Friday, October 30, 2009

Leaf Dude

Leaf dude in my office. Not sure how it got there. Subsequently rescued. I hope it doesn't drown out there, as it is wet, wet, wet. The ground is saturated; in fact, the school is protected from danger by a moat... and still the rain falls. Oy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Not So Golden

This is my picture of goldenrod, crunchy and curly. It was quite difficult to draw, so many shapes and shadows and things overlapping, that I sort of fizzled out and didn't really finish. I tried to sketch a few individual curled leaves, as well. and even that proved difficult. Oh, well, they can't all be winners.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ribbit II

I saw a frog today. I guess my earlier presumption was incorrect. That's what makes lasts so hard... how do I know if the heron I saw today is the last one, or if I'll see another one tomorrow?

Gloomy Gus

It is a grey, foggy, drippy day. These red berries stood out to me against gloominess of the weather and the sky and the mood.
Recent observations:
  • Coyotes... yesterday a large, healthy-looking coyote walked down the street right by our school. I didn't get to see it, unfortunately. It is the 3rd large-and-healthy coyote sighting within 8 days; I saw 1 about 10 miles SW of school last Monday, and another teacher saw one near his house -- several miles N of school -- last week. I guess a single coyote can occupy a range of about 12 miles, and these sightings were farther apart than that. (Plus, it would be a huge crazy coincidence for this to be 3 sightings of the same coyote.)
  • I'm still seeing grasshoppers, spiders, milkweed bugs, boxelder bugs, etc. outside. I don't know how numbered their days are, but they are getting less populous. After our heavy frosts in mid-October, we haven't had one in over a week.
  • I saw a junco on Monday. Those fellow migrate through here or are winter residents; the north edge of their winter range is in southern WI. So we're getting our winter birds already. Although I see a robin outside of the window right now... but then, they're permanent residents around here lately.
  • And in sad news for locavores... I found out last night that our CSA farmers are moving to WI, so I'm not sure what I'm going to be eating come next summer. I remain hopeful that some options will pan out, or we might have to buy a larger tract of land!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Feeling Sluggish

So... you know how on rainy days, tons of earthworms come out onto the pavement because the soil is too saturated? Well, we have one of those days today. (That's right 1.5 days of sun, and now we're back to rainy...) Anyhow, in addition to worms, there are tons of slugs on the sidewalk. I was counting them and stopped at 30, and this was just walking next to our school building, so probably within the span of 100 feet. There were almost as many slugs as worms, but the slugs looked healthier. I have never noticed slugs coming onto pavement on rainy days before, so I'm a bit baffled. Here's a slug on the sidewalk:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Our Quintessential Fall Day

...began with raking leaves. After lunch we carved pumpkins (mine is on the left). After dinner, we plan to have 2009-10's inaugural fire in the fireplace, while eating pumpkin seeds, which are cooking now. The day also included some hot cocoa (and spectacular food).
Here is a leafhopper, who was one of our many invertebrate carving companions.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Here Comes the Sun!

Today was a day for fungi... there were big ones...
and little ones...
ones that grow on trees...
and ones that have a special relationship with an algae.
By the way, fellow nature nerds... you remember the mnemonic "Freddy Fungi took a lichen to Alice Algae" to remember that a lichen is a symbiosis between a fungus and an algae? That phrase doesn't work the way it used to, because most kids, even older ones, don't seem to know the phrase "took a liking to." So they don't really get the pun.

Another discovery I made today is this wet, soggy, bone-filled owl pellet.
And why was it so wet and soggy, you ask? Because it had just gone experienced about 60 straight hours of rain. The picture below isn't spectacular in any way, but it is the first blue sky I had seen since Wednesday, so it was a welcome sight. When the sky first brightened, I was looking away from the sun, and all the bright yellow maples appeared to be glowing for just a second. Like the sun's appearance was magic.

(After this first blue sky sighting, we went on to have a sunny, but chilly, afternoon.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Naked Thursday!

