Monday, June 30, 2008

Naked Flower Parts

The single white tipped stalk (stigma) is the girl part and the crisp yellow nuggets (anthers) are the boy parts and the soft purple tentacles are footholds for the bees that come to pollinate. In order that the plant not pollinate itself, the parts 'ripen' at different times, so when the pollen is ripe and being carried around, the stigma is not receptive. Thus a flower must be pollinated not by itself by by pollen on the bee from another flower. This is what keeps the genetics mixed up and allows for the diversity that allows for evolution. And all this must happen in the half day that spiderworts are in bloom, for the petals open in the early morning and turn to drippy mush by early afternoon. They are one of those flowers whose petals seem to be made up of a mass of glistening jewels, and they are a treasure all the more valuable because unless you are up and about the prairie well before noon, you will miss them in their glory!

Feeling Blue?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Being Glad for Digital

Remember when we used film for our photos and you couldn't capture blues like this without fancy filters and even then, it was difficult to get a good print?

Saturday, June 28, 2008


When you paddle through the mats of algae and duckweed, you can look back and see exactly where you have been. What if life were more like that? Wouldn't it be good to be able to look back and see where you have made a difference, to see what good you have done? But would we be able to handle seeing the harm we did along the way?

Friday, June 27, 2008

I Built This

The nearest place to get treated lumber was almost all the way to Madison, where I measured the actual width of the boards available and figured out how much I needed on a scrap of paper atop a lumber display, then strapped it on top of the Jeep and headed home.

I'd been using the area as a patio but the plants kept growing up under the furniture and the table was tippy on the ground and the chair legs bit into the rocky soil.
I hauled the wood uphill and laid down a base first.

Floor boards went on top of that, and were screwed to the based layer where they crossed.
After the furniture is moved back in place, the little living area is ready for use. I have enjoyed many a sandwich out there and read many a book in the mornings before the gallery opens or in the evening when the shade and stone are cool and refreshing.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Against the deep green of the forest floor, the interplay of the dappled light and the brilliant white flowers of Solomon's plume is electric.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Did That

The very cool living quarters above the amazing gallery space came with a fabulous clawfoot tub. But it had an annoying itty bitty faucet that meant one had to rinse ones hair with a cup. That faucet had to go, and as long as it was going, it may as well be replaced with the fantasy model that had a long arching spigot and a separate handheld sprayer. The week it arrive by UPS, I was gone so my wonderful neighbor accepted it and by way of politeness to satisfy the curiosity he must have endured while it sat in his gallery windowsill, I explained what it was and that I intended to install it that week. He informed me that he was certain I would give up and call a plumber. And he sent email later that evening to confirm his certainty. So I started the project about 10 in the evening, discovering after I had the old one off to the point of no return that I really needed special wrenches. But I was determined to finish the job I'd started so by around 2 am, with only a couple pair of slip joint pliers, I had the job done and tested and had dashed off an email smuggly notifying him of my success.

Ways to Camp

It was Columbus Day weekend. We had been to the Kentucky Daniel Boone National Wilderness with the Boy Scouts in June the year before and decided to return for a family backpacking venture for the long school holiday weekend. We hiked in from the National Park and planned to go out a few miles into the Wilderness and camp the night and then hike back into the park the next day. We had hiked about our planned number of miles when we began to look for a campsite. The trail there follows along more or less the route of a river and there are rules for how close a campsite can be to the trail and to the river. Leave No Trace rules say you should use an established campsite if they are available instead of camping on native plant life and possibly damaging the ecosystem. Unfortunately, due to extremely lax enforcement for quite a long time, all the campsites were too close to either the trail or the river, so we kept going. We had just spotted one we thought would do that was empty so we headed down a little switchback to it and met a couple coming up. They had just taken down their tent and were moving on because a ranger had rousted them NOT for being too close to the river or the trail but for being too close to the embankment because he decided it was steep and high enough to count as a cliff. So we moved on. Finally we found a flat spot far enough off the trail with relatively little vegetation to be crushed and set up our tents and juggled some logs to serve as chairs around our tiny camp stove to boil water for our dehydrated meals.
Then, breaking the peaceful quiet of our lovely hard won camp, we heard a rustling and a snapping and the obviously rhythmic crashings of footsteps and of something apparently very large. Deer? Bear? Nature is fun and good, but animal nature of the large kind is . . . .scary. I do not remember if I had reached for my camera, but I probably did. We were staring in anticipation and apprehension in the direction of the crashing when out tromped . . . a young man in t-shirt and jeans carrying . . . a bed pillow? We gave each other puzzled looks. No backpack, no tent, alone in the wilderness with a giant white pillow? We watched where he went, apparently just to the other side of a cluster of large dense shrubs maybe 50 yards away. We waited a while and surreptitiously crept back into nature far enough to see around the shrubbery and there they were . . . maybe a half dozen of them . . . massive tent, coolers, barbecue grills, boom boxes . . . apparently we had hiked so far looking for our perfect rule abiding campsite that we had hiked back OUT of the wilderness and into the park and to within less than a quarter mile of a parking lot at the junction of two main trails. They drank and laughed and hollered and partied pretty late, but we were too tired to care that much, and in the morning when we broke camp and had our breakfast and prepared to resume our hike, it was so quiet over at Bear, I mean, Beer Camp it was like they weren't even there.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reflecting on Reflections

