Friday, July 31, 2009

Under a prairie sky

It seems to me nothing man has done or built on this land is an improvement over what was here before.

An example of one such place, land that hasn't ever been tilled for agriculture or improved in some way for development, lies halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee. A genuine tallgrass prairie, the Chiwaukee offers a delightful mix of native grasses, uncommon sedges and drop-dead gorgeous orchids among the many wildflowers that bloom within its swells and swales.

It's an excellent place to test your plant identification skills. I was fortunate to have
a botanist and walking-encyclopedia along with me to identify plants. I'd point and Jim would spit out a Latin name. Kinda Pavlovian and fun.


I was tickled to spot this beauty first, after he walked right past it.

The Prairie White Fringed Orchid is a federally threatened species and like most orchids, rather mysterious in its growing habits... some years there's lots, others not so many. We found just two, I think, on the small portion of the Chiwaukee's 225 acres that we walked through.

Swaying back and forth among the grasses... delicate and exquisite... and tall at about three feet, it was easy for me to see why there are volunteers sufficiently enthralled with this particular orchid to stand in for their hawkmoth benefactors and pollinate them by hand, with toothpicks, at various sites within their range. So beautiful were they that I hardly saw any of the other wildflowers that surrounded them.

Pristine as it may be, the Chiwaukee and all its wonders are surrounded by houses and sprawl and represents just a small fragment of the native prairie that once existed in that part of the country.

It's hard for me to imagine anyone plowing these under to grow corn or soybeans or heaven-forbid-Walmarts, but that's not my reality. Far removed, I see only the interplay between an ancient prairie threatened by people, even as it's watched over and appreciated by others.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Boardwalk reflections

Some scenes from an early evening walk along the boardwalk at Asbury Park today...

My favorite shop for reflection pics is the Bodega Shoppe at the southernmost end of the boardwalk. There's always something interesting on display in the window there... lately there's this crazy looking bust with a curly wig that ends in a sailboat... fun! Reflected in the window are the happy people dining at Stella Marina (which has really nice homemade pasta, btw.)

The sky reflected in the windows of the north side of Convention Hall... the south side of the building's been restored, but this side is still crumbling into the Atlantic bit by bit.

A new children’s water park—a water-filled playground where kids wade through shallow pools and run under a giant squirting watering can—sits just off the boardwalk, in view of the ocean. I need to find a stray kid so I can go...


I stumbled upon a jazz band playing a free concert in Convention Hall... Asbury, you just never know.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The meadow

Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The queen of them all

Back to Orchid Week.

Look awake!


Said to be fussy, we found Showy Lady's Slippers growing in the dappled shade along someone's driveway in Bailey's Harbor, Wisconsin.

In someone's driveway!

Like a common weed!

The location of the most prized orchids are oftentimes kept a secret so people won't dig them up and carry them away. The kind people at
The Ridges led us to these for photos.

Aren't they pretty?

Ever seen any?

Wandering out to the driveway to see what I can find there...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Just add water

Speaks for itself, no?

At our favorite swimming hole along Cedar Creek in the Pine Barrens... made even sweeter by the huge muddy puddles we just had to tromp through on the walk there.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A new blogger among us

Please go visit my big brother's blog...

He FINALLY has an actual post up... some two years after threatening to start a blog of his own and leaving the occasional comment here as The Reluctant Chicken Farmer. Some of you know him from Facebook, too, and so know of his good sense of humor and tendency to rant. It promises to be a fun chicken blog once he finds his voice.

Stop in and welcome him to the blogosphere!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Grass Pinks

A wild rose torn to bits, then glued back together by someone who had never seen a flower before, might look something like a Grass Pink.
--Raphael Carter

Isn't that a great quote about a really odd-shaped flower?


Another orchid from The Ridges and one that I've seen here in NJ in the bogs of the Pine Barrens.

The upper petal should be triangular, according to the books, tho this one doesn't look it; the important thing to know is that the bearded lip is the uppermost petal on a Grass Pink... the other pink bog orchids wear their beards on the lower lip.

What do you guys call that?


Monday, July 20, 2009

The flower that walks

This might turn into orchid week here, so be warned...


