. My shawl helped keep me warm, however, I may never get all of the seeds I brushed against off of it. I wondered if the owl found me to be a foolish human!

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The oak savanna helped shelter us from the wind and the rustle of leaves was a soothing sound. Soon, we arrived at Mayslake, which is manmade. It glistened in the sunlight and sparkled in its iciness.

 

One of the many gifts of this walk was the flocks of Sandhill cranes that gathered overhead. They were close enough for us to watch as they swooped and floated and joined together for their long migration south. I felt such gratitude for this sighting. These cranes are most often heard but are only seen as specks high up in the sky. The photo (below) does not do the migration justice, I am sorry to say. If you zoom in, you might be able to see the groups circling as they join together. It was only when I downloaded my photos that I noticed the hawk landing on the top of the tree.

Our docent encouraged us to keep a gratitude journal of small things and large that we have to be grateful for. She suggested that just writing a few words down each day is all we need to get started to trigger our memories. There is an action between writing something down that helps the brain remember. Hmmm . . . maybe that is why when I write down a grocery list then forget to bring it with, I do remember most things on the list.

Peggy and I warmed up a bit in the mansion, thanked the docent and decided to grab something warm to drink and lunch – and talk some more.

On my way home, I stopped at a newly opened home furnishings store. As I walked in, this journal caught my eye. I bought it and keep it near my bedside table, where I endeavor to write down words or phrases; things I am grateful for, starting with my very first entry.

 

https://www.dupageforest.org/places-to-go/forest-preserves/mayslake

For an interesting article of the history of Peabody and the tomb, here is an interesting article: http://www.chicagonow.com/chicago-history-cop/2015/08/the-chicago-legend-of-peabody-s-tomb-and-the-masochistic-monks-turns-93-today/

 

 

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“Some single trees, wholly bright scarlet, seen against others of their kind still freshly green, or against evergreens, are more memorable than whole groves will be by-and-by. How beautiful, when a whole tree is like one great fruit full of ripe juices, every leaf from lowest limb to topmost spire, all aglow, especially if you look toward the sun! What more remarkable object can there be in the landscape? Visible for miles, too fair to be believed. If such a phenomenon occurred but once, it would be handed down by tradition to posterity, and get into the mythology at last.”

-From “Autumnal Tints” by Henry Thoreau; 1862

 

One of our most memorable moments was on a fine October day, ten or so years ago, at Walden Pond. You can read about it here. On that remarkable day, Tom and I walked and talked and didn’t talk, seeing the original site of Thoreau’s cabin and a reconstruction of it. The air was crisp and clear and the scenery mystical. The photo on top was taken on Walden Pond on that long ago day.

Across the pond, a singular tree accented the landscape and glowed like no other. When Thoreau’s quote popped up in my internet wandering, I immediately thought of the scarlet tree at Walden Pond.

Thoreau’s quote and our Walden Pond walk came to mind once more as Tom and I walked, much closer to home, at one of our favorite spots, Lake Katherine. It was the same sort of cool, crisp October day, with the sun shining, powder puff clouds sprinkled here and there, the soft crunch of fallen leaves at our feet  – and the brilliant mythology of Autumn before us.

Right red

 

Where do you go to find your own myths of nature?

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“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.”  e.e. cummings

Yes!

We have enjoyed some amazing “blue dream” skies hereabouts as summer drifts into fall.

Autumn is a favorite time of year for me as warm days give way to cooler nights which bring about the vivid shades of reds and yellows and browns that dapple the many forests and the parkways of my existence. There are hints of Autumn splendor now, even as we mourn the wilting flowers that proclaim their weariness as they turn brown, set seed and die back.

While the woods transform, so do the prairies. They are a moveable feast for the birds and for the pollinators gathering from the plethora of seeds and the last of summer’s blooms. I love to watch the goldfinch, the chickadees and other feathered friends as they flit about gathering sustenance for their journeys on the long winter ahead.

These are, I believe, sawtooth sunflowers. They have brushed the prairie landscape in magnificent swathes of golden splendor and rise above their cousins to amazing heights, touching the sky and daring my beloved Antler Man to see how much taller they are than he is. These sunflowers rise more than 10 feet tall.

So, dear friends, off I go to see what I can see, in search of honey and treetops and all which I hope will remain infinite on this journey of life and for everything that is yes.

 

 

 

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