Monday, March 31, 2008

Finding Spring

Sometimes I get so tired of winter I say I am just going to drive south until I find it. This time, we flew east and found it! I am supposed to be at the capital getting smarter at the museums and more patriotic at the monuments but I am mainly just embarrassing my son by gushing about the plants. The cherries are in bloom, yeah, sure, and that is kind of a cliched thing to be delighted about (okay, I am) but there are trees here that are old and huge and it is a couple zones warmer than I am used to so there are things we try so hard to grow and they just look sad and here they flourish and it is just really truly spring here!
The pansies were planted in fall and return in the spring!

Huge urban trees!

Some historic and architectural wonder through a fog of magnolia blossoms!

Forsythia in full bloom!

Weeping cherry!


Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Was Too Angry To Cry

People tell me, oh, you have to go there, but it will make you cry. Well, we went there. We walked from just west of the capitol down the Mall to the Washington Monument then through the World War II Memorial then along the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial, where the Civil War is brought to mind, then finally to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. When you realize that 400,000 of our troops died in World War II and 58,000 in Vietnam, it is easy to see why our government is not all that riled up about a mere 4000 so far in Iraq. Maybe it is just numbers to them. The average age of soldiers in World War II was 26. This means they had families. What a tragic loss of lives! The average age of soldiers in Vietnam was 19. This means they were barely done being children. The age of my college freshman son. Our capital is full of monuments to war as though that is the way to make a nation great, via a given, a neccesary evil. Is it? Are there other ways? What could have been tried instead of the Vietnam war? Let's say we didn't know better then and we had to learn that lesson on what little good is an invasion of many years into a country with a culture that does not want us and that we do not understand. Let's say we had do the Vietnam thing to learn that it was not worth the terrible price. So why didn't that lesson stick and permit or motivate us to find some other way in Iraq? Was war the only way? Was war even the best way to do whatever had to be done? What exactly had to be done anyway? So yeah, after an day of thinking about wars and more wars, by the time I got to Maya Ying Lin's beautiful and moving tribute to the 58,000 individuals who died in the Vietnam War, I was just too angry to cry. It was a terrible waste of lives and we have wasted 4000 more in this newest war and we need to stop it, now. Add one more memorial to the lawn and vow to never have the need to add another by vowing to find other answers to our disagreements with other nations. Young men and women are not disposable assets to be spent for some sort of gain. Their lives are not ours to ask for.

My Capitol Dream . . . Still Unrealized

First view of this famous landmark

Getting closer!


Looking back at the other landmark monument

The radio was a large plastic thing that perched on the fashionable curved-corner shelves at the end of the ultra-modern kitchen cabinets in the new ranch-style house. Many a news reports that came from it at the level of my young ears as I sat on the kitchen floor included bits about the latest body count from the Veitnam war or the most recent arrest or activity of the civil rights movement. We were in the height of the "Please please don't be a litterbug" campaign and I remember the snappy commercials. 'Women's Lib' was a cool new thing and I was proud to own a more realistic 'Tammy' doll and not a 'Barbie'. I aspired, ever since then, to boldly and proudly join in a protest on the capitol* lawn for some noble cause, for civil rights, for women's rights, for the environment, or against a war. So on deciding to break in spring at the nation's capital* I had high hopes of chancing upon some worthy cause for which I could join the fray and hold up a borrowed sign while my son photographed some wide shots and some close-ups of me and my fellow protestors. Ah, I would be doing my part to change the world for the better! Now I do not know the means for determining who gets the use of the capitol lawn for the expression of their particular sentiments, but that process, so far, has not been on the side of furthering my dream. I will not tell you the issue on the lawn this week; I will leave it to you to click to zoom in on the photos.

It IS an awe-inspiring place of history and ideals that set this country in motion, some quite fine and some of rather questionable motive and ethics, but still, this is where it happened, and there is a monument to honor it all. And we have walked to most of them and back! My feet are tired but what a trip!

*Notice how I am fitting in as many occurances of the word so to prove I DO know how to spell it.**

**Julie, if you are reading, I stole the footnote idea from you. Thanks.***

***That would be Julie at - click on BLOG to read and ART to see samples of her, well, art.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spelling Lesson

"Shall we visit our nation's capital city for spring break?"
"What a capital idea!"
"How much capital do you think a trip like that would take?"
"It would be worth it to see the cherry trees in blossom around the capitol building."
Yes, the name of the building where a state's legislature meets or where the national Congress meets is spelled with an 'ol' while all other usages including the name of the town where the capitol is located are spelled with an 'al'.