Mostly I prefer simple common flowers, but orchids and their variety of forms can't be denied.

Look at those sweetly twisted sepals!

I geeked out for a moment there. Sorry.

So... flower fanciers, which do you prefer: the pink or the yellow?

Yellow Lady's Slipper Orchid photographed at The Ridges Sanctuary in Door County, Wisconsin.

I really, really like the yellow.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Days at the beach

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.
--Robert Frost

I grew up with a mother that loved the beach... whole afternoons were spent baking under the summer sun, a cooler filled with sandwiches and ice-cold plums. Childhood photo albums are proof that many of our vacations centered around a visit to the shore, as if living within a couple minutes drive didn't already offer us enough of the ocean's delights.

My father is mostly absent from these memories... his fair and freckled skin kept him under the beach umbrella or back at home when he wasn't rescuing me from the breaking waves or my brother's torments. I don't remember much beyond the shock of seeing him in shorts, his legs whiter than white, some goofy looking never-worn sneakers, his trademark black dress socks and the huge mole that grew near his left knee. He used to tease that the little fish liked to nibble on it...


Someone, maybe him, or one of my big brothers used to let me ride on their shoulders in the water, out of reach of the sharks and jellyfish that I was so sure would devour me whole.

I spent a couple hours yesterday watching the same stories unfolding for any number of beachgoers... building sandcastles... bodysurfing... eating tuna sandwiches with a fine dusting of beach sand... the heady scent of Coppertone... all reminding me that this love affair with the sun and the water and the sand is in my blood, even though I burn just like my dad always did.

Any beachy memories to share from your own growing up?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Meddle not

Meddle not in the affairs of the dragon; for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

Or without.


Legs and wings, apparently, are too crunchy.

This last pic is nightmare material... look at that mouth!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mooseless Wednesday

Presque Isle on Lake Superior, Michigan

Windy and rocky, very beautiful.

No moose.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Little tyrants three

I think I've figured out what the guy in the middle's problem is...


Monday, July 13, 2009

Letter to me

Country music is a guilty pleasure I'll admit to. The sappier the better.

Throw your rotten tomatoes at me now... get that out of the way, first.

OK... so.

I had this great creative writing teacher in the eighth grade and then again as a junior in high school. Mrs. Cella had us write daily journal entries which she would comment on once a week when she collected our journals for grading.

It occurs to me now that Mrs. Cella would've loved blogging and the interaction between writers and their audience.

Most often she wanted us to *free write* about whatever came to mind, in whatever format we chose. Those were painful, difficult entries for me to make, faced with a blank sheet of paper.

Kind of like blogging sometimes.


In her comments in our journals she was a writing coach, but as is often the case when working with adolescents, it gave her the opportunity, I suspected at least, to get into our heads and act as social worker and therapist; an adult we could be honest with in a *safe* non-judgmental arena.

Every so often she'd give us an actual topic for our journal entries and usually I enjoyed those; enjoyed a guide with which to focus my thoughts.

I remember one of the topics she gave us was the opposite of Brad Paisley's idea with this song of his; rather than writing as an adult to our 17 year-old selves, she had us write a letter to our grown-up selves.

I'd love to be able to put my hands on that old journal of mine. Buried in the closet in my childhood home, one of my brothers probably found it when we sold the place and is holding onto it to embarrass me with someday.


(Ramble, ramble.)

Mrs. Cella often criticized my rambling away from the point at hand.

I like the spirit of this song, for all its hokeyness and thought I'd have a go at a similar letter.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dear Laura,

For Godsakes stop being so shy!

Stop thinking you're too skinny!

Go with the curls; one day you'll laugh that you ever wasted so much time trying to have hair like every other girl.

That guy: dump him. Quick! Don't wait till just before the Senior Prom. That'll feel sweet, of course, but...

The quarterback of the football team wants to ask you out... and a couple baseball players too, but instead you're wasting your time with that jerk.

Those other quiet girls in your classes that you won't give the time of day to even... take the time to make friends with them!  They'll write the sweetest things about you in your yearbook and you'll wonder how you never even noticed them.

Dad will not be heartbroken if you drop Calculus. Honest.

