Redtail Hunting

Redtail Hunting

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Do you remember the first time you encountered a hawk?  I do.  DDT had just about wiped out our birds of prey so the world I emerged into was quieter than it should have been.  My family and I moved to a rural corner of northern Illinois in 1974.  On the one hand, it was grand~great stretches of open land were available for exploration.  I had woods, fields and wetlands to play in.  But even as a kid I could tell that something was wrong.  There were a lot of thorns, a few big old oaks, a lot of one kind of grass, and no flowers to speak of.  Still, I loved it all.  And so it was out there in the field when I first heard that cry that stopped me in my tracks and lifted my eyes…a Red-tailed Hawk! Wow!  How exciting.  With DDT not used (here) anymore, their numbers have rebounded.  Nature rewove a strand into her fabric, right before my eyes.  Talk about wonder.

I’m still thrilled when I see one.  I was hiking up along a ridge last fall when this one dropped right in front of me.  I think he missed his mouse, but he paused long enough to allow me to admire him.  Happy sigh.

Winter’s Hush

Winter Hush

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When I started writing a blog, it was with trepidation.  That is probably true for most of us.  Over time, though, I have met all of you, and you have come to mean so much to me.  I want you to know that when I dance into my studio every day, you come with me.  We are in good company, too.  We have Barbra Streisand, in there, and U2 and Bach. 🙂

Yesterday I scrubbed out a garden painting that was resisting me, and decided to play with snow instead.  So this little painting was born.  I started out with very dark green, and purple, and blue.  Then the fun started, with splatters of white that I let drip down the canvas, right into the wet dark paint.  This morning I returned to paint in some limbs, and finally the wind chime.  This wind chime is one of my very favorite things in the world.  It is a big one, with deep chords.  It is murmuring to me right now, keeping me up to date on how things are going out there.

Thank you for coming to play with me!

My Garden Birdhouse…Or, What Dreams May Come

Birdhouse in My Garden

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Do you remember that movie, “What Dreams May Come”?  It affected me deeply, especially the part where the people fell into the painting.  Today, if I could, I would jump into this one.  I don’t really have pink roses growing there~ too much shade.  But that’s the fun of having a paintbrush! 🙂

Linda’s Heron

Linda's Heron

I’ve spent the past several days helping a dear friend move to Florida.  When she suggested it, I thought, “Heck yeah! I’m always up for a road trip!”….forgetting that the last road trip I undertook was many moons ago. Tired as the trip left me, I’m so glad I did it.  It did my heart good to see her follow her dream. It felt like a proper send off to someone who has meant so much to me here. Thank goodness for the internet~Hugs, Diana!!  I miss you already!

When I returned to my studio, this fierce fellow was waiting for me.  He’s my last commission of 2014.  Yesterday I tinkered a little with him, and then decided I’d better leave him alone.  Gazing at him standing there with rain drops pelting him, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for this planet of ours.  Last night I watched a movie filmed in 1948.  Back then, people could be certain of their world, I think.  Of course, human impact via chemicals, birth rate, accelerating commercialism and all the rest, were already beginning.  But they could still count on going out and seeing a frog, if they had a mind to.  I can no longer count on that, even with the thousands of acres held in preserve.

Life will survive, and nature can heal herself.  When I ask myself what is to be done, I think the best answer is to keep loving the world and each other.  When love is a verb, magic can happen.

Fritillary on Monarda

Fritillary on Monarda

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There is a group around here that turns up at meetings and events, carrying posters about Monarchs.  They are alarmed, and they want everyone else to be alarmed, too. I’ve been biting my tongue.  My problem with this misty-eyed, poster-waving group is that in focusing on one species they are missing the larger point.  Plant milkweed in your yard, they seem to be saying, and everything will be fixed.  Well, ok.  I have a river of swamp milkweed running through my garden (smells divine!) and I actually see Monarchs in about the numbers I would expect.

In the area that I monitored butterflies for 20 years, there are over 40 species of butterflies, and don’t get me started on moths!  You might have to get close to some of them to see it, but each of these creatures is gorgeous and worthy of protection.  Each one has complicated life histories, and each one faces challenges from the way humans do things.

And not just butterflies, of course.  The bullfrogs who sang out all through my childhood…where have they gone?  I don’t know, but I can tell you that the pond I so enjoyed now sports a ring of mcmansions, all with perfect Chem-lawn green skirts. Perhaps most distressing to me of all is that NO ONE else has noticed.  Not even the naturalists I talk to.  When I point out that you don’t hear bullfrogs anymore they scoff. Then they cock their head to listen.. Then their face goes still…. oh.

One of the big problems is habitat fragmentation.  I’ll give you an example.  There is a strip of dunes that a group fought to save, many years ago.  Those dunes are the heart of Illinois Beach State Park.  They are tricky to care for, because if you run fire through, the creeping juniper dies.  If you go in and hand pull invasive exotics, you disturb the fragile sandy soil. And, I’ve been watching succession take place.  This is as it should be, but it is also heartbreaking.  As organic material accumulates in the older dunes, more species of plants are supported.  So grasses and forbs are moving in, and even trees.  The patches of juniper and bear- berry shrink.  To monitor butterflies is also to monitor the plants they depend on, and by extension, the ecosystem.  When succession proceeds, some of those species will wink out.  If the park weren’t surrounded by towns and pavement, the rare plants and their butterflies could still find refugia further up along the shore.  Sadly, though, this very specialized habitat is boxed in.  There is nowhere for these species to go.

What can we do?  Find locally, responsibly grown native plants.  Native to YOUR region.  If everyone dedicated even a corner of their yard to a native shrub or two and a handful of native flowers, those corners would start to connect up, creating rivers of habitat running for miles.  Think what a difference that could make.  Know ahead of time that native plants can be unruly.  But they don’t require water or chemicals to thrive.  You’ll notice it feels different, in that corner.  The air has a different energy to it, the soil will be more springy.  And you’ll start to see wonders.  I am constantly surprised by new creatures calling my yard home~yesterday I saw a southern flying squirrel!

Another thing we can do: fight Monsanto!  Pay attention to how much control over our food supply they have taken, how they have reduced the access farmers have to diverse seeds, providing seeds that require inputs of chemicals to grow.  This is bad news for the farmers, bad news for butterflies, bad news for us.

So, yes, Monarchs deserve our attention.  But it is a mistake to try to save the world one species at a time.  I believe our world can weather global warming -ahem- if we pay attention to the forest, and not just the trees.