Sunday, June 30, 2013

Eternity

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78 years ago today, in the hot and humid small town of Augusta, Kansas, my grandparents were married.  My grandfather preached at a tiny little country church and also ran the portrait photography studio in town.  My grandmother was a teacher at an honest-to-goodness one-room schoolhouse where her students ranged from age 6 to 14. 

It was 1935, still in the midst of the Great Depression, and yet, they managed to scrambled together enough money for a small wedding at my great-grandparents’ home.  My grandfather also had scrimped and saved enough to buy my grandmother a wedding ring.  It wasn’t anything fancy—there was more white gold around the small flecks of diamonds than the stones themselves, but they were diamonds none the less.  A ring that could last for an eternity.

My grandparents had a wonderful marriage for the next 44 years (until my grandfather passed away).  Afterwards, my grandmother continued to wear her wedding ring (as well as a lovely diamond solitaire anniversary ring) every day for 20 more years after that.

When my grandmother reached her 90’s, in failing health, my mom and I had to make the decision to bring her to Chicago to live in a nearby nursing home.  The nursing home advised that she should not bring anything of value with her (as things could easily be lost or misplaced).  So, my mom kept my grandmother’s rings at her house for safe-keeping.

That was 13 years ago and long forgotten.  When my grandmother died a few years ago, I seemed to think she had been buried with her rings on.

So imagine my surprise this past week when my stepsister, Holley, called to tell me what she had just discovered while going through boxes of old clothes and such at my mom’s house (Holley has been an enormous help to sort through the mountains of stuff).

She came across an old, warn, wallet that looked empty, and was about ready to toss it into the trash when she thought she’d better take just one more look.  Inside, she found few old photographs and a whopping sum of four $1 bills. But, tucked deep into the last compartment, she found one more thing that was simply mind-blowing and amazing….my grandmother’s rings!

Now, if that’s not cosmic enough, when I went to try them on, I discovered that they fit me absolutely perfectly (unlike all of my mom’s rings which have been too small).

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Remember the story about my grandmother’s gift of faith?  Well, I’m convinced that either she or my grandfather were up there doing a bit more “divine intervention” this past week to get these rings rediscovered just in time for their anniversary, and to give these rings a renewed purpose—to be loved and cherished by their granddaughter for an eternity!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Nature Weekend

To complete my Illinois Master Naturalist internship, I need to log 60 hours of volunteer service at a local park/preserve.  Doing some online searches revealed a wide range of options around the Chicagoland area.  The most-interesting ones were either already filled for the season, or required a year-long commitment.  No way am I staying in Chicago this winter!!!

So that left the most-common option for “drop-in” service – volunteer “workdays.”  I found 2 nearby parks offering workdays twice a month, so if I stick with these, I should hopefully have my 60 hours completed by this Fall.

I logged my first workday on Saturday at Poplar Creek Prairie in Hoffman Estates, IL  What a great experience!  I had not visited this forest preserve since I was a kid (during a huge Scout Jamboree weekend where thousands of scouts pitched tents and trompted all over).  Didn’t ever think there was much to see at this park, but this volunteer group began restoring the prairie in 1989 and has now transformed it back to quite a vibrant, natural place!

There were two other “newbies” volunteering with me, so one of the stewards, Steve, took us under his wing and gave us a great oral history of the park and the group’s work there.  For the first half of the morning, we went to the more established prairie in the Carl Hansen Woods section to collect porcupine grass seeds into large ziploc bags.

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Porcupine grass is the thin yellow/brown stemmed grass with the long white/dark gray “whiskers.” 

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I’ve not had a baggie full of grass since the ‘70’s!!!  But seriously, the seed stems really do look and feel like porcupine quills when there bunched together.  The moist paper towel keeps the seeds from drying out and curling up.

Halfway through our morning, the stewards gathered us together for a break complete with cookies and cold water (I’m gonna really like this group!).  We then split into two teams—the first stayed to replant their collected seeds in other areas of the main prairie, while our team drove down to a newer section of the park, the Schaumburg Road Grasslands, to plant our seeds down there.

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It was interesting to observe the differences in plant diversity and insect wildlife between the main prairie (with 20+ years of restoration), and the grasslands site (where restoration efforts have only been underway since 2009).  Very rewarding to see what your restoration work might actually look like one day!

On Sunday morning, I headed out to do some photography at my old favorite (Bluff Spring Fen, in Elgin, IL).  Remember back in early March when I was out here to photograph one of the last snows of winter?  Well, a lot has changed at the Fen since then!  Here are a few comparison shots!

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The main entrance stone

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the banks of Bluff Spring are now nearly covered!

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The hilltop of Burr Oak trees looks a bit different as well!

