Friday, February 29, 2008

Why Three Crows?

I keep wondering why I often see crows in threes along the side of the road. I asked a friend who knows about nature if he knew why and he said “Because they are too smart to hang out ON the road?” Not exactly part of the question I wanted answered, so when I was up half the night with sinus issues, I did a little reading.
There seems to be two kinds of three-member crow families.
In one, one of the kid crows hangs out with the mom crow and the dad crow to help raise the young the next year. Sometimes, it goes off then to find a mate and one of the new young stays. Sometimes though, it stays and all the new young move on. Or form their own group nearby to find mates the following year. Probably making fun of the one that stayed home with mom and dad so long.
In the other kind of three-crow family, when a male finds a mate, its brother may set up housekeeping with the couple until it finds its own mate, or if the first male dies, the brother may stay and mate with the female. Jeeze. for lazy!
One bit of crow natural history I found in my late-night reading was distubing to me: Crow males are dominant. Might we need to form a few NOWC (National Org. for Women Crows) groups and work that 'problem'?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Prairie Volunteering is . . . Opportunity

One of the best ways to learn about prairies is to volunteer at a prairie work day. The more experienced volunteers will tell you about the plants and animals and how the prairie works and the specific natural history and human history of your local prairies and you can ask questions as you work. Can you find a prairie and a volunteer group near where you live? Here in Illinois, there is the West Chicago Prairie and their Prairie Stewardship group, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory holds seed gathering and other work days, Garfield Farm Museum leads volunteer restoration efforts, Wolf Road Prairie is restored and maintained by volunteers, and the local forest preserve districts of each county have work days and various forms of volunteer crews. I have never worked on a volunteer crew or been part of a volunteer effort that did not teach me something. I have also lead such efforts, from work days to tours, and I have never been involved in one as a leader that I did not learn from. Other participants know bits and pieces that I do not know or have made observations that help fill in my picture or ask questions that make me go read about it or observe it in a new way. I have never failed to learn from a work day or tour on the prairie as a volunteer and that is why I call them opportunities. Can you find an opportunity to volunteer at a prairie near you? You will benefit the environment and you will benefit other people who will enjoy and learn from that environment, but I am pretty sure you will get out of it far more than you will give to it!
My brilliant and eager and cheerful and knowledgeable fellow tour guides at Garfield Farm Museum Harvest Day in October 2007. Join us in October 2008. for schedule of events.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Things to think about while waiting for your fast food lunch that isn't going to be fast because you didn't get around to going out until well after the lunch hour and so nothing was cooked:
1) Is there anything that says "There was bad weather and now it is gone" quite like the black and white of snow covered winter trees against a blue blue sky?
2) Why do the clouds in different layers sometimes go at different speeds so that you can see clouds move past clouds and what is it like at the place where the differently speeded layers meet?
3) In a world of a full spectrum of available colors, why did 80% of the people parked in the hardware store lot choose a silver car?
4) If you are a gang member, is the fence enclosing a garbage dumpster REALLY the best place to declare your pride and allegiance to your organization?
5) Is the row of straggly stick straight drab green arborvitaes on two sides of the garbage enclosure really a) hiding anything and b) better to look at than the fence or even the dumpster itself?
6) Will I remember any of this by the time I get home to type it in?


Milton Glaser, designer of that amazing Bob Dylan poster with the big colorful hair (and perhaps less to his credit the over-copied I Love New York logo with the heart) says in his “Ten Thing I Have Learned” speech: “How you live changes your brain.” He talks about how doing certain things and thinking certain things actually causes your brain to be built up and organized in certain physical ways that determine how you are able to perceive things in the future. So what does it do to our brains to spend hours in front of these computer terminal screens interacting with other computers elsewhere and only occasionally, via our keyboards, with other people? What does it do to our brains to sit hours passively in front of a television screen? What does it do to our brains, I have for years as a parent wondered, to sit playing at pretend killing over and over and over again in electronic video games? And what does it do to our brains to spend time outdoors in natural areas hearing and smelling and touching and tasting and seeing natural things? Are we making the best choices about how to spend our time? Are our brains as ‘good’ as they could be?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Prairie is . . . Fire

