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Roadside stands, farmers markets, seasonal enterprises – they are the heart and soul of summer in the Midwest – and probably in your neck of the  woods as well.

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I didn’t buy the Speciality Basil Bouquet (top photo), but, I couldn’t resist taking a picture. The arrangements look, and smell, of summer. I grow my own basil along with thyme, oregano, and sage in a whiskey barrel on our deck. I love to step outside and snip fresh herbs for our dinner, and I love slipping herbs into bouquets – or just in a jar of water for color and ease on my countertop.

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The bouquet of zinnias, above was from The Farm, a roadside market not far from our house. They grow their produce on two farms nearby and have a large plot in back of the barn/store where they grow flowers that they sell from the stand. The bouquets are picked and arranged each day and last for most of a week. This bouquet has strawflowers and Billy Buttons, which should also dry well for Fall arrangements.

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Last week, onions, new potatoes, zucchini and string beans were available. One glance and I knew what i would be making for dinner that night and leftovers thereafter – Greek string beans and potatoes! I used some freshly picked mint leaves from another pot on the deck and it was, I must confess, unabashedly, THE BEST Briami  I have ever made!

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Sweet corn is abundant now. I prefer to get corn from Farmers Markets and stands, where I know they are as locally grown and as fresh as possible, but, there are also berries, and fruit, much of which is coming in from Michigan. These yellow plums are quite sweet and juicy.

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What are seasonal delights are you enjoying now?

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Walden:Oct.

Aug. 9. Wednesday. —To Boston.
“Walden” published. Elder-berries. Waxwork yellowing.

Henry David Thoreau’s journal entry of August 9, 1854

On August 9, 1854, “Walden, or Life in the Woods” was published. While not a best seller of its time, the book was favorably received and  the 2,000 published copies eventually sold. It has remained in publication since 1862. Thoreau was an early environmentalist, attune to nature and living simply. “Walden” continues to be a source of inspiration and Thoreau is often quoted.

I have posted the photo above before in my ramblings here on the Cutoff. It was taken one crisp, sunny, perfect October day a decade or so ago. That day remains one of the best days in my life. Tom and I ordered a lunch from a deli in Concord, Massachusetts then headed to Walden Pond, where we took a long walk in the woods of Thoreau, and ate our lunch sitting on the sun-warmed stones along the pond’s shore, watching rowers and swimmers and shorebirds as we soaked in the brilliance of time and place.

I thought about Walden Pond this morning after reading of today’s anniversary of the publishing of “Walden” and found my mind, then myself, wandering in nature.

As I pulled into the parking area of Lake Katherine, my cell phone rang. It was Tom wondering if I wanted to join him at Maple Lake, where he was headed. It’s interesting how our unspoken ideas often intersect. Tom said he would meet me instead at Lake Katherine.

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I started walking around the lake, stopping to look at the beauty around me. A large congregation of ducks were taking their afternoon nap, close to the shore. I stepped a little closer, hoping not to disturb them, when something fluttered in a nearby tree.  Can you see it on the far right branch?

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I watched for a few minutes before it swept down, slipped amongst the ducks, then wandered to the water’s edge. It wasn’t a duck. It looked like a heron, but, was much smaller and I could see a crop of molting head feathers.

The ducks continued their nap while I inched closer to this shorebird, which reminded me of a black-crowned heron,  with long still-like legs moving slowly through the shallow water and grasses.

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This bird was surely a youngster, just getting his feet wet, not at all concerned with my closeness (and I was less than a yard away at times). At one point, the bird grabbed at a reed of grass and looked surprised when it didn’t budge or taste as expected.

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It walked along the edge, sometimes hidden by the tall grasses, other times perched upon a rock. A gaggle of youngsters in bright pink shirts came by, looking for clues on a summer camp adventure. A trio of men walked by, white shirts and ties loosened, taken a walk on their lunch break, wondering, I’m sure, at what I was intent on photographing.

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I think this is a member of the Bittern family. The photos are a bit dark, but, if you click on them they are easier to see the bird.

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Tom found me and we walked the mile or so around the lake, sat for a bit while he ate his lunch, enjoying the gorgeous day, before we parted, each of us having a place to be. As I drove away, I thought of Walden and Thoreau and of how his legacy of actions and words resonate even today, and I thought of his essay, “Walking”, and of a simple walk, full of discovery, in nature today.

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature . . . from “Walking” by Henry David Thoreau

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IMG_8771Our prairie garden is flush with native species and an abundance of prairie grasses, while the perennials in the front islands bravely attempt to establish their permanence amid a colony of advancing ferns.

Then, there are the aggressive appetites of the wandering herd of white tailed deer. What’s a gal to do?

Front island:July

Well . . .

. . .  I have been  experimenting with composing prairie inspired floral arrangements, cutting armfuls of grasses out back and small snips of what the deer don’t eat from the front.

