Tuesday, December 29, 2009

...hopped on the bough, then, darting low, prints his small impress on the snow ~ From Emerson's poem The Titmouse

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas.

We had an ice storm here on Wednesday into Thursday that interrupted power to more than 40,000 homes. My sister's home was one of them. Her family spent Wednesday night and all day Thursday wrapped in blankets in front of their fireplace. They had no electricity, no heat and no hot water.

It rained on Christmas morning and later in the afternoon the temperature dropped. The roads were a sheet of ice driving home on Christmas night. Later the snow started and we had another eight inches by Saturday evening.

In spite of the weather, our family had a lovely Christmas, eating a wonderful meal, laughing and chatting.

One of my best gifts this year has been this little visitor I call Mouse. I’ve hoped for years to attract a Tufted Titmouse to my feeders. I often see them at Severson Dells and at my father’s feeders. This is the first year I’ve been successful in bringing them to my farm. Aren’t their large, black eyes appealing?

These little birds maintain their pair bonds year round. In fact, family bonds are so strong; youngsters from the previous spring often remain with the parents and help with nesting and feeding the following year.

Females are very particular about nesting materials and prefer soft hair. People have reported seeing them pull fur from live squirrel and woodchuck tails, and from men’s beards.

The annual bird counts judge these birds to be a tentative success story. While most bird populations are rapidly decreasing, Tufted Titmouse numbers show a moderate increase. It is guessed this may be because more people are feeding birds over winter and these adaptable birds are benefiting.

The Titmouse comes to the suet feeders for Kaytee suet dough, then to the hopper feeder for shelled peanuts. I'm sure they will eat sunflower seeds also but haven't seen them at the sunflower feeders yet.

Wishing all of you a very happy New Year.
May you have and abundance of love, peace, health and comfort.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love! ~ Hamilton Wright Mabie

The legend of Father Christmas is such a wonderful old story.
The details are different from place to place, but the central idea remains the same. A kindly old man bringing rewards for good children (be they rich or poor) at Christmas.

I've heard that the chubby Santa Clause we see depicted in this country originated with an artist working for the Cocoa Cola Company. He is a much more earthy figure in older cultures that perhaps aren't so commercial.

The tradition of poinsettias originates in Mexico.
Children picked bunches of weeds along the roadside to decorate the village nativity. On Christmas day the humble weeds were blessed and turned to bright red flowers.

Christmas is the time for all things gaudy, glimmery, and glittery.

Fail not to call to mind, in the course of the twenty-fifth of this month, that the Divinest Heart that ever walked the earth was born on that day; and then smile and enjoy yourselves for the rest of it; for mirth is also of Heaven's making. ~Leigh Hunt

Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.
~Laura Ingalls Wilder

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. ~ Albert Camus

Blowing snow has erased the rest of the world and left only this row of trees along my fenceline.

The first winter storm of the season brought a foot of heavy, wet snow.
Its weight bent my lilacs to the ground.

Color disappears in a snow storm and the world turns to black and white...mostly white.

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveler stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of Storm.
~ Emerson

In the bleak midwinter Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, Long ago.
Christina Rossetti

A Hairy Woodpecker female.
Heavy snow creates desperate times for the birds.
Their survival may depend on the kindness of people.
I always put out extra suet and seed
so they won't run out of food while I'm at work.

The Downey Woodpecker female is similar in color but smaller
than the Hairy Woodpecker.
Her beak is much shorter than that of the Hairy Woodpecker

A tiny Junco.

A finch huddles against the chill wind.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June. ~ Lucy Maud Montgomery

I'm varying my usual Wednesday posting because I won't be online tomorrow.

Another set of photos saved from a June garden walk. I horded these away thinking they would be fun to bring out on cold winter mornings.

The snow is beginning to fall in earnest this morning and blizzard warnings for tonight. It seems a good time to let the mind drift back to a sunny, warm June day.

Tinker's Cottage built in 1865 is now a museum. The grounds feature a small heirloom rose garden maintained by one of the local garden clubs.

A new vegetable garden has been added and it features these unusual trellises for growing vine crops.

If I don't look out my window at the snow piling up on the lawn, I can almost believe it might be June...almost.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"I heard a bird sing

In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.
~ Oliver Hereford

When the flowers have died back for the winter months, my backyard looks empty. This is the season I really depend on wild birds to add movement and interest to my garden. On frigid winter mornings, tea or cocoa in hand, I sit by the window and watch them for hours

The first two photos are Downey Woodpeckers. The male and female are very alike except for that spot of red on the head of the male. They announce their arrival at the feeders with a little quacking sound.