On this first weekend of Summer, the Fen was alive with waist-high plants, vibrant wildflower displays, singing birds, and interesting insects.

Foxglove Beard Tongue and Daisies were in full bloom--

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and the purple coneflowers were simply magnificent!

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Got a couple bird photos too--

A really pretty Baltimore Oriole

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and the ever-squawking Red-Winged Blackbird!

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While plenty of area forest preserves have birds, few have the diversity of butterflies, dragonflies, and insects that Bluff Spring Fen has.

This little lady was enjoying her milkweed plant (monarch butterflies were around, but too fast for me to photograph!):

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While the butterflies were a bit too elusive for me to photograph, 3 different kinds of dragonflies sat and posed quite nicely for me!

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a Black Saddlebags dragonfly


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The cool-looking Calico Pennant

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and this female Widow Skimmer who seemed to be saying “you lookin’ at me?”!!!

I’ll start volunteering at the Fen workdays in July.  Can’t wait to learn more about this little 100 acres of jam-packed biodiversity!

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Graduation Day


“Study nature,

love nature,

stay close to nature.

It will never fail you.”

-- Frank Lloyd Wright

For the last 2 months, I’ve been attending classes at the University of Illinois Extension Office as part of the Illinois Master Naturalist program with 22 other like-minded nature lovers.

DKK IL MN Class of 2013

Each week, guest lecturers from area nature preserves introduced us to their particular specialty-- plants, forests, prairies, wetlands, soils, birds, mammals, meteorology, reptiles, and insects.  Perhaps the most memorable class was the one last week on herpetology when the lecturer brought a Blanding’s turtle, and a variety of friendly snakes to the class.

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Of course, you know what happens when snakes come to class….one, inevitably, springs loose from its pillowcase and decides to try and hide amongst the audio/video cables beneath the presentation table.  But, never fear!  The class jumped into action to help safely find “Freddy the Fox Snake” before he could hurt himself.

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We also got hands-on instruction in the field on a few Saturdays to further learn about forests and prairies at area nature preserves--

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The class also did a workday to help Kendall County Forest Preserve stewards pull invasive Dame’s Rocket plants from a local park.

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Our final session last night ended with the group picnic roasting hot dogs, banana boats, and s’mores around a campfire--

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and being presented with our graduation certificates!

ILMN 2013 Graduation

We now have graduated from Illinois Master Naturalist Trainees to now being considered “Interns.”  The program’s next phase will be for each of us to volunteer 60 hours of service at local nature centers and parks to complete our internships and become fully certified.

It’s been a fun and enriching experience, thus far, and a great way to meet others who care deeply about the natural world around them and wish to spread that environmental enthusiasm to the general public.  A number of other states have similar Master Naturalist programs, so if this sounds of interest to you, do a web search to find your program!

IL Master Naturalist

If no program is offered right now in your area, fear not!  There are plenty of other ways you can get involved to increase your knowledge, lend a helping hand to local land stewards, and meet others.

Many parks, nature centers, and local environmental organizations seek volunteers to help with a wide variety of needs from doing workdays (to restore habitat, pull weeds, collect seeds, and help with controlled burns). to collecting data as a “citizen scientist” (for annual bird counts, butterfly and  frog monitoring, etc).  As you become more knowledgeable and skilled in a particular focus area, you might be asked to serve as a volunteer docent, steward, or interpretive guide.

Study of our natural sciences and natural history can easily become a life-long pursuit.  No matter how much you feel you’ve mastered a particular subject,  there are always new discoveries and further research, outreach, and conservation work to be done!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Revisiting old friends (and old camping ways!)

Six years ago, I signed up for my very first T@B Trailer camping rally unaware of the long-lasting friendships that would result.  That 2007 rally in Minden, Nebraska was a heck of a fun time, and it lead me and a fellow T@B owner, Judi, to host two of our own T@B rallies in the Midwest during the next year where we met and formed even more cherished camping friendships.

While some of us have long-since traded our T@Bs for different camping vehicles, and others have taken over the duties of planning and hosting these camping rallies, the group continues to grow and and welcome everyone who loves to share good food at a potluck or good laughs around the evening campfire.

T@Bbers enjoy the insides of their tiny campers, but enjoy spending time outside of them even more—whether it be reading a book or playing cards beneath their awning, cooking outdoors, going for a hike or a paddle, or chatting with friends around the campfire.  This group isn’t into catered dinners, guided tourbus excursions, or annual board member elections.  We’re casual, come as you are, do as you like…everyone is welcome and accepted.

But, even so, I still thought I’d better bring my T@B if I was coming to a T@B rally!

