Conversation with the Woods

“You said good-bye already.”

–I know. I thought I’d risk it, because–because–

“You need me. Go ahead and say it.”

–I need you.  It’s because–

“I don’t need to know the reason.  Just don’t expect me to ask the insects to leave you alone like you did last year.”

–I won’t.

“Better get your sunglasses.”

–I won’t need them.  I am feeling better.

“No, you are not.  I don’t care if you weep in the woods because I hear death all the time.”

–How did you know?

“I hear death all the time.”

Nature and Grief

(From my phone)  And I’m here, still.

...I’m trying hard to keep it together. My husband is pulling me off the ceiling sometimes, as I’m finding I’m having chest pains and horrible urges to sob loudly.

When I see her, I will be cheerful and not dwell on the fact that she is most likely dying and going to die an awful death. But in my alone moments, I don’t handle things so well.

Took a short nature walk today and it really helped. Saw a flying squirrel and an ornate box turtle. The poor turtle was stuck between a rock and a hard place, literally, but got free. The flying squirrel froze when it saw a human. I tried to be still, to disturb it as little as possible.

The walking paths were snow-covered, which is surprising since it is still autumn.

Sitting at home, done with grading, waiting for night to fall. Flashes of red from outside. Three male and three female cardinals picking seeds up from the bush in back of the house. Those brief flashes of red are so beautiful and so life affirming somehow.

I stand up to look outside, and they fly away. They must have been able to sense my presence, perhaps see my shadow.

And it helps. And the sunset helps. And the trees and the birds and friends and loved ones help.

But it is impossible to inoculate yourself from grief. At least I think so, if you are a loving person, the loss of a loved one will hurt greatly.

About 13 to 14 years ago, my family and I suffered the loss of many. Some died from a freak set of accidents, some from cancer, some from old age, etc. But it was so many in a short period of time that I was truly overwhelmed and didn’t get a chance to really mourn the loss of most of them individually.

Of these nine losses, the loss of my best friend, Susan, my godmother, and my mother hurt the most. The others I feel bad that I have not mourned them individually; it was like a collective grief.

So I know I’m going to face a lot of pain, and if you love someone, that’s to be expected.

But not something to be looked forward to.

It’s the price of loving people and getting older, surely.

The cardinals have returned, cautiously picking out seeds from the bush behind the house.


And I’m here, still.


The Fen, Late Summer

A unique ecosystem, a gem. Fen-only plants and flowers along with what’s found in Illinois elsewhere. I don’t know the name of these plants and flowers, but I do know:

The colors have changed since we last visited. More reds, blues, purples.

We need rain. Toads looked too dry and searching for water.

All around us we heard skittering animals. Didn’t see them. Just heard hints of animal life.

The red winged blackbirds are no longer dive bombing from behind as we walked. Their wee birds must have flown the nests.

Next visit: early autumn.

Thanks for reading.

Some of What the Mountains Taught Me

img_1070         Recently, my husband and I spent nearly a week in the great Rocky Mountains, at elevations of 8,000-11,000 feet.  I had not been in the mountains for nearly 26 years (The Blue Ridge Mountains) and before that, it was 1969 (The Smoky Mountains). I was young both times before, and the elevation was nowhere near that high as we stayed down in the valleys and had to drive up to be in the mountains.

When were were driving on the breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway, I remember begging my husband to “Get me the ____ off of this road!”  The height was simply staggering to me.

This time, we stayed in a camp that came with warnings about altitude sickness.  During my time there, while I was so in love with the fresh air, the lack of mosquitoes, and those breathtaking views, I also was traveling for the first time with a chronic health condition.

Some of the things I learned:

  • I am weak, the mountains are mighty.  What a cliche’, but how true.  As I gasped for breath while hiking, this truth became very apparent.  The mountains were just there, strong, hulking,  huge boulders ready to fall, while I was slowly walking, stopping often for air.
  • It’s okay to realize your physical limits. I am not a young athlete. I’ve spent nearly all my life reading, writing, researching.  I’m not an athlete.
  • It’s okay to ask for help.  I was in contact with my doctor four times (poor guy!) while gone, and he assured me each time that yes, this altitude could make my chronic condition worse and might for up to a month after I got back down–but he hoped I could enjoy the vacation anyway since I had talked about it every time I saw him.  He gave me some tips.
  • I don’t have to do everything the others did, and in fact, I could not.  I felt sad one night while others were out at a barbecue, and I was back in my room reading and trying to recover some energy.  The next day I was able to hike and go up 11,000 feet on an aerial mountain tram.
  • Chronic medical conditions do not just leave because I was on vacation; they don’t care, they are not going away just because I paid for a vacation I saved for for a long time.  That’s romantic thinking, and not realistic.
  • I didn’t write as much poetry as I thought I would, although the natural beauty would have normally sent me to typing away!  I was dealing with my health. That’s okay as well.  I can write when my body is accustomed to being back to a normal elevation.
  • I cannot describe the beauty of the lakes, wildlife, and plants/ flowers we saw on our mountain hike.  Incredible.  See the photos blog entry here:
  • At my age? I conquered an immense fear of flying and somewhat of heights in general–perhaps because I was so diverted by managing my health symptoms? I just didn’t have time to focus on my fear of heights!
  • I am forever grateful for my husband, who did not complain or in any way appear annoyed or disappointed I was not more agile, hardy, or strong. As I clutched his hand during some turbulence in flight, all I could think of was how blessed I was to know him for nearly 42 years.
  • I missed my maples, elms, willows, ashes, beeches, birches… I missed my deciduous trees, while being thankful to see and smell so many wonderful pines.  I missed my trees!
  • I was not wrong; sometimes at home I would imagine the immense clouds of summer looked like mountains.
  • Those beautiful images are starting to seep into me now, and I feel poetry coming.
  • I am glad to be back where there is 45% more oxygen.  Just because.
  • Coffee at 9,000 feet was WONDERFUL. So was the apple tart.
  • I was so proud of myself for doing something others find simple; I did not.
  • I cannot imagine how roads are built through such massive, imposing things such as MOUNTAINS.
  • We have a beautiful country!