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Oat grass, Big Bluestem, Monarda, Indigo, Joe Pye weed, and a curtsy to Queen Anne’s Lace, which was frolicking too close to the road for me to resist just a few of her lacy caps.

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These flowers, both tamed and wild, pose quite fashionably in vases, jars, and other containers that are scattered around the house. A few arrangements have even made it to friends’ homes and a graduation party. Prairie Arrangement:2#3

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Part of my daily routine is to wander, clippers in hand, from garden bed to garden bed, observing what is blooming and what is spent, what the deer might have munched on and what I might cut and bring inside.

Sometimes,  just a few buds pinched back from overflowing pots are all that is needed to bring the garden indoors. Have you ever used parsley or basil in a vase? Snipping a few stems not only helps the plant regenerate, but, it brings fragrance into the kitchen and is a quick herb to pinch for extra flavors in a simmering pot or summer salad.

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I love the abundance of summer.

Here are a few more flowers from our garden, and a bouquet I picked up from a vegetable stand where I buy locally harvested sweet corn. The owners are growing flowers and herbs in raised plots behind the barn and selling them from the stand as well.

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Do you keep floral arrangements outside on your patio, porch or deck? Do you pick from your garden, a favorite floral shop, or grocery store? Do you have favorite flowers for bouquets?

Prairie Arrangement:#5

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dscn5528-e1283217452175dscn0145-e1283222444675About six years ago, we began looking for a way to soften a large expanse of hard surfaces, provide additional outdoor seating, expand existing garden beds, establish more growing spaces – and find a way to draw the eye further afield.

We talked, we walked, Tom took to the drawing board, measurements were made, wood was purchased, hammer and nails and saws were employed. After a time, an arbor emerged, looking like the shell of cabin. Ma and Pa and their little House on the Prairie. First named Penny’s Arbor House by the then young lad next door, it was christened last year as Papa’s Treehouse by our grandson, Ezra.

Back of arbor:hostas, grasses

Arbor:late June:2016 Arbor:Clematis:purpleA healthy row of existing hostas was divided and transplanted, and a woodland garden started to grow.  New plants were introduced, and climbing specimen took root. First a climbing rose, then several clematis, which came from friends’ gardens, and Abraham Lincoln, a gift from Jennifer and Jason one Mother’s Day. They were radiant this spring, climbing higher than ever before. Sweet Autumn Clematis, a division from my friend Phyllis,  has really taken hold. This year, it has scaled the trellis of the arbor wall, snaked rambunctiously over the top and is presently creeping down the other side. I can’t wait to see the signature white blossoms as Autumn approaches.

IMG_7963Three years ago, sitting in the arbor, Tom and I talked, for the umpteenth time, over what to plant and how to grow and design more space in the garden.

When we first moved in, I initially wanted a rose garden – but, borrowing from an oft used phrase, I was never promised a rose a garden – and never imagined the damage deer can wreak. There IS a sweet, clambering rose that cloaks part of the arbor in June, however.  Gardening, like life itself, calls for compromises.

Our initial plans were big and bold and worthy of the space we allotted.  They would also be free food for the resident deer population. We eventually came to the idea of planting natives and grasses. Once established, they were lower maintenance and they would most likely thrive here on the Cutoff. It seems we no sooner made the decision to go native than plant divisions from generous gardeners and abundant gardens came our way.

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A few grasses and some native Ageratum were shared, a plant was purchased here and there from native plant sales, garden club members’ sales, and the characteristic generosity of like souls with very green thumbs  – especially those of the Elmhurst Garden Club. Big bluestem and Butterfly Weed, Indigo and Bee Balm, Compass Plants,  Joe Pye Weed, and much, much more.

Our prairie garden has taken off, pushed past boundaries and developed a blowsy, free-spirited personality of its own.

Prairie:June:2016

 

Prairie Garden:sunny spanArbor #3:directly into prairie
Double Red Bee BalmButterfly weed

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IMG_8144Homeward bound, we decided to take a small detour. I wanted to check out Crawdad Slough, where I have spotted an egret. She is usually hidden along the reedy edges of the shore, stock still or slowly moving toward an unsuspecting target. I saw her, recently, high up in a tree and wondered if she was building a nest. The detour was my wandering hope that Tom could see it on our way home.

There we were, chatting significantly about the insignificant, just moseying along in the late afternoon, when I saw it!  Not the egret, but, instead a sign. No. Not an omen or an octagon, saying STOP. It was a big, bright, yellow sign, just out of the corner of my eye as I drove right past it.

Did you see that, Tom?”.

“What?

That sign?”

I hung a quick left into someone’s driveway and whipped my way back from whence we came.

RAW HONEY — >

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The sign pointed north. As soon as I turned, there it was. Just up a drive. A big yellow box with bold black letters.

 RAW HONEY.