The snail on the stalk of the lily leaf below the surface, the fish in the water, the duck swimming on the surface, the bird flying overhead all see the river differently. Which is right? What do we see?

It is a beautiful beautiful world.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ignorance Kills

This beautiful bullsnake lived in this wonderful rock wall for many years, keeping the voles and moles and mice and chipmunks in check in our little backyards. If you were careful not to cast a shadow on it to startle it, you could actually get quite close. Because the owners of the buildings that share the garden that this stone retaining wall supports are wise and kind and good stewards of the earth, they appreciated this snake and often took visitors back there for a look. Maybe that occasional observation made the snake less afraid of humans than it should have been or maybe we had nothing to do with it. But one summer day not long after this photo was taken, ignorant children who were with ignorant adults, who were not supervising them very well as they worked a Saturday concrete job in the alley, poked and jabbed at the snake in the crevice until it was injured and later died. Why such parents allow their children to commit such pointless violence to any aspect of the natural world is beyond my understanding and why such children do not possess a natural concern and compassion for the natural world like most children I have experience with is another question that will remain unanswered. But it is up to those of us who know the value of a single snake to pass information like that on to children whenever we can so that things like this will not happen. We miss our snake and wish those ignorant parents and their ignorant children had never visited our alley last summer.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Baking II

I only remembered it was Gallery night when someone from the gallery next door came over to see what I was serving as refreshments. Oops! So I came upstairs and checked the cupboard. No brownie or lemon bar box mixes, no stashes of chocolate left over from Christmas, no chips, no grapes or cherries in the fridge, nothing. There was a box of Bisquick that caught my eye on my second more desperate scan of the meager supplies. I thought maybe one could flavor them and add sugar somehow to make them sweet. Making them bite size is good because gallery guests don't need plates or napkins, and what with the environmental theme of the gallery, that is a good thing. Hmmm, I had lemons in a vase, my fallback when I don't have time to stop at the florist or keep flower water changed. So I measured out the amount of one batch of Bisquick for standard biscuits (2 2/3 cups), and zested the rind of a whole lemon into it. I added a half cup sugar and mixed that dried stuff together. Then I added the usual amount of milk, afraid the lemon zest would curdle it and make a mess. But it mixed in as usual. I put some sugar into a bowl, dropped tiny blobs of the dough into the sugar, and put them on the cookie sheet, sugar side up. I baked them at 450 degrees until the tips were just brown. Hmm - they tasted kinda bland, but interesting, so the next batch, I squeezed in the juice from half the lemon after everything was mixed, and added a bit more dry Bisquick to get it back to the right consistency. That batch tasted more lemony, though both batches tasted stronger after they cooled. I sliced the remaining half of the lemon wafer thin and used it to garnish the plate when I served them in the gallery. One visitor asked about them and where I got the recipe and I said I made it up this afternoon and she said you can't just make up a baking recipe and that is when I got the idea that maybe I should be a little proud of my accomplishment. That made me wonder how I could do such an thing, and I remembered 4-H with Mrs. Palensky where we learned how cooking works. We even made biscuit mix from scratch. That is how I knew what order to add things in order not to ruin it all, and where I learned about what proportions should be used. We didn't just make things from recipes but we learned why the recipes worked and what purpose each ingredient has, and when you know that sort of thing, yes, you CAN just make up a baking recipe! Thanks, 4-H and Mrs. Palensky!