The prairie needs sun, and trees make shade, so if left alone, trees would eventually trespass into the prairie, turning it into woodland. Thus a prairie needs fire. The fire kills the seedlings of the trees and keeps it open to the sunlight to allow the prairie grasses and forbs to grow. We in the practice of prairie restoration use to think lightning might be the agent of starting these fires, but what happens after the lightning? Rain. Nowdays, we think that Native American people were responsible for the fires, as fires seem to need to come with more regularity and frequency than random lightning would provide. So it seems the native peoples had a sophisticated means of managing the prairie for seed and berries and game. A just-burned prairie is more lush than one where previous year’s plant mass has accumulated, so that lush grass growth eventually attracts herds of grazers, which in their day was bison and deer. A just burned prairie supports cane plants like raspberries and blackberries. The seed production of the grasses and forbs is higher after a fire. This attracts more birds and allows populations of seed-eating mammals to grow. So the native people had a sustainable form of agriculture that managed the plants and animals of their native ecosystem for their use to provide food and shelter. In our home or business prairie gardens, we can use fire as a maintenance tool by burning it ourselves or hiring it done, or we can patrol for and cut out the woody ‘weeds’ and treat the stumps with a precisely targeted dose of herbicide to keep them from resproutiing, or we can mow it in the spring every few years. Like the native prairie, it will attract interesting insects, wonderful birds, and entertaining mammals, and will provide us with beautiful flowers, intriguing seedpods, and graceful waving grasses that nourish us emotionally and intellectually and aesthetically.

Prairie landscaping at NorthStar Credit Union, Warrenville IL designed by PlannedScapes Native Landscape Design, Warrenville, IL, burned in May 2006 by Applied Ecological, Brodhead, WI

Friday, February 22, 2008

Irish Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face.

May rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May the earth hold you

in the palm of her hand.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


It was one of those very fancy wedding receptions. We were seated for many delicate courses after more kinds of hors d’uovres than I could recognize. There was a live orchestra to which one more member was added with each course. Somewhere after yet another change of silverware, one of the women at our table began to nostalgicize about how she and her grandma used to polish silver together. The other woman said that yes, she did that with her grandma too, and they proceeded to discuss the ways their silver polishing traditions were similar and unique and how being allowed to polish certain pieces were privileges to be attained with age. Finally, one of them turned to me and asked if my grandma and I polished silver together. I could have simply said we didn’t have silver or lied and said yes and offered no details, but no, I had to provide my own story. So I told them how my grandma and I and my sister and cousins had our own tradition with grandma. She would let us roll cigarettes for her. She had one of those little devices with the belt and handle where you licked the cigarette paper and placed it just so into the machine, then stuffed loose tobacco from the big blue Bugler can evenly into the paper, then moved the lever to invert the belt on itself to simultaneously roll and seal the cigarette. As they stared with sagging jaws, I went on to proudly tell how she didn’t even complain if they weren’t even, but put our cigarettes right alongside her perfect ones in her big silver cigarette case and smoked them right along with the others. It was somewhere about that point in the story when I realized that what I had begun to tell in sort of a rebellious reaction to being a bit ashamed of my ‘poor’ childhood was actually something I was proud of, because in letting us do that task, our grandma taught us sharing, compassion, kindness, yes, some hand-eye coordination, but also a sense of fun. Yeah, my grandma let us roll cigarettes for her and I AM proud of it!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


The full moon was hanging in the clear blue winter sky, behind black silhouettes of naked trees. It was afternoon, not quite dusk. Cold. A hawk, with feathers of the underside of its wings and body a chalky white, flew across the road in front of my car, under the white moon. I wanted to be of some secret society where the hawk and the full moon in the same winter sky had special meaning, held an omen of some great thing to come. But really, it was just a beautiful sight and that was enough.