Speaking of Dad... give him a break. Enough of your moodiness. Enough of the silent loathing. You'll regret it sooner than you expect to.

Mrs. Martin... tell her what a great teacher she is. Tell her even though you're sure she must know. You'll understand one day how nice those words sound coming from a student.

Smile in your graduation photo... you'll be looking at that sad face years from now wondering why it looked like the whole darn world was on your shoulders.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Add something, if you would, of what you'd include in a letter written now to your teenage-self. Maybe just that one big thing.


I promise not to take points off for rambling, either.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
-- Albert Einstein

Twinflowers are tiny! That I'd somehow spotted a miniature forest of them blanketing a spot of sun in the cool damp woods of Northern Michigan was the first miracle. Surviving the swarms of mosquitos long enough to get a couple shots was the next.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Three reasons I got nothing done today

Is there any sweeter distraction than that of baby birds?

Oh and don't worry about the one in the middle... it does have a head. I think it might just have been mid-nap when I snapped this pic.

THE pic I missed was when a spotty-breast baby robin perched itself as the fourth beggar in the row and was rebuffed by the parent kingbird... made me giggle for a half-hour at least.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Two uses for a lily

Hmm... which is prettier?

This Eastern Kingbird considers himself the watchman of the neighborhood and since they've bloomed, has been landing amid the small patch of daylilies beside the courtyard here.

Whether he's just appropriating a convenient hunting perch or instead has some aesthetic sense of his own handsomeness, I'm not sure.

What do you think?


Thursday, July 09, 2009

The bird no one knows

Our nation's list of imperiled species includes some celebrities... sexy ones like the Whooping Crane and the Florida Panther.

Most, however, are virtually unknown.

The Kirtland's Warbler, one of the rarest of songbirds, is a specialist and nests only within a very particular habitat.

The habitat itself, even, is imperiled.

The scrubby, non-descript trees that emerge from sandy and fire-scorched terrain in isolated parts of Michigan are the bird's touchstone. Jack Pines, like the Pitch Pines more familiar to me, require fire for regrowth.

Fire isn't very popular in residential or commercial or agricultural areas, but the Kirtland's depend on the mosaic of changes inherent in the destruction and subsequent renewal caused by fire.

They nest only in those areas where fire has created the conditions that select for early successional plants... plants that typify a pine barrens community. Without proper management, gradually the Jack Pines grow too tall, the canopy closes in and the grassy understory where they build their nests disappears because of low light levels.

The birds move elsewhere... or try to. Aggressive management has allowed for the hope of recovery and populations are increasing.

None of this has anything to do with what it felt like to wander in those pine plains searching for a Kirtland's.

This is not a bird that I'd hoped ever to know.

The Kirtland's is near mythic among birders and the makings of a pilgrimage for many.

I was just along for the ride.

Please click on the pic! It's one of only a dear dozen or so and is especially sweet because he's carrying food in his beak.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Yoga with an audience

I arrive at yoga class at the Y really early so I can stake out my comfortable spot way in the back left corner. The lights are low. I can hide there.

So... yoga on the boardwalk, in broad daylight, was a bit of a stretch for me.


I very nearly bailed when my sister-in-law called at the last minute to say she wouldn't be able to make it to join me. Then I thought, "What the hell?"

I'm glad I did... it was a lot of fun. There's something really humbling about practising yoga outdoors, with the sky and the ocean at finger's reach and crowds of people gawking and pointing and laughing.


The class meets outside a little health food shop on the boardwalk and proceeds benefit
Mary's Place by the Sea in Ocean Grove.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bad bird photo of the week

Can you hear the evil cackling from behind my computer screen?


I imagine there's enough here for guessing anyway.

As to hints, well... the pic was taken roadside, behind a restaurant featuring pasties.

And I did eventually learn the proper pronunciation of that delicacy, but not before embarrassing myself with the waitress.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Without a map

Along the northern shore of Lake Michigan... a pic taken at a stop along the way to somewhere else... a chance to stretch our legs and see what there was to see.