Saturday, June 21, 2008


My mother often had warm cookies waiting for us when we got home from school. Those chocolate cake ones with the creamy chocolate frosting or chocolate chip. It was one of my measures of good-motherhood and I failed. I tried it a couple times but I got distracted and burned them or lost interest before the cleanup was done and the mixing bowl sat unwashed for days. It was hot work and messy and I kinda resented it when people ate my handiwork. It was best to do the store bought cookie thing and take the kids to the park or bookstore instead. When the oldest one needed product for the orchestra bake sale, he was content to take things in the clear bubble pack from the grocery store bakery section or later, to package sugary breakfast cereal in plastic bags which were so popular with the kids that they allowed a 4x markup. But when the youngest needed things for the bake sale, he would have none of these 'cheater' shortcuts. The first time it came up, he had waited until the last minute when I was working, so I suggested he check with my friend to see if he could bake at her house. They had such a great time, it became their tradition. They bake together for bakes sales and at holidays. He now has the confidence to bake on his own as well, and even modifies recipes to his taste. It is wonderful to be blessed with a boy who loves to bake!

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Found It In The Prairie

And I don't even know what it is yet.


We were out of town, but the nighbors say that even tho the tornado siren didn't go off, the roaring sent them scurrying to huddle in their basements until it was over, and then the power was off and it was dark and no one could tell what they'd lost so they just went back to bed. We have a long narrow lot with the house in the front, a detached garage with an office on the second story, and a thing we call the summerhouse in the far back corner that is like a detached living room. We left a little soft top sports car and the soft top Jeep Wrangler parked in the drive.

Trees were uprooted on our neighbor's side and thrown over onto out property in front of the house, between the garage and the summerhouse, and on all sides of the summerhouse. Not one window or building was damaged. The cars are unscathed. No one was injured. It took a few days for Com-Ed and the City to get the branches off the drive and edge of the street, so for a while our drive was a tunnel and felt sort of bat cavey. And the neighbors are still working on their end of the trees. We will tackle the branches on our side after the backpacking trip and after some things on the lake house get done, and by then the leaves will be dried and some of the water will have left the branches, so it will all be lighter and easier to work with. We are lucky. Very lucky. Nature is a wonderful but powerful thing and we are small in the grand scheme.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Taking a Chance

It was a chance turn on a side road that lead to many wonderful things. We were on the way to an apple farm with goats and a bakery. We'd been there before and loved the place. We saw a sign for "Garfield Farm Harvest Days" and decided to turn to go there instead. We traded in a known for an unknown and found much more than we ever dreamed. There was a group there playing folk music. It as the Friday of the event for school children so we tagged along and heard bits and peices of interesting things about the farm and the prairie. We went back several times to the music gathering where kids sat on the edge of the hay wagon and played along with the group. Here's what that lead to:
Both boys took folk music lessons when the group opened a folk music school near our home.
We took Sunday morning prairie tours there and I ended up leading the volunteer restoration effort for a couple years.
I give prairie tours at the Harvest Days event and sometimes other events.
At Harvest Days, one boy demonstrates wheat flailing and the other corn shelling in the period costumes their grandmother sewed for them.
They met re-enactors of the trapper-trader era who inspired them to build their own muzzle loader firearms from kits.
Both boys have engaged in actual barter with re-enactors
We volunteer at the holiday event where one boy plays music in the ballroom and the other plays checkers in the men's parlor.
They joined band and then orchestra in grade school then stuck with orchestra in high school.
One boy learned to blacksmith at a class there from another volunteer who helped him acquire his own blacksmithing set-up.
We are friends with the sheep girl who demonstrates spinning at events.
Last 4th of July, Wheat boy/blacksmith and sheep girl played for a 'barn dance' on the lawn of the historic tavern and corn boy participated in the dancing.
The youngest is planning his Boy Scout Eagle project to benefit the farm museum.
All because we were willing to abandon plans for a sure thing to take a chance on something new.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Between the Steps