Spring Break

I am off to visit the Smithsonian Museums with the wonder boy for an entire week. Get out there and enjoy the arrival of spring. Whether it is just your backyard, a city park, or a local nature preserve where real native plants are doing their spring thing, there will be something new and different every single day this time of year. It is yours to enjoy and marvel at and wonder about, so get out there and do it. Remember to pause now and then to breath deeply enough to gather in the spring fragrances, the moist soil coming alive, the green things beginning to grow again, maybe even the fragrance of some spring wildflowers. Remember to touch things, to feel the soft of a newly unfurled leaf, the moist of the leaf litter on the ground, the rough of the bark of the tree by the path. Vision is our dominant sense, so in order to appreciate the richness of the many directions of sound around us, it helps to close your eyes and listen. Can you hear birds calling, then others in another direction answering? Sometimes you can hear popping as frost leaves the ground or lighter noises as water moves through the soil. Trees lean and creak in the breeze and dried leaves from last year rustle. Just get out there and see what you can find!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

What Season?

As proof certain that the real seasons are unrelated to the calendar seasons, it is snowing outside for the third time since the Vernal Equinox on March 20 at 05:48UTC. Actually, it is more of a srain at this point, because the great big snowclumps that were being driven at a significant angle just moments ago are now falling straight down because they seem to be heavier due to being partly melted. But that could change any minute now.
I don't care that much. I am leaving on Spring Break in a couple days and for now, I have my cheater branches. Techinically it is called 'forcing' but I prefer to think of it as bribing. You know. where you bring branches indoors and give them warm air and water for their feet and watch their little buds unfurl magically and grow into huge wonderful green things? So it may be dark and . . . white . . . out there but I have my little bit of green right here in my kitchen!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I Saw A Crocus Today

I saw a crocus today. It was not in full bloom, but a still closed orange bullet reaching out from green leaves, only a couple inches tall. It was getting dark, too dark for a photo, so you will have to trust me. But I saw it, a crocus, the first of spring for me!

Keeping Them Here

A friend lost a friend to an accident and I told him this:
The only thing you can do now is take the best of him out into the world. You can be more like what you admired in him. And when you see someone such as your kids or especially HIS kids act like something you admired in him, you can say "you remind me of . . . ” and tell them why and tell them a little story about him. Everyone knows him in different ways and you have to figure out what specialness about him you know and that others need to know and figure out a way to give that to them. You are the only keeper of that thing, of the special things you know about him, and they will not know it of him unless you give it to them. That is the only way we keep people alive and living on this earth and keep their contribution flowing through the generations to come. Not just by remembering the person, but by giving voice to those remembrances and in such a way that it encourages in others the good you saw in the friend you lost.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Perfect Day for the Zoo

Okay, let's say on Thursday you are making plans for Friday which is college boy's last day home on spring break and high school boy's school holiday and it is oh in the 50's maybe and the zoo seems like it might be a fun thing what with that recently purchased membership lanquishing on the front of the refridgerator, and let's say you wake up on Friday to find it is . . . well, snowing, and rather ambitiously at that. Would you, say, change plans to visit an indoor venue or just maybe cancel and stay home or send the boys to the climbing gym or oh, maybe take the day with everyone home to reorganize the 'library' in the guest room that spills over the bed and onto the floor, preventing the inviting of any guests? Nah, let's go to the zoo ANYWAY!

There, in the center of the picture, by the fence, could it be? YES, a SNOW leopard! You don't see THAT every day, now do you? A snow leopard in the snow!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Man-eating Plants, Prehistoric Creatures, and Living Fossils at Volo Bog

Okay, the man-eating plants are merely carnivorous pitcher plants that attract and digest insects, so no humans are in any danger. The prehistoric creatures are not teradactyls but the magnificent sandhill cranes, visible as specs over the golden prairie, but their slow wing stroke followed by the quick upflip is a flight pattern that sets them apart from other birds and their size can only be called awesome and their call is beautiful. And the living fossils are mosses pretty much unchanged from the form they have had for ages of time. This time of year, yesterday the last day of calendar winter and today the first day of calendar spring, there really are amazing things to be seen and heard and touched and smelled out there! Get out there and walk in it!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Twenty things
to smile about:

- flowers
- cats
- music
- hummingbirds & cardinals & cedar waxwings & herons & sandhill cranes & crows & hawks & eagles
- butterflies & crickets & grasshoppers & beetles & bees
- foxes & coyotes
- trees
- rivers
- oceans
- berries
- chocolate
- driving fast
- paddling on lakes
- books
- stars
- sunshine
- rain
- northern lights
- children playing
- friends

