Rollins Prairie Restoration

Rollins Restoration

Rollins Prairie Restoration

I’ve mentioned Rollins Savanna before in this blog. Here is one of my favorite stretches of the trail. You can see the magnificent white oaks in the distance. There is nothing quite like an open-grown oak, with room to spread wide its arching limbs. In the middle ground is the result of breaking drainage tiles. Right away the water came back to the land, bringing with it many birds. Success! And in the foreground is a patch of prairie. Brush cutting and prescribed burns keep this system in good health, while some judicious seeding of native forbs is reweaving the tapestry that provides food and shelter for a great number of creatures.

The farmer who owned this place before it became a preserve obviously took good care of the land. I hope he or his family are pleased with how it is turning out these days. Places like this are wonderful in their own right, but they also give me hope because of the human influence they represent. There are forces in the world that help to restore balance and healing. I believe these forces will prevail over the distortions that create fear, hatred and war.

Compass Plant Reverie

compass plant better

“Compass Plant Reverie”

melissa blue fine art

In the field, Compass Plants can get quite tall~well over my head. So when I spotted this one lolling over in the lazy hot summer heat, I grabbed my chance. My intention was merely to get a reference photo for a later pen and ink drawing. When I developed the image, however, I was struck by how graceful the plant’s pose was. For the painting I added blooms in the background, and then washed over them with color to mute them and set a meditative tone.

Every painting is imbued with layers of meaning, for me. I remember the day in the field, for starters. The way the heat felt, and the scratchiness of the leaves, the song of birds and the breeze bringing scents of wild roses. The feeling late summer brings me, of joy and sadness at the same time. Most of all I wanted to convey the lyrical nature of a plant ensconced in its proper habitat, its home.

My dad’s house is under contract. I suppose it will be a relief when it is sold, yet… I mention it because of the frogs. Several years ago he installed a little pond in the garden by the house. Winter took out the pump one year, and the fish all died. However, it was colonized by several frogs. Over this past summer I have watched them. There seem to be too many, for the little pond, and yet they seem alright. They could leave if they wanted to. There is a  lake at the foot of the hill. The little pond seems to be self sustaining in there under the overgrown plants. Duckweed floats on the surface, keeping the water oxygenated and cool. The frogs keep mosquitoes down, I guess. And in winter? I suspect there is a layer of muck at the bottom where they burrow down and hybernate. Water hasn’t been added to this pond ever. It just stays the same~a cool dark oasis filled with frogs. I draw hope from that little frog pond and sort of wish I’d thought to catch a few to bring home. Maybe I could recreate the setting but it would be too sad if I ended up killing them. At any rate,  I think of them there, living out their froggy lives year after year, hanging on in an unlikely little habitat. Life is like that. I’ve read that we are members of the last generation to have played outdoors when we were children. I suspect it is true. There is a trend for families to have more children again. I’m not judging, but just where do these people think all their children will live? Everywhere I look, new roads are being carved through erstwhile fields and woodlands, new houses are cropping up like tumors on the land. I savor the little bits of wild I can find the way I savor the last flowers of the season. But, the frogs tell me, don’t give up. Nature will persist, life will renew itself. At the last moment wonderful discoveries can still surprise you.

I hope you receive a nice surprise today :)

Evolution of Ideas

Progress 2

You may notice a signature on this draft of the painting…ignore it. The canvas was originally intended to be an abstract painting, but I just couldn’t leave it there. In this image I’ve begun laying in the distant line of trees that protect this little wetland from the world.

I intended to show the painting in more stages but I got all caught up in painting and forgot to pause for the camera. Sorry about that! Here it is, completed:

Spring Bluff Egret

You’ll notice that the finished painting appears to be a much higher key than it started out as. Hm. I think that is a function of adding elements, plus perhaps differences in lighting. I liked the water just as it was, and so set about layering in vegetation to give context to the egret stalking about in the foreground.