These tiny woodpeckers are the most frequently seen at feeders. Although very small, they are not as shy as their larger cousins. Downeys usually find the suet and bird seed quickly and lead the larger woodpeckers to the treats.

If you are trying to attract woodpeckers to your backyard, use one of the premium suet cakes like the Kaytee or the Wild Birds Unltd brand. You can also use real suet from a butcher shop but hang it somewhere the raccoons, cats and opossums can't reach it.

In addition to the Downeys, last weekend my suet feeders were visited by Hairy Woodpeckers, Red Bellied Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Chickadees, and a Tufted Titmouse. I have been hoping for a Titmouse for ages and finally one has found the suet and peanut feeders. I'll try for more photos next week if the weather cooperates and provides some sunshine.

The Gold Finches are wearing their olive drab feathers now. Thistle seed served up in a soft 'sock' is one of the best loved treats in my garden. These feeders stay busy all day, every day, with hungry finches squabbling over the tiny seeds. Later when we have snow cover, the Red Polls may visit this feeder. If food is in short supply farther north in the forests of Canada, they arrive in the area in large, hungry flocks.

The Gold Finches are year round visitors at the feeders. They will eat thistle seed, millet and sunflower seeds. I usually hang the thistle socks above the flower borders near the house. The seed is irradiated and will not sprout so you don't have to worry about thistle growing up among your flowers.

There haven't been the usual large numbers of House Finches with me through the summer months. I'm starting to see more of them as the weather gets colder and their natural food supplies decrease.

There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.
~ Robert Lynd

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Shade garden

I've been saving photos from my June garden walks to use on days like this--dreary, cold and colorless. This isn't my garden, altho I wish it was.

This back yard garden was all open shade. The first thing that I noticed when I rounded the corner at the rear of the property was the heavenly scent. Four huge clumps of white astilbe perfumed the garden (somehow I didn't get a photo of them). Who knew astilbe were so fragrant?

Answering some questions on previous postings.
The wild berries below belong to the
Smilax lasioneura
Carrion Flower Vine
which is not common in this area.

The deer in the previous post are fallow deer and are approx 30-39 inches tall at the shoulder. These are probably native to Europe altho I was not able to identify the exact variety and the origin.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


On this day set aside to honor our veterans, I'd like to express my heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifices they have made for us all. This includes both my grandfathers who served in the Army in WWI; my father who served in the Air Force in WWII; and my brother and sister who served in the Army in Vietnam. Thank you and God bless.

We have an adopt a soldier campaign going on here. Everyone is urged to donate items to send overseas to our military. Soldiers back from deployment say the smallest things like junk food and powered drink mixes are morale boosters and help them remember the folks back home are thinking of them. If you can, donate in your area and put a smile on the face of a service man far from home.


In a few brief days we go from the scene above to the one below.

The trees are bare, the leaves are on the ground. This Friday it was my mission to move them off the grass. I know it sounds foolish to rake leaves in a 30-mph wind, but I can't always pick my times. In the end there were leaves in my hair, leaves in my shoes and down the back of my neck, but the majority were on the gardens. It may not have been an efficient job of leaf removal but it felt good to be outside using my muscles and breathing the fresh air.

In fact I have a limitless need for leaves and often pick up bags set at the curb for the trash haulers. These bags go into one of the barns to save for mulch on next spring's gardens. It's hard to believe anyone would go to the trouble to neatly bag this lovely stuff and set it out to be hauled away.

This is my window tree.

Robert Frost wrote...

Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.
Vague dream-head lifted out of the ground,
And thing next most diffuse to cloud,
Not all your light tongues talking aloud
Could be profound.
But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
And all but lost.
That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.

Later I took a drive up to Janesville, Wisconsin to visit a scrapbooking store. Some scenes along the way...

My resident hawk surveys his domain from high atop a telephone post. Magnificent creature, but not welcome at my bird feeders.

The seed pods below are Euonymus atropurpurea growing in the hedgerows along my lane. A rather nondescript little tree until it produces these pretty pink pods.

Interesting non-native residents like this shaggy llama can be seen along the back roads around my farm. Actually, llamas originated here in North America about 40 million years ago and remained until fairly recently. Before the last ice age occured , many had migrated to South America. After the glaciers receded, none were left in North America.

These tiny black deer, which I can't identify, are diffinitley not natives. They are smaller than our white tails, even smaller than a goat. This photo was taken from a very long distance. Wish I could have gotten closer. If anybody knows anything about these deer, please tell me.