Monday, March 17, 2008

Five Years Ago

It's been five years.
These little essays have all been pretty soft and fluffy so far, but I am about to break angry. Five years ago today something happened. It pissed me off. And I am still pissed.
On March 17, 2003, George W. Bush announced that we would invade Iraq. Five years ago.
On March 19, 2003, the first attack by the United States of a target in Iraq occurred. Five years ago. We all hoped we would be in and out fast. Five years ago.
We all know the reasons that we were given: To find the weapons of mass destruction – that were never there. To find Saddam Hussein – who has been long found and dead of execution. To make Iraq a better place – though civilian deaths number many tens of thousands and continue at higher than pre-invasion rates today. To fight terrorism – Even though the actual terrorists of September 11, 2001 were from other countries and even though several studies show there have been more terrorism threats since the invasion than before.
9-11 and Iraq never had anything to do with each other, yet our president and his government used the ‘war on terror’ as the excuse to start this war, to continue this war, to ‘surge’ this war, preying on fear wrought on us by that day, erroneously linking the events in our collective mind, justifying an unjustifiable war that has gone on for five years.
On September 11, 2001 in attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and on the Pentagon and involving an airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania, 2998 Americans were killed. 6291 Americans were injured.
Since March 19, 2003, with the addition of two more deaths just today, 3990 American service people have been killed in Iraq. Since that date, 29,395 American service people have been injured.
Because the United States declared war on a nation, a nation that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack. In fact, it was in December of 2006 that the number of US service people dead equaled the number killed in the 9/11 attacks. We have now caused many more of our own to be killed by sending them into this five year old unjustified unjustifiable war than the infamous 9/11 attack killed. Shame on us. Shame on us. I felt betrayed by the 9/11 attack. Now I feel just as betrayed by my own country.

What We Found In The Woods

I saw the familiar sleek shape in an unexpected place and was still formulating my thoughts on it when one said "It's a hawk!" and the other said "A Cooper's Hawk!" It was about half this distance from us, eating some dead thing on the leaf-litter carpeted ground, but by the time I got the camera on, it had flown to this perch a few yards farther away. We watched until it lost its abiltiy to tolerate our intrusion and flew off.

A Walk With The Whole Family!

Sorry if you’ve been here and seen nothing new for a day or two but . . . the family is together again so I have been a tad distracted! And both boys home meant a walk in nature. We found meltwater flowing through tiny streams, a still-frozen ephemeral pond that probably has live frogs buried in mud at the bottom that will emerge to fill the air with their loud, repetitive, happy calls in the spring, and fall leaves on green carpets of moss. You have to work a bit at finding the beauty this time of year, but it is there and it is worth finding!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ah, Trains!

Ah, the romance of trains! The mystery of where they are going and where they have been. The ceaseless rolling of the wheels and the rocking of the cars. The rhythm of the chukkuh chukkuh chukkuh of the paired axels crossing the roadbed. The endless crisp straightness of the rails and the repetition of the ties as they disappear into to point of perfect perspective. We rode trains, from Illinois to North Dakota to visit family. We saw secret sides of towns and back road views of farms and remote stretches of wild nature. We watched the afternoon light disappear and stars come out as we rolled between towns. The motion of the cars rocked us to sleep. Eventually, though, you run out of people you feel you can ask to get up in the middle of the night to meet you at the train station, so we went back to driving on our visits ‘back home’. But still, as I wait for the long long train to clear the road, I am a little nostalgic about trains we rode and trains I never rode that have been crossing the country for decades on their secret determined missions. Though today, I suspect, the beginning and ending of this particular train’s journey is less romantic that I might be imagining, for it carries car after car of coal, probably originating in some horrible mining region where nature is sacrificed for the convenience of our energy consumption and its destination some equally horrible place where it is burned in some pollution producing process. Well, slam! back to the real world.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I heard them today. That chortling trilling murmuring that is at first so part of the background noise that you aren't even aware of it but just know you sense something . . . different, comforting, hopeful, alive. Then it builds a little and bursts into your consciousness: Cranes! Migrating! Many many of them, high above, sometimes too high to see, sometimes behind light clouds. But cranes! Sandhill cranes! It is, it must be . . . spring!