I was struck by the familiar... the feel of the wind in my hair and dunes dotted with tansies. I filled the pockets of my jeans with tiny purple mussels cast ashore and wondered at a sea without salt and waves without a tide.

Explorers believed the world had an edge and they could fall off if they went wrong.

I think they were right.

This world is full of edges and falls. That horizon might be a new world or it could be a cliff.

Still, this is true.

I look around me and find the horizon is only a line drawn in the sky... a kind of dare.

For navigating... there's the fear map that directs me back to shore where it's safe and dry and comfortable. But following that map means going backwards. And backwards causes my heart to sink, really.

Always, there's the straight line, the *I know exactly where I mean to be* map. I keep thinking I can somehow convince myself of this, so long as I keep both hands on the wheel and don't let my hair become undone.

Mostly I've given up on that, lately. My record at trying to control the world ain't so great, plus it makes my shoulders hurt.


Instead I find myself wandering willy-nilly, easily distracted and with too much play in the steering wheel as I look at the sky... my heart and my head in their own happy argument... an argument that's sweetly wrong, but which pushes me into trouble at awkward times and which laughs me through disaster.

Who can deny it?

"Breathe," I keep telling myself. Feel. See. It seems simple, but is so very, very hard.

I keep forgetting.

The sea reminds me. This sea. The waves pound it at me, each a different ride, each a different possibility of diving or floating, of swimming or drifting.

The world insists itself like a lover. "Take me. Take this moment... this, now."

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Naming the dragons

"What's the use of their having names," the Gnat said, "if they won't answer to them?"

"No use to them," said Alice, "but it's useful to the people that name them, I suppose."

-- Lewis Carrol

A person who goes traveling to far-flung places with the express purpose of seeing things should, I guess, be concerned with the naming of those things.

I rather enjoy the mystery, and the magic, of meeting these fierce-looking creatures in their own strange paradise of wet meadows and sunny paths through the forest without knowing much at all about them.

Their names don't much matter when I find them basking in the sun on a weathered plank bridge or stunned with the chill off one of the Great Lakes. Theirs is a world entire and to be allowed entry, however briefly with the lens of my camera, is enough.



Some are so beautiful, so otherworldly, their faces so expressive...

or their existence so threatened that even the shimmer of an iridescent wing is enough to inspire me to learn more.

For those of you Type A personalities that just HAVE TO KNOW (grin) each photo is tagged with a name, as best I can guess or remember. Click on each to enlarge.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

An orange hemiparasite and lily

A beautiful Indian Paintbrush glimmers from damp sedgy meadows on the Door Penisula of Wisconsin. This gorgeous member of the figwort family is saddled with the rather ignominious rank of a hemiparasite. Oh! What is a hemiparasite you may ask... a hemiparasite is a plant that derives some of its sustenance from other plants. In the case of our beautiful paintbrush, it taps into the roots of various grasses.

Our orange flamer has a bit of Spanish flair to it... the genus name is Castilleja. This name honors the great Spanish botanist Domingo Castillejo, who plucked plants in the 18th century. The specific epithet is coccinea, which means scarlet - a fitting descriptor for our showy hemiparasite.

Many believe the brilliant orange floral parts to be flower petals. No, they are not. The eye-catching sprays of orange are in fact brightly colored bracts, which are modified leaves that subtend the true flowers. And it's a good thing the paintbrush is adorned with those festive bracts, as the true flowers are greenish bits of nothingness.

Beads of water glisten like jewels on the tepals of a stunning Wood Lily. Uncommon and always a treat, these lilies glowed like beacons from the perennial gloom of a boreal forest edge in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I think that orange flowers are especially attention grabbing. Perhaps this is because orange is not a particularly common color in nature. In any event, these plants, when in full bloom, hit the eye with the force of a barreling Mack truck.

Another reason that the Wood Lily is conspicuous is that it is our only native Lilium in which the flowers are held perfectly upright. All of the others droop or nod.

Suffer a spider bite lately? Native Americans would have you believe that this is the cure... they ground up Wood Lily plants and made a thick paste, which was then slathered onto the area affected by the spider bite.

The allure of lilies dates to the beginnings of the written word... witness this quote from the bible: "... Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." (Matthew 6:28-29)