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It fit in nicely with the real T@Bs at Rock Creek State Park (in central Iowa).
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While I could have easily taken the View, I decided to push hard to get the Lynnebago van ready for its first campout.  Accommodations were pretty minimal, but were surprisingly comfortable (the LynnieViews blog has full details on my initial Lynnebago camping gear).  There wasn’t a whole lot from the View that I missed (other than the bathroom with hot shower!), but then again, the weather was absolutely ideal for camping—low 70’s during the day and upper 50’s at night.

It took me much longer to sort through all my camping gear and pack the van for the first time, but by 5:00pm, we were finally on the road and headed to Iowa!

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I stopped to get some dinner to bring back to eat in the van and realized I had forgotten to bring a Table-Mate tray table.  But my new AC/DC cooler fridge was tall enough to serve as a handy side table when my driver’s seat was swiveled around.  The passenger seat also made a nice footstool!

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We arrived to the campground just before 11pm.  Fortunately (or not), there were still some loud campers partying so my Sprinter diesel did not wake up the neighborhood. The van was easy enough to level with just one of my Tri-level ramps set beneath the rear wheel.

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For my fancy electrical needs, I simply threw a long extension cord out the back door of the van and plugged it into the standard household socket on the campsite’s electric post.  On the other end of the cord inside the van, I plugged in a basic multi-outlet power strip.  Pretty simple!

Most of my stuff could run either off the AGM battery except for a ceramic heater (which I only needed to use one morning for a few minutes), and this lovely rope light that I ran around the ceiling line of the van to give the Hillbilly Hilton a more upscale look!
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Outside, the next morning, I put up my new PahaQue screenroom to add another 100 square-feet of living space.  Millie considered it her new dog house and enjoyed napping in there all day long.

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Once camp was set up, I took Millie down to the lake to do what she loves to do best….swim!
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Our nice garden flag post from my camper friend, Judi, made a nice place to hang Millie’s water toy to dry out!
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On Saturday morning, the camp rally’s host, David, wanted to take me paddling to the northern section of Rock Creek.  We had talked about doing this for a few years but I had never managed to make it to the Rock Creek rally until now.  But this time I was ready and brought my inflatable Sea Eagle in the back of the van.  I proudly got it out and ready to start pumping up when I realized I had forgotten to bring one critical element-- my paddle.  ARGH!!! 

Not to worry, though.  David ran up to the concession stand, and the the gal that runs it scoured the storage room to find one lone, neglected kayak paddle in the back.  That’ll do!  We finally got onto the water around 9 am and had a wonderful 3-hour paddle across a beaver dam and up into the far narrows of the creek seeing lots of birds, raptors, and water fowl along the way.

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Back at camp, it was time to prepare for the evening potluck dinner.  Skies were threatening all afternoon, and my little Weber grill cooked my grilled veggies a bit slower than anticipated, but we managed to get the dish delivered as the first few raindrops started falling.  The rain then stopped long enough for us to all enjoy our dinner and share a few laughs.

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While crowded with lots of “weekend warrior” campers, the park was delightful and relaxing, especially in the early morning for Millie’s first walk of the day.
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I left the rally on Sunday to head back towards the Quad Cities to camp overnight with my good T@B friend, Judi.  On the way, I stopped to take a quick drive through the Grinnell College campus in Grinnell, IA where my grandfather had once taught back in the 1940’s and preached at their nice chapel.  What a pretty little campus!  It reminded me a lot of my alma matter, Stephens College.

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We arrived to Scott County Park and found Judi waiting with her terrific little white stealthy Sportsmobile in a peaceful camping loop called Pine Grove.  We did not let a few rain drops or a few thousand buffalo gnats deter us from a fun visit.  We each took turns sitting in each other’s new van, and by evening, the rain and gnats had subsided and we were able to sit around my little LP campfire to talk the night away.

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The next morning, Millie and I awoke to a magical fog that had settled into our cozy camp.

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We said our goodbyes mid-morning and by the time we headed across the Mississippi river at Clinton, Iowa and back into Illinois, the sun was shining on a beautiful day.

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My master naturalist class has recently been studying tall grass prairies, so I decided to stop at Nachusa Grasslands near Dixon, Illinois, a restored prairie run by The Nature Conservancy.  No “prairie dogs” allowed, so Millie had to stay in the van.

It’s still a bit early in the season for the prairie flowers to bloom of grasses to get super tall, so I hope to return later this summer to do more exploration and photography.  A lovely place, that gives one a real sense of what Illinois must have looked like before John Deere’s steel plow got a hold of it!

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We meandered along the back roads all the way home (getting well over 20 mpg to boot!).  A restorative long weekend for both Lynne and Millie, and successful maiden voyage for the Lynnebago!

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