The Dear John Cell Phone Call from the Very Public Parking Lot and Produce Section of the Big Name Store

Click click click – her staccato high-heeled boots are gaining on me in the parking lot on the way into the super-store-with-the-big-red-logo and now I can hear every word she is saying and I am pretty sure this is not how you are supposed to do this kind of thing: “I really think this is the best thing for me. Well, I have been trying to break free for a long time now and just didn’t know how to do it (Me: Well, I think you STILL might not have found the answer to that if you think this call is the right way) and well, I just don’t think this relationship is right for me right now. I still like you and everything and I would like it (Oh, don’t say it – don’t say you still want to be 'friends' – really – doesn’t everyone say that?) if we could still be friends and well, it may be selfish of me to say that (How about selfish of you to not even take 5 minutes to have this call in private?) but I really would like to still be friends with you (So you can ask the poor thing to do you favors while he hopes to impress you enough to get you back? Like he won’t see through that.) Well, yeah, I know this might seem kind of sudden to you but I have been thinking about it for a long time (Like all the time it took to drive around for a good parking spot?) and I really think this is just not working out for me. Well, yeah, I have to go now. (And figure out what salad ingredients to buy now that we are in the COLD food section.) Okay, well, take care of yourself.” (Leaving me wondering: Did she call him at WORK with that little bit of carelessly delivered bit of information? Let’s hope he is not, say, driving heavy machinery or operating an assembly line or you know, with patients or students or clients or something. What was she thinking? Well, not much, obviously.) Was this conversation as sad and irresponsible as I think it was? Or is it just me? Is it really okay to break up via cell phone? While walking from the parking lot to the store and thru the produce section? Or is a relationship, even the end of one, worth a bit more time and personal attention than that?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In Three Days

In three days, the college boy returns. The brothers reuinite. In restaurants, when the host asks how many, we can again say "Four", instead of saying "Three" and then bursting into tears. Okay, that never actually happened, but I miss him when he's gone. I am glad we'll all be together again!

I Have No Photos of The Actual Beaver

It was on that last day that I paddled on the lake in October. It was quiet out there, with only a couple other people fishing from those long flat boats. We could greet each other in normal conversational voices even as I paddled far away to avoid disturbing their bobbers. The lake was mostly still, reflecting the golds and russets of the last of the fall color of the oak and maple trees along the shore. An occasional late brilliant sumac leaf or the red berry clusters of highbush cranberries stood out against the more muted colors. In some stretches, out in the open water of the lake and around certain bends, the wind churned up the water to make the low light of the late afternoon sun glisten like gems on the surface of the water. It was so beautiful I wanted to cry. Or call someone and tell them about it! I’d just put my camera away because it was getting a little too dark for really good photos and I wanted to mess around with some paddling practice before I headed back, when I came to a place where the shore swept back into the hill, where a stream had carved out a v-shape in the shoreline. Years of deposited silt had left little islands that reeds had colonized. I was paddling around the bend toward the reeds when . . . SPLASH . . . something made a terrific noise and made waves that rocked my boat. I turned just in time to see where the rings of waves were centered, and a row of bubbles coming straight at me on the surface. There was a beaver about to swim directly under my boat! I waited and watched for it to surface, finally giving up and paddling back to where the beaver had entered the water. I could see where it had been at work by the light color of the wood chips against the dark of the leaf litter on the ground and eventually found the small tree that it had been working on, and a few smaller branches with the characteristic cone-shaped chewed ends. I investigated the delta deposit with the reeds and then turned my boat to paddle back out to the main part of the lake when just about a dozen yards ahead, the beaver popped to the surface, swimming away from me. I paddled along, keeping the distance, matching its pace for a wonderful minute or two, when it saw me and slapped its tail on the surface before it dove beneath the water and disappeared. I paddled with a beaver! It doesn’t get much cooler than that!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Kentucky: The Bridge

The bridge is a suspension bridge. It sways when you walk on it. It has a wood slat floor and wire mesh sides. It is really long. It is high above the river. When I first went on the bridge many years ago, when I was afraid of both heights and water, it was terrifying. When I went backpacking with the Boy Scouts, our route crossed the bridge, and because I had been working on my fear of heights, it was my test to see if I had indeed succeeded in conquering that fear. I made the boys go over first so that I alone would be in control of the movement of the bridge and I even made them go ahead on the trail so that no one would be watching me. And I did it. I made it across with no panic, no fear! It was empowering and this photograph of the entrance of the bridge makes me smile. Because it reminds me of one fear conquered . . . and because I remember getting to the end of the bridge and having the boys congratulate me for making it across and admit that they were secretly watching and cheering me on! The bridge held me up on my journey across the river, but the support of my sons and their friends made me feel lighter than air!