This ecosystem has changed, and will continue to change. You’ll notice the tree snags in the center. Water levels were altered at some point, allowing trees to get growing there. Then drought ended, water rose, and the trees died. This is good news for herons that nest in dead trees. Eventually these snags will rot away, and the birds will have to find a new place to hang out. That is fine, if we allow it to happen. Sometimes the conservation community gets hung up on what was, and tries to force the natural world to stay still. We expend tremendous amounts of effort and money trying to keep habitats just as they are, forgetting that nature is always changing and evolving. I think we can let go, a little. This may even apply to exotics. Certainly alien species can look like thugs that will take over the world. We wage endless wars against them, often creating the precise conditions they need in the process. What if we step back for a moment instead, and wait to see what happens? In Australia, native creatures are learning how to cope with Cane toads, for example, and the species is beginning to fit in. I think that is very hopeful news. Of course, the wider community also has to help. Rivers need room to meander, creating shifting wetland habitats. Nature evolves and our understanding needs to evolve along with it. Trust nature’s wild unfolding and learn to flow along.

I’ll leave you with a cool mushroom I came across at the bog this weekend…

Volo 'shroom

Pretty neat, huh?

Painting in Progress, and a Walk

in progress

To begin a painting, I like to create an underpainting con brio. That’s fancy for “letting the paint fly”. This one is planning to be a wetland painting, with an egret in it. Let’s see if that is where it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime I ran off to play hooky at Illinois Beach State Park earlier this week, and I want to share with you some of my favorite photos of the day. They will probably become paintings eventually but I’m slow.

Euphorbia corollata turned red

Here is a Euphorbia corollata, all decked out in red for fall. I love this plant for its lacy white flowers that dance over the savanna for several weeks, and then light up late dog days of summer by turning red.

Dead River TRail

We are on the Dead River Trail, heading toward Lake Michigan in a meandering sort of way. That is my favorite way of getting somewhere, so this is pretty much my favorite trail ever. To the left are older dunes, left by the retreating glaciers. They are cloaked by Black Oaks, Quercus velutina. To the right is a glorious sedge meadow wherin rises the Dead River. In the summer is it filled with fritillaries and many other butterflies. In fact, back when I was the butterfly monitor, this was a very busy spot. Woodland and Savanna butterflies on one side of the trail, wetland and meadow butterflies on the other. Swiveling my head back and forth could make me dizzy but it was worth the effort.

Ladie's Tresses

Ladie’s Tresses! What a cool find. I really like how the blooms spiral up.

DunesAnd that brings us out to the foredunes.  This photo doesn’t show it well, but blazing stars, asters and golden rod were in bloom all over the flanks of the dunes. More, in fact, than I’ve seen before. When I first started coming to the Park, the dunes were much more bare of vegetation. It has been quite interesting to watch succession take place here. By the way, I find it quite odd how the lake appears to be about to pour right off the screen. That is a bit unsettling. A check of the tree reassures me that I was not leaning, myself. Photographers, what am I doing wrong?

As you can see, it was a very good day to play hooky. At one point I looked up and could see the Chicago skyline. You can’t always, but on a clear day you can. I marvel about that~the contrast between the wildness where I stand and the city I can see.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our walk :)



Once in awhile I’m able to capture more than a blur of feathers when I’m out in the field. My policy is to click first and ask questions later, so here is my little bird. Can anyone tell me what she is? I think she is a Dickcissel. The habitat is restored open tall-grass prairie.  I really liked how she settled herself in the midst of these Compass Plant flowers like the centerpiece in a bouquet. ‘Tis the season of Sylphiums and Liatris, symphonies in yellow and purple.

Choosing Joy

The Oak

Today when I ventured out to my favorite little coffee shop I was surprised to find the TV on there, tuned to news. It seems another police officer has been shot, this time in a little town near my home. They have pretty much shut down the entire area while they hunt for the shooter. Even schools are on lock-down, and many major roads are closed off. Helicopters hover overhead. It is all very distressing. I hate it that this is happening in our country (well, anywhere)~shooters are everywhere, it seems. I grieve for the officer and his family, and I grieve for the human family that it continues to be torn by intolerance and violence.

As always, I find solace at my easel and in the woods. I cannot go be in the woods today, but I could work on a painting of one I started last week. One of the delightful features of a prairie-savanna complex is big old open-grown white oaks. They spread out their massive limbs like a giant stretching, and let them sweep nearly to the ground. Duck under them and you find yourself in a glorious, peaceful little sanctuary. I abstracted this tree out of its habitat in order to emphasize that, and the “isness” of it, from its furrowed bark to its sweeping limbs.

Painting helps me focus on what is good in the world. I hope this painting helps you feel some goodness, too.