I hope you are enjoying beautiful autumn weather where ever you are. We are having a spell of indian summer here. No way of knowing how long it will last so making the most of these warm, sunny days.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The back roads

The back roads of northern Illinois are a wonderful source of inspiration and beauty. Often, I grab a camera and just drive aimlessly looking at whatever scenes appear over the next hill.

I wonder when I see a sky like this. What causes those patterns and color variations? Is it the wind that swirls and spirals the clouds?

The wonderful stories these old barns could tell. Think of the history they've seen--good times and bad. The men who built them and worked the land, growing old and dying there. Sad to see so many of the big old barns slowly falling. Too expensive to maintain.

Autumn grass has a special grace. It's constant movement is hypnotic.

Milkweed seed was blowing everywhere. It glistened in the sunlight as it drifted above the grass.

Brightly colored flower petals are gone. The seeds hang on waiting for just the right moment to let go.

This little donkey was happy to see me when I offered her pieces of smashed Halloween pumpkin.

I avoid the highways and interstates. How could getting somewhere fast be better than driving slowly through scenes like this one?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blood Point Road

An ominous sounding name for a road. When you hear the legend you will understand why FEARnet has named it one of the nation’s 10 scariest roads in its “Streets of Fear” online video and On Demand series.

Arthur Blood and his family settled in the area just south of Cherry Valley in the 1830's. The road was named for the Blood farm which was at the road's farthest point. The Blood family formed a friendship with a neighbor, a strange and solitary woman who some claimed was a witch. One night, Arthur murdered his wife and children and then took his own life. Of course, frightened residents claimed he had been under the spell of the witch.

Since that fateful incident, the legend of Blood Point Road has grown. A demon dog was seen shortly after the Blood murders. This may have been the Blood's family dog gone wild but still attached to the farm, waiting for the family to return. It sounds logical but doesn't explain current sightings of a huge, fearsome dog that leaps out to bark and rage at vehicles to this day.

There is a tiny rural cemetery near where the old Blood farm stood. Strange sightings are whispered of and local teenagers frequent the graveyard late at night hoping for a ghostly glimpse of the old witch they call Beulah. (Sadly, they do great damage to the grave stones in their quest for thrills.)

A high bridge spans a railroad track about a mile west of the old Blood farm. The bridge is old but does not date back to the time of the Blood family massacre. Many years ago, people say a school bus somehow lost control and veered off the bridge. None of the children survived. From that day to this, reports of stalled cars, phantom children and the sound of screams can sometimes be heard.

I drove the length of Blood Point Road last weekend on one of the few sunny, warm days we've had this fall. It's hard to imagine a ghostly presence on a lovely autumn day but as our local newspaper pointed out, at night rural roads are very dark and anything could be lurking in the hedgerows or among the tall corn stalks. Just before crossing the bridge, several cars were pulled off the road and parents and children stood at the bridge rail peering down at the long drop to the tracks. Graffiti in blood red was scribbled across the road surface. I made a u-turn at the cemetery and slowed down to watch several people wandering among the headstones. Many of them were probably like myself, just trying to understand how the many old legends originated.

As I pointed the car back toward home, I was startled by the manic barking of a dog. I slowed the car again and watched a huge white dog (Great Pyrenees) snarl and lung at the fence. Behind the dog, an old barn stood back from the road and to the right I could just make out a dark colored house so overgrown with brush and trees it was barely visible.

Ah, the stuff of ghost stories.

Happy Halloween everyone.

The house below is on Mulford Road in Monroe Center. I've never heard any rumors about it but it certainly looks ghostly in the dim light. I like the poem about old houses retaining memories within their wood and plaster. Not a sinister thought...rather comforting that the past is still remembered.

I stand before a darkened doorway
Stairs before me rise.
Windows flanking on either side
Like square, accusing eyes.

No one dwells in this house now.
The walls are bare and cold.
The people who used to live here,
Have long moved and grown old.

Although no one has died within,
There lives an inhuman host.
Memories and dreams that linger on,
Have since become it's ghost.

Echoes of children's laughter,
The very essence of life.
Peal down the hallways,
Piercing the silence like a knife

While you're here, you feel it.
Nothing ever dies.
The wood that creaks beneath your feet,
Are the house's tired sighs.

A house like this can't be replaced.
New is not necessarily good.
The energy of the people who have come and gone
Lived on in the rotting wood.
~ Lorna May