Some trees are getting nekkid. Mostly ashes, lindens, crab apples, some oaks (but others still have green leaves...) The bare trees must be feeling cold and wet. It's been raining for about 8 hours and doesn't seem like it's going to stop any time soon.
My driveway and front yard are covered in ash leaves...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Leaf Studies

it is the time of year to study the shapes in leaves, to see how their crunchy, crumbly fall incarnations play with shadows and light, patterns and randomness...
Oak leaf, brown, thick, crunchy.
Maple leaf, yellow, thin, not dried out yet.
Hazel leaf, turning orange, vein study.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bird Brained

This morning was perfectly calm -- not a bit of wind to ripple the water -- and warm. Despite a full cloud cover, the sky was bright. Birds must have loved the weather, as I had a bird-filled morning. (Birds... one thing for which my point-and-shoot camera, carried in a pocket and pulled out discreetly during class, is really inadequate.)
This coot was swimming in the pond this morning, along with several mallards, one of whom is reflected in the water at the top of the photo.

Red-wind black birds were out in huge flocks, and very talkative. Their calls sound like March to me, if March can have a sound, although obviously theirs is a spring arrival announcement AND a fall going-away call.

That little duck-shaped dot in the center is a grebe. I spent some time watching them go under and re-appear in different places. I could watch diving ducks for hours as they disappear and pop back up. First grade students, though, have about 3 minutes of duck watching in them. (Also note: by late morning, the water is less mirror-like and the wind is causing a bit of a chill...)
I saw 4 herons this morning, but none in such a strange position as this fellow, who actually camouflages perfectly with the roof upon which he is perched.

Other bird sightings this morning, which went unphotographed: a bluebird, on a bluebird box, looking grayer than usual, but still definitely blue. And a bunch of LBBs, goldfinches, etc.
In the non-avian world, these things were all over the edge of the pond. I suspect they are frog eggs, which may not make it, as they are on the shore. The lake levels were very high last week with all the rain we've gotten and are starting to recede. I guess these almost future frogs got stranded. (Anyone know more about what these are? Let me know!)

This is our car katydid from yesterday. It was on the windshield. So cute.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Maple Rainbow

Warmth! (Yea!)

Today is a beautiful day, as was yesterday. The sun is shining, it is relatively warm (which means light jacket only, not short sleeves or anything). There are dragonflies (meadowhawks at least, maybe others) around the pond, and grasshoppers are everywhere. I haven't seen a frog in a while; I think I won't until spring.
grasshopper in there. See it? off to the left.

But still... in the midday sun, shadows are long
and there is something just... I don't know... oppressive in the air. As though winter is breathing down our necks and this niceness is just a reprieve, a delaying of the inevitable...

Plants are preparing for next spring already; with buds and catkins they face the winter days ahead just like so many people do... with their eyes on spring.

basswood bud; hazel catkins.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Walking the Trail of History

Today started out as a beautiful day -- crisp, cool, sunny. We had a very busy and productive day. Among other things, we accomplished one of my least favorite gardening tasks... hose clean-up. It's always done in the cold, and you always get wet and muddy, plus it means you won't have anything to water for a long while. Then we went to the Trail of History, which is an annual event held in Glacial Park by the McHenry County Conservation District.

Here's a funny story from our walk back. Although it started out beautiful, the weather took a turn for the rotten while we were at the event. By this point it is very cold, cloudy, and intermittently raining. I stop occasionally to take photos of plant phenophases, and I admit that most people wouldn't use these things as photograph subjects, especially given the aforementioned weather. As I'm taking this picture of Indian grass with its seeds dry and ready to fall,
a kid... and I should point out that by kid, I mean a middle school aged kid, not like a 4-year old who could not possibly be expected to understand social mores such as if you're going to insult a stranger in public, you should probably do it, you know, in a whisper or something... so anyhow, a kid says to her mom, "Look at them. They're taking a picture of nothing. And just back there they took a picture of those leaves. [White oak, tips turning reddish brown, not included in post]. What's wrong with them?" Answer: I'm not sure, but I'm not DEAF, so we can check that off the list. We glared and mom, embarrassed, shushed kid and hurried the family along the trail. They got no lecture on noticing plant phenophases, or anything, but I did compose one in my head as we continued walking...

