Thursday, December 25, 2008

Hello, beautiful life!

Merry, happy, celebrate, ring out the old and in the new.... hello, beautiful life!

It's been a year, for me personally, for the country and the world. A lot of people are struggling and a lot of people are uncertain about what the future holds.
I don't use my blogs as a space to talk too much about myself or about personal things; they're mostly a way to share my photos/cooking (when I do some!)/knitting. But the last year has been one of the most trying of my life, and if you know my life, you know that says a lot. There's been a lot of sadness and struggle and uncertainty.

It's also been a year of tremendous growth, of seeing small miracles occur. Maybe it's not a coincidence that in this season of joy, wonder, and renewal, somehow the worries and questions are starting to slip away and be replaced by hope and contentment. I still don't know what the next year holds, where I'll be or what I'll be doing, but somehow I know it'll be fine. It'll be better than fine, it'll be good -- it'll be beautiful! I can't say anything in particular has happened to give me so much hope and happiness, but it doesn't matter. Somehow, in spite of struggles and worries and concerns, life is beautiful. Hello, beautiful life!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Yellowstone River

Way back in March I posted photos from Topaz Mountain (check them out here) and promised photos from Yellowstone soon. Well, "soon" has come and gone, but since I was there in the fall and it's fall again, now seems an appropriate time to post them.

Yellowstone is an amazing place; I admire the leaders that had the foresight to make it a national park. I could go on and on about the wonders there but wouldn't begin to do justice to the pristine beauty and sheer amazement I felt. I will mention one fact that I love: Yellowstone is centered over a caldera, an active volcano, which of course gives rise to the many geothermal events there, including Old Faithful. It's estimated that if the volcano erupts again it would be a cataclysmic event, but scientists are quick to say that they see no evidence that it will erupt in the near future. Whatever that means.

Anyway, it's a fascinating and beautiful place. Fall is a great time to visit; tourist numbers are way down, the temps are cool and pleasant, the elks are bugling, and the colors are incredible. I hope to return often.

Old Faithful

Yellowstone River

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes, We Can!

Yes, we did!

Intelligence, sincerity, and compassion have been restored to the White House.

And for a lot of us, I think, hope has been restored to the United States.

"This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were."

"For that is the true genius of America - that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow."

"This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can."

See the entire speech here:

or read it here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Birds of a feather.... flock together.

Every year I notice birds as they begin to flock in preparation for migration; usually the first I notice is around mid-July when the grackles and other blackbirds begin flocking. It doesn't mean they're leaving yet (as anyone with a bird feeder can testify!) but it's a sign of the changing seasons. I remember the first year I noticed how early flocking begins for some birds; it was a little bit like being splashed with cold water. The birds can't be flocking! It's just barely summer! Don't make me think about fall! I even had a friend point out that I'm always the first to note this signal of seasonal progression, and she doesn't necessarily appreciate my mentioning it, and I can understand that.

But once I got used to the idea of July flocking, I found it blending in with all the other seasonal changes, and it became another connection to nature and its cycles. Now I welcome it as much as I welcome the first wildflower in spring. This year, as usual, I spotted the grackles in mid-July; by early August I was seeing flocks of robins in the woods. Last night I noticed several dozen chimney swifts flying above the Celery Bog marsh as they begin preparation for their long flight south.

Along with the flocking birds, I've noticed the late summer wildflowers: ragweed, ironweed, asters, goldenrod... the beginnings of color in the neighbor's maple tree, hickory nuts on the paths in the woods, the bright red seed heads of last spring's jack-in-the-pulpits.