We had the steps from the house site to the water's edge built in summer, after the ephemeral wildflowers were mostly gone. In some places, the stairs turned out to be right over some of them. Some seem not to mind all that much.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Keeping The Rose Bowl Full

It came from Uncle Carl and Aunt Edith's yard, an offshoot from under the shrub by their gate. During bloom season, it was my self-appointed job to keep a fresh flower in Grandma's rose bowl. It was an excuse to stop in for just a few minutes every day or so, and it was a task that had a beginning and a middle and an end, so could not turn into a long difficult to end conversation. The flowers of that plant were a deeper darker pink than this, but they were rugosa rose, with the crinkled leaves, the delicate veined petals, and the long tips to the sepals. And they were fragrant, for the first thing grandma did, when I brought in a new rose, before I cleaned out the bowl and put it in the water, was take my hand that held the flower and pull it to her face so she could inhale its perfume. It made us both happy.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Advice from Friends

I'd never heard of a yellowwood tree, but our little volunteer group was ordering seedlings to give away for Arbor Day, and John was advocating we get a few. That was many many years ago, and for the past couple years, I was happy that my yellowwood tree had a few flower clusters.
This spring it was stunning. The delicate airy clusters were beautiful in bud and more wonderful when the flowers opened, but the day the sun came out after a rain, the flowers and leaves glowed. Thanks, John. It was good advice!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

You Chose Crow (Fiction)

The thing I hate most about you now is your ugly beak. I hate that it is shiny and hard and as long as the whole entire rest of your head. I hate its pointy end and your sharp black tongue inside. I hate your wrinkled black nostrils. Sure, I am glad your guardian creature was there or we’d be very very dead right now, but why couldn't you think of anything else? That crow came diving into the gully just ahead of our plummeting car and you couldn't focus on the decision at hand? The creature demanded “Choose!”. You chose “Crow.” You never think, do you?
I don’t mind your black beady eyes. They are not that different from when you used to squint across the kitchen table at me, drunk and stoned and angry. I don’t mind your hunched posture. It is not that different from when you came home from work, hot and filthy, and skulked around the edges of the kitchen, looking for beer and Jack Daniels. It is not even your hideous shriveled claws I hate most, for they are much like your metal-cut and dried-blistered and callused hands were. It is that beak. That awful black and shiny pointed beak.
No, wait. That must be second what I hate the most. What I well and truly hate the most is that when I look at you, it is like looking in the mirror, for to the untrained observer, now, you and I look exactly alike. Exactly. Alike. That is what I hate the most.
Artwork by Sheri Lee Butler, Warrenvlle, IL

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Sometimes you only know what you have after you look at it on the computer screen. Like this perennial geranium flower with raindrops behind the petals and one drop suspended between the stamens. A pretty flower on a pretty plant with fragrant leaves. Also called bigroot geranium, and one of many related perennials called cranesbill. Geranium macrorrhizum.


Volunteers put in thousands and thousands of hours every day to make things like libraries and parks and events possible. Some work at a specific place on a regular schedule, some are on call as needed, and some only work an event now and then, but without them, the world would be a messier, less organized, less interesting, less fun place. Volunteers have taught my kids and I many things, from specific details about a place we are visiting to general concepts of competence like how to ask a question and have a conversation with a person you have never met. Volunteers have done my kids special favors to reward their interest, giving them special looks into backrooms and handing them special trinkets and samples to take home. We volunteer ourselves at an historic farm museum and at the Boy Scout Eagle project work days and at an occasional prairie restoration work day or seed gathering. If you find some time in your busy schedule to volunteer somewhere, you will get back out of it far more than you put in. But it is hard work that takes some dedication and commitment, so next time you see a volunteer somewhere, make it a point to give them an extra thanks!