Looking out at the white ground, the naked trees, the ice that covers every level and semi-level surface since the weekend's big thaw, the stillness of the garden, it is difficult to imagine that it will ever be spring again. Will the ground be free of snow and ice and offer us green again? Will plants push up from the ground and flower? Will leaves come from those tiny brown buds and grow large to cover the trees so much that I cannot see the neighbors' houses again? Will there be fruit on the serviceberry tree and pods on the bladdernut and the Kentucky coffeetree? Will those fuzzy buds on the magnolias really give way to giant waxy flowers? Will the grapevines drip with purple again? Will ferns fill the woods with waist high fronds? Will songbirds and chipmunks and insects and spiders return? Will the bird song and the buzz of cicadas and the chirp of katydids really mask the sound of the nearby tollway? Will the fragrance of molding leaves and flower nectar again fill the air outside my backdoor? That nature asks us each year to believe this in the dead of winter perhaps explains why we are so eager to believe the claims of every false product and every false religion that is presented to us.
Faith is . . . believing spring will come in February.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Prairie is . . . Flowers

The flowering plants of the prairie, the ‘forbs’ as we call them, provide the brilliant summer colors that catch our eye. They, not the grasses, are the first to capture our attention and make us wonder what is growing out there. The flowers provide the nectar and pollen for bees, of which there are hundreds of species. These prairie bees are solitary bees, living alone and laying eggs one at a time in holes in woody plant stalks, then packing the hole full of food for the larva. The flowering plants provide nectar for hummingbirds and many kinds of insects. Predatory insects such a spiders and beetle larva live on them to capture the flying insects. Sucking insects of many kinds live on the plant juices. Leaf eating insects and animals rely on their foliage that is softer and more digestible than that of the tough grasses. The flowering plants host hundreds of species of insects and birds and mammals and reptiles and amphibians. The summer flowers with their nectar and pollen mature into seeds that feed the birds and animals on into winter. These seeds might be tiny and air born like those of the asters or larger snacks such as those found in the heads of compass plant and prairie dock. The plant stems and leaves harbor eggs of next year’s insects and hold the nests of small songbirds. That is just the life above the soil line, for much remains to be learned about the life below ground that feeds on the roots and carries out entire life cycles or maybe just parts of them down there among the roots. And those roots go deep. The roots of the forbs are thicker, much deeper counterparts to the fine sponge of the grass roots. Studies in unplowed prairies found roots dozens of feet below the ground, where they break up soil and guide rain water drainage to deeper layers to allow aquifer recharge. Someday, we might be smart enough to use the sponge layer of grass roots and the drainhole producing layer of forbs roots to manage the storm water of our urban and suburban areas instead of our ugly resource consuming high-tech curbs and gutters and storm sewer systems. For now, we can preserve and restore prairies where we can, and we can grow these plants in our own home gardens to enjoy their beauty and maybe attract some of the life that they so abundantly support.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Prairie is . . . Grass

What, then, is prairie? Prairie is an ecosystem. It is plants and soil and animals and fire working together.
The plants are grasses. Just as trees define a woodland and cacti define a desert, grasses define a prairie. There are non-grass plants too, and these are the ones whose showy flowers we notice. Those of us in the ‘industry’ have a code word for those flowering prairie plants: Forbs. The grasses and the forbs work together to build soil and make the best use of rainwater. About half of the root mass of the grasses die underground and are regrown each year, adding organic matter to the soil. The dense but fine fibrous roots of the grasses are as deep as the plant is tall, to form a sponge under the ground that absorbs and slowly holds rainwater, preventing erosion, and the deeper thicker sparser roots of the forbs are up to ten times as deep as the plant is tall and allow the unused water to percolate through clay subsoils into deeper layers, replenishing aquifers eventually. The tallgrass prairie covered the middle of the country in a band from Canada to Texas, with midgrass prairie west of that where there is less rainfall each year, and shortgrass prairie farther west of that in the rainshadow of the Rockies. But in all of them, grasses were the defining plants, the functioning plants that stretched horizon to horizon and played large against the big of the blue sky above.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Under the Oaks at McKee Marsh

Two oaks stand tall and wide at the edge of the trail. How many decades have their branches entwined with each other and sheltered songbirds, hawks, squirrels, owls, insects, woodpeckers, native people, cattle, and now us who walk here on our hike to learn the secrets of the woods? It was not woods when these trees were younger, for their wide branches tell us they grew in the sun once. But now, when prairie fires no longer keep their feet free of trees, maples and red oaks and linden have grown up around to change this land from prairie savanna to woodland: Woodland that hosts acres of wildflowers that make my heart sing each spring.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kentucky I

Kentucky. I have a lot to say about Kentucky and it is only partly me bragging. Yes, I will admit to being darn proud of that accomplishment, but more than that, I want to inspire you to do something you never thought you could or would do or maybe just to get out and look around and find a bit more beauty in the world.