I don't relish the end of summer; I don't like to see our summer residents getting ready to leave. But I do like anything that ties me into nature, that strengthens my relationship with it. So flock on, birds, and I'll see you next spring!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Prairie Wildflowers

Some photos from a recent visit to Prophetstown State Park. If you haven't been there it's worth a visit. It's different from many other state parks I'm used to; the emphasis is more on prairies than woods, although there are both. But I like that -- as much as I love mountains and forests, I've also always been drawn to grasslands and prairies, and I like the work they've done to establish prairie plants on so much of the land.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

July Woodland Wildflowers, Celery Bog

Unidentified, and very tiny, wildflower

This wren chattered at me and would not leave the path -- perhaps it was trying to get me away from it's nest and/or young -- at any rate, I snapped a quick picture and obeyed his/her desire to be left alone.

Agrimony (Agrimonia sp.)

Tall Bellflower (Campanula americana)
This was new to me this year -- tall spikes of blue flowers scattered through the damper woodlands of Celery Bog -- really a delight.

Solomon's Seal, fruit (Polygonatum canaliculatum)

Touch-me-not, Jewelweed, or Wild Impatiens (Impatiens sp.)
Sap from this plant is good against poison ivy.
It's called touch-me-not because the seed pods explode rather forcefully from even the slightest touch when fully ripe. Great but harmless way to startle unsuspecting friends!

Spiderwort (Tradescantia sp.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Off With Their Heads!

And their little feet, too!

Yes, that rather innocuous looking flower is a thug.

Garlic mustard (scientific name Alliaria petiolata, in the Brassicaceae* [Mustard] family) is an invasive cool weather biennial common in Midwest woodlands. It's related to mustard, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, sweet rocket, stocks, and many other commonly known plants; as you might guess, it's also edible, with a garlicky scent and flavor (although I can't vouch for the taste as I've never tried it).

But the key word in the previous paragraph is invasive. Garlic mustard is quite aggressive; in fact, the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society considers it one of the ten most destructive invasive plants in Indiana. It begins growth in very early spring. As a biennial, the first year it forms a rosette; the rosette often remains green throughout the winter and the leaves can photosynthesize whenever the temperature is above freezing. The second year, the rosette shoots up, flowers, produces hundreds of seeds, and dies.

As a non-native plant, it has few natural enemies and easily outcompetes many of the native spring wildflowers, threatening them and the wildlife that depends on them. It can also pop up in your own yard, crowding out the flowers you may be trying to grow. In some forests it's taken over, shading out and destroying most of the native plants. Go to this link and scroll down to see some photos showing just how thick it can get.

Obviously it's a problem.

What can you do? Participate in garlic mustard pulls (many communities, conservation organizations, and parks sponsor these); if you find it in your own yard, cut it at the base (during flower stalk elongation only or it will simply resprout), or pull the plant entirely (make sure to get the roots, although they tend to pull out easily). Educate yourself and others. Help stop this plant.

Garlic mustard, early spring rosette

flower stalk elongation beginning

flowering plant

Here are some links for further information:

close up of flower, showing the classic cross-shaped petal arrangement for which the Mustard family is known

*(or, if like me, you learned your botanical families some years ago, the Cruciferae family)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Next Chapters

I posted a bit about mom's battle with cancer here. It's been a rough haul from the start, and she's been a trooper. But.

Last week at the doctor we heard what we expected to hear sooner or later: chemotherapy is too much for mom's body (the one treatment of gemzar she had in March knocked her flat and she's still struggling to regain some strength) so there's nothing more they can do. Any further treatment will destroy what quality of life she might have without treatment, so that leaves us looking at hospice and the accompanying options. A difficult and emotional time for all.

Mom alternates between a couple of extremes: realizing that her time is limited while taking a philosophical approach to it: "After all, I'm 88, I've lived longer than a lot of people;" and forgetting what the doctor told her and thinking she's going to get better. And she can land many places between the two.

There are some upcoming difficulties in addition to the obvious: I can't be here for her 24/7; my brothers can't fill in the gaps; my mother (at least so far) is adamantly, almost violently, opposed to hired people coming into her home; and she flatly refuses to go to a facility where they could give her good care.