Thanks for reading!


An Accidental Troll Hunt

35076989_10155572027678499_6537897654326657024_n          I went in search of flowers today, but had a flat tire and could not make it to the Chicago Botanic Garden in time.  Tire fixed, headed to the Morton Arboretum for a quick woodland walk, and found a troll.  There are six altogether, and I saw one.

The Morton Arboretum (look here for more details and more pictures) is sponsoring a “troll hunt” over next year.  Danish sculptor Thomas Dambo (see Thomas Dambo Sculptures) and his team build trolls around the Arboretum using “reclaimed” wood only, wood from trees downed by storms, etc.

I have to wonder WHERE these huge wooden sculptures will go after the summer of 2019.  I cannot imagine anyone having a home large enough for them! Will they go to a new forest?  Where will they go?

These are a few photos I was able to take before the rain started.

Always fun to find a troll.


The Fen, late spring–and what’s a fen?

Who walks in the fen when it’s raining? The Big Guy and I do. Peaceful. Beautiful. Today is cloudy, so the leaves are not in a riot of sunshine, but they are lovely.  The raindrops glowed on the leaves, hard to see from cell phone photos.

Nonetheless, the fen is an interesting and often  lovely walk.


What is a fen? Definition of fen

While a wetland, a fen is not a bog, swamp, or marsh.  So what is a fen?

It is an unusual wetland; The US Dept. of agriculture defines a fen as:

Fens are a type of wetland. Wetlands are ecosystems where the water table is at or near the ground surface for most of the growing season on most years, and as a consequence, the substrate is poorly aerated, and inundation or saturation last long enough that the dominant plants are those that can exist in wet and reducing conditions. The long duration anaerobic conditions limit the decomposition of plant roots, leaves, and stems and over time this organic matter accumulates to form peat soil. Wetlands include the margins of streams and rivers, and the shores of lakes. There are several types of wetlands: swamps, marshes, bogs, and fens.


Furthermore, there are a number of types of fens, and described here: Types of Fens. Furthermore, there are both rich fens and poor fens.  Scientists are beginning to determine the age of fens, and since peat accumulates slowly, fens are being determined to be thousands of years old, as discussed here: Age of fens


In our many years of walking here, we know the fen as the place of interesting plants.



I (accidentally) grew up on a prairie (sort of)

Sand prairie at The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.                 I accidentally grew up with a few acres of rare Midwestern prairie behind our home.  When we moved from Chicago, my parents bought a house not yet built, in a neighborhood with streets not yet paved.  At first, we had sticks in mud with street names painted on them.  The area was filled with former soldiers using their benefits to buy their first home in that unknown place called the suburbs. The lure was land, open spaces, less crime, better schools, and a chance at the so-called American Dream.

Before we moved, neighbors had nearly burned us out of our apartment with cooking while drunk, had left their used needles in the common ways, and gangs were eyeing my now teen aged elder brother.

My parents were terrified of what would happen to my teen brother at first, then the rest of us.

So they headed west, to a suburb mostly mud and dreams at that time.

And a surprise behind the house? The few acres of prairie remained, with a small swamp at one end.  We didn’t know it at the time, but two towns were suing for the right to build on this land.  Each town felt these precious acres were part of their town, and the lawsuit went on for a dozen years.

But during those years, we had this piece of prairie heaven to ourselves; it was a place for children to safely play and explore.  We grew to believe that butterflies lived everywhere and were plentiful, that wildflowers would forever grow, that the summer days would never end as we played, made up stories (okay, that was me), and explored.

But to me, I was a bit afraid of the swamp up close, for the stories were becoming our childhood myths: witches lived there. Children–and even airplanes!–disappeared in the swamp.

So I spent a lot of time watching the prairie sunsets from my own backyard, often standing on a rickety picnic table to catch the very last rays of sun.  I was drawn to this beauty, drawn to the sky, the sun, the miracle of the ending of daylight.

I had no camera back then to capture a sunset, as I was just a child myself and cameras were something professionals had at weddings or older family members had for special days.

As to the swamp? I’ll write more about my love/ hate relationship with that magical place another time.

When I drive through the flat lands of the Midwest now, I often think of how boring all this flatness is–no variety.  But then I remember the magic of sunsets on a prairie.

These are not my photographs, (these are photos in the public domain) but they do capture something of what I remember: the beauty of wide open land that led to the miracle of a sunset.  Every day.




All praise for conifers

I often walk on a nature path with many conifers; all praise for conifers! In winter when the gray and gloom just persists seemingly forever?  Green.

Just a few amateur photos of conifers and some other images of nature on this beautiful late Spring day.

What trees or nature images do you enjoy?