How did it start? The oldest boy had gone away from me for almost 2 weeks the year before on a Boy Scout High Adventure trip and the absence was painful. Long. Worrisome. And now, the youngest was making plans and preparations to go on this year’s trip. In order to spare me the separation from both boys and keep me from the worry, I was invited along. Maybe only in jest at first, but since the trip was to begin at a place I had taken the boys before, the more I was consulted for advice on travel, the more serious the invitations became. Finally, I settled down to think about it. What were the obstacles? I would need to train. To walk the distances and to carry the pack weight. I would need gear. That meant shopping. No problem there. So I consulted a couple friends who had done backpacking and marathons about training and laid out a plan in a spreadsheet, adding miles and weight to the pack in an alternating pattern, planning in rest days and plateaus and occasional challenge days. And on February 14, 2005, I began. I thought it was 2 miles to the hardware store and back, so I tied on the new hiking shoes and set off. Hell. Dammit. Piss. It hurt. My shins hurt and my legs hurt and my hips hurt and I got blisters on two toes and I was out of breath. It was a long hard way there and back. As I was posting the accomplishment of my first painful exhausting 2 miles into my spreadsheet, someone voiced the unwelcome opinion that it was only a mile and a half round trip. I limped to the Jeep and odometered it out, and sure enough. So I went back home, got the shoes back on, and walked a mile the other direction for a total of 3.5 miles that day. I followed the plan as best I could, discovering the wonders of wool socks, learning to tape the toe that persisted in blistering, learning how much water to take, that jelly beans are a quick way to replenish the blood sugar, how many layers to add for specific weather types, and so on. I told everyone I knew about my plan in order to be held accountable. Most were supportive and mentioned later that they saw me while they were out. Some honked or pulled over to say an encouraging word if I was walking on a sidewalk. “You get by with a little help from your friends” was never more true during those first few weeks of training!

A Nod to the Holiday

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Because the oldest son had gone on a trip with the Boy Scouts, it was just the youngest boy and I. We chose to camp and hike under the redwoods instead of one of our usual Arizona destinations. Have you ever BEEN in a redwood forest? If so, you will agree that to look up at those massive giants and think that they are plants grown from a small seed holds you in a constant state of amazement. Plus there were beautiful ferns on the forest floor and raindrops on leaf tips and panoramic vistas. We camped under redwoods. At their trunks, next to a fallen one even. Amazing. Magnificent. Beautiful. Awesome. On yet another amazing scenic drive, we had stopped at yet another breathtaking vista and I was saying “Oh, look . . . ” and Boy Wonder interrupts with “Yes, I know, Mom. It’s so beautiful. You’re so happy! Mom, you are like a golden retriever!” Well, so, is there anything WRONG with that?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What A.J. Said

Can you really choose your thorns and your roses? Can you really choose to be happy or sad? Can you really choose whether to see something as positive or negative? When a child gets a piece of candy, they will automatically see it as positive. When they drop it in the dirt, they will automatically see it as negative and cry. Sure, as a mature adult, I can say well, at least I got a taste of it before I dropped it and I didn’t really need the calories. Or I can problem solve, and pick it up and clean off most of the dirt and salvage what is salvageable. But is it na├»ve to think we can always turn everything into a positive? Aren’t there just really bad things that happen? Yes, there are, but we can always use them to some greater good. The loss of a possession can make one take better care of other things. The death of a friend can bring other friends closer. That is not to say “It was for the best” for bad things really are bad. But we CAN use bad things to lead to future good things, can’t we? So maybe we can’t find a way to call every thorn a rose, but we can certainly use the thorns to make us recognize the roses already put in out path and we can use the thorns to make us choose paths that will have more roses for us to encounter. Thanks, A.J., Eagle Scout, wise beyond your years.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What's In Your Back Window?