Friday, June 13, 2008

At The Top

Many winding arduous climbs around muddy puddles and over fallen logs and up rocky scrambles and along numerous switchbacks result in views like this that take your breath away for just a second or two and make you glad to be alive on such a beautiful earth.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ferns on Rocks

Many steep rocky trails lead to sights like this where ferns grow right out of cracks in rocks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Light on Ferns

Nearly every difficult hike into the woodlands eventually yeilds a sight like this.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Signs on the Road of Life

What if life came with such warnings? Would we be more wary and take better provisions? Or would we turn back more often? Shouldn't there be a companion sign to this that says "Manificent views and amazing experiences ahead" so that you know what else is in it for you besides the challenge?

Monday, June 9, 2008

An Elegant Beauty

The first time I saw wind towers was at night when the pattern of their blinking lights across the cornfields echoed the constellations of stars in the sky overhead. The lights were interrupted by the graceful sweep of the blades and I was frustrated that I could not see more in the dark. By daylight, I find their beauty mesmerizing.

Those who visit with me have to drag me away, for I cannot get enough of their strange simple beauty. They are graceful and elegant yet strong and sturdy. When their blades move in the wind, they hypnotize. They are of nearly perfect classic aesthetic beauty with proportions of thirds and fifths. Their white towers and blades catch the sun and echo the brightest whites on the clouds on an overcast day.
The turbines make a low rumbling sound, quiet enough that you can have conversation and hear nearby grasshoppers and birds. The blades make a rhythmic whooshing sound as they slowly sweep though the air. I love to sit on the low steps at the base with my back to the metal so that I can feel the sound as I watch others in the distance do their slow dance.
I hope it is the clean energy they tell us it is. I know there are issues with the energy it takes to make and transport them and with transmission of the energy to where it is needed. I know there are questions about how to solve the gaps in the windy weather. But if such beautiful structures can give us energy from the wind that is clean and bounded only by the days the wind blows in places like Wisconsin and Illinois and the Dakotas, it will be a wonderful future indeed.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Certain Laugh

Why is it that certain people have an impact on your life far greater than how well you really knew them or how much time you spent with them? There can be people that you spend time with a only dozen times or less that change you and influence your life view. I was a very serious child. I was very serious about causes and issues and injustices and for much of my life, I was bogged down in these great and serious things. Then a friend of a friend came into my life who moderated that a little. She might say "Oh don't take yourself so seriously" or some earlier equivalent of 'whatever'. It is not that she wasn't a good and kind and compassionate person. Oh, she was all of that. She just knew that you could do what you could to and beyond that, worrying and fretting about it did you no good. That is was okay to have fun and enjoy your life even if you knew there were bad things out there, even if bad things might have happened to you. That it didn't mean you cared less about others and the environment and all that just because you let yourself have fun. When I remember back about the all too few times we spent together, what I remember most is a little way she had of flicking her hair back over her shoulder and looking at you a little bit sideways, maybe from a lifetime of trying to make sure her cigarette smoke didn't bother you, and laughing. A low throaty laugh that you could not ignore, made you have to smile, that made you feel BETTER for a long time after and again and again.

Treasure Sets Sail

The youngest boy and his dad sanded and refinished the wooden rudder and daggerboard. They patched the 4" hole in the front of the side with left over fiberglass scraps from their canoe project. They cleaned and sanded and repainted the body of the boat. They washed and mended the sail and replaced the rigging ropes.

The boys decided one November day that it was time to take it for a trial sail. On a whim, I called the friend who got us into this adventure and tracked down the former owner at his job at the post office and told him what was about to take place. The boys walked the boat on its tiny dolly over to the lake a mile from our house while I followed behind in the Jeep and we got it into the water next to the dock. They were struggling with getting the mast into the boat just as the former owner showed up. He helped them get things set up and pushed them off from the dock.

While we watched them sail away he told me how much he had loved that little boat and how torn up he had been at the decision to throw it away instead of moving it with them and how especially upset he had been at the prospect of having to cut it up to throw it away. He told me it was amazing how well they could sail it right off like that. I told him it was the same boat they had learned on at Boy Scout camp and how much they both loved earning that merit badge. He stayed on the dock with me and watched as they made a few circuits around the little lake and helped them bring it back in. It was a wonderful time, when one man's trash was literally turned into two young men's treasure. And the one man's happy memories of his boat had, instead of a very sad ending, a very beautiful one indeed.