Kentucky: The Canoe Trip

I can’t swim. Have I mentioned that before? I am sure I will again. Part of the previously mentioned backpacking trip with the Boy Scouts to Kentucky wilderness was a canoe ride down the river. It was supposed to be our rest day: Get in the boat in the cool water and paddle a bit to guide the boat downstream with the current and get out at the landing refreshed to complete the backpacking trip. Huge joke: Low water levels turned it into a canoe drag. Get out, drag the canoe through the gravel while slipping and sliding and trying not to get too much more water in the canoe on the already soaking backpacks. Get in, paddle a few feet, get back out again, drag the canoe some more. Glare at the person who planned the trip. Drag the canoe some more. Here’s how much of a bad mood I was in for this part of the trip: I took no pictures. Finally we got to an area where the water was deep enough to paddle. Nasty trick. The deep spot was only due to a steeply walled and narrow ravine with a log that had fallen over the river, spanning the width completely, and causing the water to dig out the river bed below to create a really deep area. I could tell by how dark the surface looked. I was afraid just being in the boat in such deep water. Others ahead of us had already climbed onto the narrow slippery bouncy log and lifted their canoe over and gotten back in, and were waiting for us. I said there is NO WAY I can get out of a canoe into that narrow log. Not gonna happen. Can’t do it. You can’t MAKE me. The other adult in the crew who was standing on the log said “What are you going to do? Climb the banks to the road? “ I looked up at the impossibly steep banks. Um, no. “Paddle back against the current and drag the canoe back to the put in?” Well, not that either. “Die here?” Well, obviously not THAT one. “Well, then GET OUT and get up here so we can lift the canoe over.” I paused. “Look”, he said, “You are wearing a life jacket. Even if you fall in, you will float. We are all trained in life saving and CPR. No one here is gonna let you drown. Just don’t thrash around a lot if you fall in. Make it easy for us. Now get out of the boat.” Okay. It was terrifying but I did it. Got back in without capsizing it on the other side too. The boys cheered. I can do anything now.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

I Love My Boat!

I have my own boat. It is a Compass 12.5 by Native Watercraft. You can search for it and read about it and see pictures. I love my boat. I am afraid of water. I really am. I cannot swim. But I love the water. I love the rhythm and the sway of it. I love the smell of it. I love the way sunlight sparkles off the waves and I love the way reflections glow when it is calm, doubling the beauty of the nature along the shoreline. I love water birds and beaver and otters and turtles and snails. I love the physical sensation of paddling and feeling the boat push forward. But I cannot swim. I am afraid of the water. So why did I want a boat of my own? What is a fear but a thing to conquer? This one needs to be conquered. The only way out of the fear is into the fear, into the water. My boat weighs 26 pounds. I can lift and carry it on my own. I can put it on top of my van on my own and tie it down on my own and drive to the lake on my own and carry it to the water on my own and get into it on my own and paddle it . . . on my own. No waiting for an agreeable companion with a similar schedule and interest to help carry a heavier boat and paddle their end. Independence. The chance to work the fear on my own, at my own pace, on my own terms, in my own time. The first time I got into my boat, it took me an hour. To work up the nerve to even sit in it. And just as I got in, in the calm little bay at the end of the lake, water skiers showed up. And suddenly, the calm water was waves. Someone shouted to me to turn into the waves and face them so I would not feel the boat was going to be pushed over. Well, that would mean I had to know HOW to turn the boat, now wouldn’t it? Calm the panic, slow the breathing, still the racing heart and think. Paddle. Turn. Steady. You sit down low in my boat. It is open like an canoe, but you sit on a seat in the bottom, not up by the rim, so your center of gravity is lower and it feels more stable. You paddle my boat with a kayak paddle, so there is no switching of the paddle from side to side, merely a dipping of one side or the other. So that first time, I practiced steering to face the waves and I practiced keeping calm. When the skiers’ boat left the bay and the waves calmed, I turned a few circles and tried a few straight runs. Slowing and stopping. And every time I felt the panic, I just stopped and waited for it to pass. And it did. And I worked it all some more. Until I got brave enough to take a run along the shore. Before I had to give it up for the season, I went out three separate times one week in south central Wisconsin. The docks and boats were mainly off the lakes and there were no skiers, only a few fishers in their flat slow boats. One day, there were snail shells floating in the water, and I practiced steering along side them to scoop them up. One day, there was a beaver on the shore that dove into the water and swam under me and surfaced a ways ahead. I paddled along side him for maybe 50 yards before he made another dive. I paddled with a beaver! I! Paddled! With a beaver! There were kingfishers and herons and hawks. Dragonflies and frogs. Autumn foliage on the banks, red berries of sumac and highbush cranberry, tan stands of cattails, and finally, sunsets reflected on the water. I love my boat. I am still afraid of the water, but less so. I love the water.