What’s in YOUR car’s back window? A large weird yellow plush bird? A pair of slip-joint pump pliers? Some sort of kitchen knife? I can’t even come up with a story that could explain this assortment we chanced to park next to last week one day.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Prairie Rose.

Things About Grandma G

Grandma was the principal at a school and had the biggest ring of keys I have ever seen. She would let us play with it sometimes.
Grandma had jewelry boxes of beads and pins and earrings and a giant tin of buttons in her dark mysterious bedroom.
Grandma held us on her lap or had us sit right next to her and read books to us.
Grandma let us color and draw on her coffee table.
Grandma was known and loved by everyone in town because she was a school teacher and people told us that and we felt loved by everyone in town by extension.
Grandma had books sent to use from a book club and brought us books when she went to town.
Grandma brought us art supplies from the teacher store.
Grandma was a flapper when she was young. There were pictures.
Grandma grew African violets.
Grandma was cool and modern because she had a telephone way before we did.
Grandma let us watch The Monkees instead of one of her favorite shows when our dad would not because Gunsmoke was on at the same time.
Grandma kept our baby teeth in glass pill bottles.
Grandma once stopped a cat fight with a broom in about 2 seconds.
Grandma had diverse and exotic musical taste due to giant record sets with music from many eras.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Things About Grandpa

Grandpa had a garden so big it was half the entire lot – bigger than the lawn and the footprint of the house.
Grandpa’s cellar was lined with jars of yellow beans, green beans, orange carrots, red tomatoes, and burgundy tomato sauces and pastes.
Grandpa made toy tops for us out of a dowel and a wooden spool from sewing thread.
Grandpa could peel an apple in one long unbroken ribbon.
Grandpa had a secret mysterious life hidden from us ‘out at the farm’ where he raised hunting dogs and from where he lead goose and duck hunting trips.
Grandpa was the cook in the household and made elaborate meals centered around savory roasts or stuffed turkeys or chickens.
Grandpa did not go to church with Grandma and the rest of the family, but stayed home and cooked Sunday dinner.
Grandpa wore suspenders.
Grandpa’s tiger lilies were taller than we were and we played under them.
We were too young to go to Grandpa’s funeral. We stayed at Edna’s house and made paper dolls from the Sears Roebuck catalog.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Grandma had these brown bowls with darker brown speckles, like inverted eggs of some wild bird maybe or maybe like handmade paper. We would take them out to Grandpa’s garden and pick raspberries right off the bushes. Here’s how little we were then: We reached up to pick the berries from the canes that arched over us. The berries were a little warm from the sun. When our bowls were full, we took them into the kitchen and sat at the big wooden table on the tall backed chairs, and Grandma poured cream from the refrigerator over the warm berries. We sat, legs dangling, and ate the cream drenched berries with our spoons.


Clinton or Obama. Obama or Clinton. It is like in grade school when your two best friends were nominated for president of Young Citizens League at the same time. It is like when two boys leave you notes in your locker asking you to the dance during the same class. (Or as I imagine it might be.) It is like when both margaritas and daiquiris are on sale at the same time. It is like when there is both fudge and divinity at the holiday buffet. I want them both.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Backyard Wildlife