Meanwhile, I watch her weaken, and forget, and remember again, and realize she's forgetting. I watch her determination as she struggles to do everything she can for herself, and I see and feel her frustration when she can't do what she knows she could do just a short time ago.

I admire her independence and spunk. It's what keeps her going and probably what's allowed her to have as much recovery as she's had. I try to learn from her; some of the things I've picked up, like the independence and spunk, have been with me a long time. Now I'm focusing on other lessons, lessons that may not be as direct. For example, I'm learning -- I hope -- graceful acceptance of things I can't control, a lot of which is happening in my own life
anyway. And I hope I remember these lessons as I face my own aging and health issues in the future. I'm learning more about compassion, and love, and I'm learning how to open my heart more.

I've been 24/7 with mom, more or less, for about six months. Stressful? You bet; although our relationship has been good in recent years, there's still some old mother-daughter stuff going on. But it's also been a blessing, and I've been really grateful for our time together.

However, I'm going to start working soon -- although rather than focusing on a professional job, where ever that might land me (and therefore delaying my potential
return to the Northwest), I'm looking at the possibility of a local, less professional position that I can quit on short notice if need be. At least that's my plan for today.

After we got the news about mom, I had to take about a week to regroup, sort through my emotions, my choices, and the things I have to deal with that aren't mine by choice but by circumstance. I still am not sure how things are going to unfold so there are some things I just have to let float. I'm trying to stay open to what's next.

I meditate often anyway, but recently added another piece -- something comforting, cobweb-clearing, physically and mentally renewing; it's hard work, and at times shear torture: yep, running! For me, that's actually running/walking. I'm not a natural athlete, and vigorous disciplined exercise, especially running, has always been difficult. But I've been drawn to running throughout my adult life, over and over, like a moth to the flame (no serious burns yet, though), and nothing else I've ever done has quite the same rewards, so I'm back at it. As the old joke goes, when people ask me why I run, I always say, "Because it feels so good when I stop!" And there are many levels of truth to that. I'm at my best in just about every way when I run. And right now I especially need all the best I have.

So, I run.

And I sit with my mom, hold her hand when I can, give her a tissue when she cries. Try to just listen if that's what she needs. Joke about the dog, rejoice in each new flower we find blooming in the yard, help her sort the mail and pay the bills.

And most of all, enjoy the moments we have.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Spring Fling!

I went to Celery Bog Friday morning and just by coincidence, hit the perfect day. Spring wildflowers were, well, going wild! Many of them are at peak bloom; carpets of spring beauties, mayapples everywhere, Jack-in-the-pulpits peeking out, Jacob's ladders creating soft blue spots. The front that moved through Thursday night must have brought in hundreds of migrating birds, too -- I've never heard so much bird song in one place -- warblers everywhere, wood thrush's flute-like tones, white-throated sparrows hopping in the underbrush, wrens singing up a storm; it went on and on. It was a perfect day and I hopefully captured a little of it in my photos; I know I captured a lot of it in my heart.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Muskrat Love

So... when did you grow up? What music did you listen to? Does the song title, "Muskrat Love" mean anything to you?

Just had to ask :) I couldn't help thinking of the song when a muskrat nest was pointed out to me at Celery Bog. My photo isn't great but I didn't want to get closer and disturb the muskrat. The nest is on the right side of the photo; it's that grassy, twiggy pile on top of the log in the water. The mother is the smooth mound at the top. I had no idea they built their nests in such an exposed place -- more about muskrats can be found here, if, like me, you don't know much about them.

And in celebration of spring, here are a few more photos. I love the sounds, smells, looks of spring... the flocks of yellow-rumped warblers in the woods, the peeper's chorus, the aroma of moist earth. The first mockingbird song of the year and the cool breezes over my bed. The awakening of life and the renewal of hope and joy.

Great blue heron, possibly my favorite bird

turtle basking in sun

spring beauties, an early wildflower

skunk cabbage just emerging

Happy spring, everyone!