Sunday, May 29, 2016

Some flowers . . . and a dragon

We've had a really nice spring for the garden --plenty of rain, and a long stretch of cool temperatures. It's gotten hot and humid now, but everything seems to be blooming right on schedule.

I had one poppy bloom in the back garden. I'll be transplanting it as soon as the flower finishes.
Also in the back, the purple and white iris are finishing up, and the orange iris are beginning.
The peony that I didn't move is also beginning to bloom back here. (The one I did move is doing well, and still has it's one bud.)
One more plant in the back garden is blooming, but it's been hit hard by the pounding rains we've had over the last two days, so it's splayed out in a starburst --the chives.

My bluestar amsonia is just beginning to open its buds.
And an iris along the side of the house is also blooming.
The black locust trees are also blooming right now --we have quite a few on the property, and the scent is heavenly. The flowers are very similar to wisteria (which is not hardy in our cold winters). I love these trees, even though they can be invasive. Although, I don't know if you can use the term "invasive" since they are native to North America. They're just very prolific.
I've also added a bit more garden art (inspired in part by a post by Casa Mariposa). I picked this piece out for Rob, who loves dragons.
So far, I haven't seen him breathing any fire, but maybe later in the summer :-)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Thinking About The Weather

This afternoon I spent some time gardening, and then sat on one of our garden benches to recover. It was such a lovely afternoon --mostly sunny, a really blue sky, and some white puffy clouds moving through. There was a breeze, and it was in the mid-50s. Sitting there and contemplating the gardens, listening to the birds, and feeling the breeze, made me think about how weather affects us.

I'm into weather. I always have been. If it weren't for the fact that I've always had trouble thinking in mathematical equations, I would have majored in meteorology. I'm fascinated by the physics of how our atmosphere works, and also fascinated by the experience of dramatic weather events, like thunderstorms.

Photo Credit:
I'm also currently taking a MOOC, called Climate Change: The Science, through the University of British Columbia.  I find what I'm learning so interesting. With a science background, there are some concepts I'm already familiar with, but there is a lot about the way our climate works that is new to me. Our first essay assignment was to discuss an element of climate change that was affecting our local area, and this meant I had to do some basic research about what changes northern Illinois is experiencing. Since they aren't dramatic (we're not a submerging island, we don't experience hurricanes, etc.) I wasn't aware of the changes until I did the research.

However, I also think it's so interesting how people are influenced in more subtle ways by weather. I grew up in Ann Arbor, which is in the southwestern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan. The weather is milder than it is here in northern Illinois, and it has a lot of cloudy days. When I was 18 I moved to South Carolina for a few years. One day my boyfriend and I were walking somewhere, and I remarked on how it felt more like home than it had previously. He laughed and said it was because it was cloudy --and he was right! In South Carolina it's almost always sunny, and it tired me out. In Ann Arbor if it was sunny, you made the effort to get outside and do something active. But in South Carolina I felt that same push ALL THE TIME! It was exhausting. There was never a day where my pysche said "hey, it's a great day to sit on the couch and read a good book because it's not very nice outside".
I can't find an artist to credit for this one.
I'm sure people eventually adjust to these differences, and certainly if you live in an area with mostly nice weather, you likely end up more active and healthier. But I really like having a balance of days where the weather gives me permission to pursue my favorite more sedentary pursuits, like reading or artwork.

On the other hand, Rob and I both grew up in areas where the weather is influenced by the Great Lakes. This meant winters with a significant amount of snow, but temperatures that never spent significant stretches of days well below freezing. The snow was wet and messy, but you weren't in danger of frostbite when you filled the bird feeders in January. Lately we've been missing those warmer winters, and thinking about where we might relocate to after Emma has finished with college and we've both retired from teaching.  And while climate change is bringing slightly warmer winters to northern Illinois, I'm not sure it's happening fast enough to be significantly warmer in the next 10 years :-)

There are certain things I do like about living in higher latitudes. I like that there is a significant temperature change between summer and winter, although I would be okay with a less extreme temperature change. And I also really enjoy the very long days of summer that come with higher latitudes. It would seem strange to me, to live near the equator and never experience those long summer nights. What is your ideal place to live with respect to the weather and seasons? Do you find that the weather influences your activity in any subconscious way?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Today Rob and I headed out to Nygren Wetlands for our first round of checking the bluebird nesting boxes. There are twelve of them, spread out over several acres, and it's a nice amble on the prairie. We're one of a set of volunteers who take care of the boxes over the course of the nesting season. We are scheduled for once a month.

It's just getting beautifully green out there.
Rob, in the distance checking one of the boxes.
Our job is to make certain that any nests in the boxes are actually bluebird nests. Rob's been doing this for over 15 years, and was taught early on how to distinguish the most common nests that might be built in the boxes. Only birds of a relatively small size can get through the entrance, and the most frequent interloper is the tree swallow.

Bluebirds make neat nests, mostly with dried grasses. The biggest difference with tree swallow nests is that the swallows line their nests with feathers. Here at the wetlands, they can find large feathers from the various water birds that nest in the swampy areas. Bluebirds don't add feathers to their nests. When we find a swallow nest, we remove it and clean the box. Even if it has eggs. Swallows aren't endangered, and the point of these boxes is to increase the bluebird population in the area.

A tree swallow nest we cleaned out of a box.
Our area has some really lovely large oak trees, and Nygren has it's share. I've always liked the view in the photo below, with all that prairie and then the trees lining up on the rise. It's particularly nice right now, when the trees are just beginning to leaf out, so you can still see their structure.

There were a lot of shades of green on the prairie, which gave the fields a variety of different textures. And there were a few things beginning to bloom. The most striking was the prairie smoke.
We also came across several nice clumps of violets.
Some of the nesting boxes did contain bluebird nests, with eggs.
You can see now fine the nest is, with very similar size dried grasses, but no feathers.
We also have a nest with five eggs in the box in our yard. I love watching the bluebirds flit around the back yard, perching for a moment to scan for bugs, and then diving off.

I'm grateful that Rob and I have this volunteer commitment. It's so easy to end up too busy to get out in nature, but this way we kind of have an appointment.