The groundhog was there first. It burrowed under the shed between the footings. Our neighbor Ed offered to ‘take care of it’ for me, an offer that I suspect involved firearms and the breaking of several laws and ordinances. I declined and fenced the raised beds where I was growing vegetables. His soft brown coat was beautiful in the sunny lawn and I loved the way he moved in a flowing rolling tumble. After a few years, we noted we had not seen him in a while, concluding he must have perished. Later, one late summer morning as I was leaving for work, there in the lawn was a skunk. He was doing that thing where they dig up a divot of turf and eat the grub underneath. He was digging, munching, digging, munching, oblivious to the daylight. I ran inside for my camera, snapped a picture and moved closer, snapping again, and when I got to within 15 yards of him, he looked at me for a slow few seconds, looked up at the sky for a few more, then as if to say “Oh. Bedtime!” he turned and ambled back toward the shed. We never saw any more of him, but the hole remained open and clear of weeds for years, and he never caused any harm except to the occasional loose dog, which to my mind was ‘natural consequences’ of irresponsible dog ownership. Several years after, I was headed out to a secret sitting area in the back corner of the yard around dusk, and I became aware of movement or perhaps an unusual pattern to the sounds, so I stopped and waited. There ahead of me on the path appeared a pair of fox kits. They were playing, pouncing, nipping, rolling, wrestling like puppies or kittens or even human children. Soon, an adult appeared behind them on the path and when it noticed me, it called to them. They stopped their play, straightened up, and turned to follow the adult off into the ferns. I could follow their progress by the movement of the tips of the ferns. Later that spring, I was walking along the stepping stone path through the ferns and where I expected my foot to encounter a solid stone, I felt something springy. I parted the ferns to find . . . a severed goose wing! We later found a squirrel hide, a duck head, rabbit parts, chipmunk tails, both tame and wild goose parts, and more. We learned to patrol the yard for dismembered prey before admitting sensitive guests and to track down a smelly part and toss a shovel load of soil over it to hasten decomposition. Though the foxes were inconvenient, they were stunningly beautiful as we caught glimpses of them playing on the patios, surveying the area from the top of the woodpile, or scampering along the paths. I later read that they rarely dig their own burrows, preferring to modify those of other animals, so our hospitality to the groundhog and the skunk is what earned us the privilege of hosting the foxes!

The lazy blogger posts a photo only

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

If I can do it, you can too!

The quality of my vacations with my sons took a radical turn for the better when I conquered my fear of heights. Since our vacations involved nature, and experiencing nature involves trails over sloping terrain, and trails over sloping terrain involve places where the ground drops of steeply on one side, there were many occasions in the fear of heights days where my mood approached hysteria as my children approached edges. I made them walk on the extreme inner edge of the path or hold my hand and there was much tension. Especially traumatic were the drives up into the mountains near Phoenix or Tucson. Then one year I got over it. We decided I needed to get my landscape design mess out of the dining room into an office, and so we added a story over the garage. I asked the builders to make the stairs first so that I could get up there and participate and be involved and they recognized that idea for the folly it was and refused. So day after day as the fun of demolition of the roof and assembly of the new floor and walls went on, I watched longingly from below. They builders prodded me daily and teased me to just come up the ladders and look. They made supportive offers, too, to hold the ladder or help me up at the top. Finally, it got the better of me and I climbed up. When I got to the point where panic set in, I stopped, stood there on that rung until I calmed down, looked around at the status of the project as best I could from that level, and climbed down. I did this every day, sometimes several times. And every so often, I was able to make it one step higher before panic took hold. But I was too curious to back down, so each time, I stayed there until panic subsided, then committed my nosy inspections. Gradually, I was able to make it to the top, and gradually, I was able to swing myself from the ladder to the new floor, and gradually, I was able, as the stud framing was complete, to go to the edge without panic. Soon, I was hanging onto a stud and leaning out over air to take a dramatic photo back toward the partly completed building. I was through with my fear of heights! I was not sure until the following spring break whether it would carry to the real world, but it did. Since then, we have taken many of those former hell-drives up the steep winding mountain roads and I am careful but not afraid. We have backpacked the Grand Canyon, I have gone with the boys rock climbing in Kentucky, backpacked 50 miles with the Boy Scouts in the Daniel Boone National Wilderness , hiked and backpacked in many places in Arizona and California, and planted a roof edge garden in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. There too, I am careful but not afraid. Thanks, Barry and sons, for the good-natured taunting and the encouragement and the support to climb that ladder just a little farther every day until the fear was gone!