We pulled into the driveway and hopped out of our mocha VW with a latte interior – such a trusty traveller she is – and looked around to see if anyone was outside. I called a cheery “Hello. Anyone here?” IMG_8759With nary a soul in sight, we walked up to the box. It had a few latches but no lock and key, and some bold honeybees painted around it.

There we were, the ever-patient Antler Man and Penelope Pitstop (she who stops at every box) and looked to see if we could open it. We fiddled a bit with the latches, then we slowly opened one door, then the next. One must be very careful when opening a newfound box – especially one with such large bumble bees depicted on it!

Inside was a sign with explanations, and an honor system for any customer wanting a jar of honey. How nice! Honor systems are not unusual down country lanes or in rural areas, but, they are not very common hereabouts, even in our semi-rural neck of the woods.

What a surprisingly delightful discovery this was; while not a white egret, a very sweet cache of local honey.

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I dutifully signed the guest sheet. We slipped our payment for our jar of Hilltop Honey in the appropriated container, closed and latched the bright yellow doors, and set back on the road-less-travelled home, where I promptly made a cup of tea with honey – and very good honey it was.

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I try to buy local honey, not only to support local businesses and beekeepers, but, also because it is said that ingesting local honey helps counteract seasonal allergies. I do not know if this is scientifically true, but, I do not that my own seasonal allergies have abated since I have been using local honey. Most of the honey I buy is from this general area, usually a farm stand, appropriately called The Farm, but, none of it is from hives only four miles from our home.

So it goes; a sweetened tale of life here on the Cutoff, where small detours sometimes lead to large, snowy white birds – or honey pots and the honor system.

(I did feel, just a wee bit, that I had just discovered the Bee Tree in the Hundred Acre Woods.)

 

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IMG_8854 - Version 3Echinacea.

A Greek word that means hedgehog, these long lasting flowers are more commonly known as coneflowers for the conical shaped seed head of the flowers. Our echinaceas are just starting their long blooming season and can be found in many gardens throughout the area. They are dependable and easy to care for – a good bang-for-your-buck if you are looking for a reliable perennial.

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Our Echinacea is doing well here on the Cutoff. I learned last year to temper my eagerness at pulling weeds too early in the season. While I do have quite a growth of weeds, my patience at waiting until I was sure has awarded us fairly a full crop of Echinacea, which are just starting to perform and have been graciously posing for me and my camera.

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These pictures, however, are all from the same photo. I started playing around with the image, cropping it in different spots, and thought you might like see them. Just don’t tell anyone that the photo was taken in the drive-through line of the local Mac Donald’s where I stopped for a cold drink the other day.

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As I sat, my car in the queue waiting to pay, I noticed this bee enjoying her own happy meal and just couldn’t resist.

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You know I am a tree hugger, right? Well, not really a tree hugger (unless the tree really needs to be hugged), more of a tree lover. We both are; the Antler Man and Penelope Pitstop.

We plant trees whenever and wherever we can. We have moved trees, visit the Morton Arboretum and wander the trails of the many forest preserves around us. We are sad when a tree dies, but we truly mourn those trees that are clear-cut for no good reason other than expediency and convenience in getting construction equipment in and out. Some trees may need to be removed to make room for a house, but, not two acres worth on large lots, or those on parkways.  Ah, well . .  these are stories and conversations for other times.

This post is of a milling operation, just outside the City of Chicago. Horigan Urban Forest Products, and a small but impressive exhibit of artists who resurrect wood and bring them back to a purposeful life.

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The Hidden Art of Trees is currently on exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and it seemed to be a fitting venue for the artistic man of the house on Father’s Day.

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We had the pleasure of seeing and speaking to the millers from Horigan at the Morton Arboretum a few years ago. Tom was especially impressed with this company, their milling operation and portable mill and the product they extrude from trees.

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The Chicago Botanic Garden, in conjunction with Horigan, has on display a remarkable exhibit of the art of wood; slabs of woods, bowls from burl, tables, chairs, cabinets all made from wood. Much, if not all, of the wood came from trees that were either diseased or otherwise needed to be felled.

I am amazed at the wooden implements, functional furniture and implements that have arisen from the death of trees, such as ash, that have been obliterated in the past several years by the emerald ash borer, as well other hardwood trees, such as walnut and chestnut.  I am in awe of the talented artists who recognize the beauty hidden in wood and who use their phenomenal craftsmanship and artistic gifts to make furniture, bowls, frames and many other items.

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Take some time to check out The Hidden Art of Trees here and see what Horigan Urban Forest Products does here.

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Better yet, visit the Chicago Botanic Garden, or a similar art display somewhere near you and encourage respect of trees and thoughtful use of those trees that are felled.

Oh, before I hit “publish”, Tom managed to salvage part of one of the felled trees in a neighboring lot that was clear-cut. Though the tree was felled, he did ask for permission to take it. Sealed now against the elements, it is a sturdy, useful, table in our arbor – and a fun place to put a pickle jar full of fireflies that our nephews caught.

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