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Handy and Helpful Device

I dropped the house keys off with mother at the nursing home in Aberdeen, turned on my GPS navigational device, hit 'HOME' and 'GO', and here is what ‘she’ said: “Take Highway 12 east to the edge of your sanity. Turn right onto I29 South until boredom becomes so thick in the car that you can actually poke it into amusing shapes. Take I90 East so long that you begin to hallucinate about clowns and monkeys. (seriously – it is 332 miles until the next ‘turn’) Turn onto 94 East. Hwa ha ha ha ha. It is only a highway name change, not a real turn! Take I39 South for a long ways and then I88 for a long ways. Don’t bother looking for any scenery because it is all perfectly flat except for a few miles of hills and trees in Wisconsin. Do not speed even though it may seem your sanity is flowing out your front window escaping just ahead of you and you must chase it down or lose it.” I may be paraphrasing but that IS pretty much what she said. She does not predict weather or there would have been dire words about the snow for the last 100 miles that slowed things to a crawl. I am glad to be home and very tired and will now sleep for three days.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Something set me off one fall about the way my sons’ school was teaching about the seasons, portraying fall as an ending, a time of death. So I devised a program that I delivered to the Kindergarten kids about fall. The point was that fall was not really about the end or about death but was about beginnings, because it was in the fall that plants make seeds for the next generation. I spent days gathering seeds and seedpods and cones and nuts and berries and fruits and seedheads and the kids and I sat in a circle on the floor while I talked about the different kinds of seeds and how seeds are dispersed (wind, via an animal’s digestive system, water, being propelled from the parent plant, stored by an animal and forgotten, sticking to an animal’s fur or feathers, and so on). I let them touch and feel and poke and disassemble and squish. It was a pretty messy program but the kids loved it and I hope it gave them some optimism about the cycle of the seasons and some good perspective on how the end of one plant leads to the potential for future plants and that it really is indeed a cycle of life.

On the Way to the Funeral

On the way to the funeral, I stack all the previous losses next to this upon my heart, the ambulance rides, the cemetery visits, the teenagers on the steps of the overflowing church, the veteran’s burial with motorcycle riders of the Patriot Guard, the grandparents gone, the rides to chemo that failed to stop the cancer. I add this most recent loss to those and think my heart might be crushed this time.
On the way to the funeral, I notice people who are not affected by this our loss. It seems surreal as they tend to farm chores, stop to fill up their tank with gas, walk into the grocery store for milk and frozen pizza and tooth paste. It seems irreverent that they will be choosing between regular old ‘cavity protection’ and new ‘super whitening’ while I mourn this terrible loss of a friend’s mother.
On the way to the funeral, the sun comes out and lights up the golden corn stalks in the snowy fields. It is beautiful, glowing, magnificent, and that seems irreverent too on this sorrow filled day, and yet, each day, someone suffers a loss like this and the days can’t all be overcast and grey!
On the way to the funeral, I worry what to say and hope I get it right, but in the end, the words don’t matter at all. It only matters that we were there together among people, with each other, among the living that care about each other. The words don’t matter. It is only the being there that matters on such a day.

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Little Story

Looks like it snowed in Illinios! I have a little story about these columns you see in my back yard. Columns like these at the Grand Canyon inspired us to have this arch and a patio with a seating wall built as our 25th anniversay gift to each other. We employed our friend Barry and his son to build the thing, and the columns were finished except for the caps. I was working in my office over the garage when they came to install the caps, and a bit later, there was a knock on my office door. I found Barry standing on the landing, trying to speak. I think he had what is officiallly termed the Heebie Jeebies. He would begin to speak, then shudder and make noises like 'Ewwwwww!' I waited for him to calm down. He finally was able to tell the story though it was frequently punctuated with shudders. Willies is, I beleive, another term for what he was experiencing. Some might term it The Creeps. For as Barry told it, when he reached up from the ladder to pull himself up to slather the mortar onto the top of a column, bits of something fell on him. When he shook them out of his hair and off his shoulders, it was "hundreds and hundreds of mouse tails and mouse ears and . . . eeewwwww . . . mouse feet . . . " Turns out, the nieghbors had recently adopted twin kittens, who were living outdoors and apparently, prolific at the hunt. They were, it seems, carrying their kill up to the tops of the columns where they could safely dine without fear of another cat stealing their meal. I bet if you asked Barry today about the columns he build in my backyard, you would still get him to shudder! Imagine - hundreds of severed mousie appendages raining into YOUR hair - did I get you to shudder?