Here are some other pictures I took, despite the mocking of the general public.
Oaks across the wetland.
Milkweed seeds exploding.
Bog through the branches of bur oak. Leatherleaf is turning quite red in the bog.
Oak branches form an archway over the trail.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Another Dreary Day

(ironweed seeds, bergamot seeds, m. mint seeds, compass plant leaves)
The prairie is getting browner and seedier. (Though not drier. It is, again, raining and in the 40's! Yea!) I, like a little kid, love the seeds of milkweed, pictured above. It's not the flying and spreading that draws me to them, but rather how they look like fish scales when the pod has popped open but the seeds haven't yet escaped.
Despite the less-than-hospitable weather, there are still some creepy-crawlies about. In addition to these beetles, I also found a sluggish but moving grasshopper, and a very active jumping spider.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why I Wish I Didn't Live in Illinois

Today's predicted high temp: 45 deg F
Rain all day.
(40's and rainy is my least favorite weather, btw. I'd prefer snow and below 0.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why I Live in Illinois

It's funny... a few days ago I posted about Oregon, and under the beautiful picture of the coast I lamented, "why do I live in Illinois?"... that post generated no comments. Then yesterday I post about 2 local trees that I don't even have to work to see... (well, actually I do have to work. Both those trees are at my place of employment. But the point is, they are right outside the door at my place of employment.) In less than 24 hours, I had 2 comments reminding me about how beautiful and special those trees are.

Aspen trees are native to large portions of the US, and people certainly don't think of IL when they think of aspens. I don't. I think of mountains first, and the north woods second, and IL not at all, really. But we have got a few here, their leaves quaking in the wind. Their greenish-whitish bark contains acetylsalicylic acid, which is also found in aspirin. (The trees are a favorite of beavers... maybe that's why beavers never get a headache even though they chew wood all the time?) Buh dum ching. (Ah, it's been a long day...)

Bur oaks are truly trees of the prairie. It sounds like an oxymoron, but these trees, with their thick bark, are adapted to survive life with fire. In crowded areas, they will grow tall to compete for sunlight... but in the prairie... in the prairie, they grow out. With gnarled, twisting branches they spread in all directions and sometimes dip down so low that they almost touch the ground. Thus they make good climbing trees -- you can hop right on to the branches and go toward the trunk, rather than the other way around.

And the acorn is, perhaps, the most amazing part of the oak. If it doesn't have a worm (Aside... a lot of acorns, if you keep them, turn out not to have oak seeds, but rather, insects. The bugs actually go to the oak flowers and the acorn forms around them, so to look at the acorn, you can't tell wither there's a worm eating the meat. Eventually, they eat all the insides and drill a hole to get out. I have seen this lead to hilarity... as when a student uses an acorn in an art project, which is hung from the classroom ceiling, and then one day little grubs are falling onto kids' desks... you can test an acorn for worms by putting it in water. A worm-free acorn will float, but the worms create air bubbles and make them float! So anyhow. If you have a worm-free acorn...) then this little thing, an inch long... it looks like nothing but it has the potential to become a whole oak tree. It is power and meekness combined in one. It is such a small thing that could become something fifty feet tall or wide and outlive us all... but which can be taken down by a bug. A tree of contradictions.

(Another fun use of the scanner!)

And while setting up my class this morning, I noticed that the maples, at their peak color, are just stunning. I'm lucky to live in an edge world, too... the historical edge of the prairie and the eastern woodlands. So here, we get to experience remnants or restored bits of each.

I suppose I have been nudged into gratefulness.

Actually, I have long seen the beauty in the prairie. Even in its winter brown state, it has a subtle loveliness. Amazing plant biodiversity and crazy insect life. Sometimes you have to look for the specialness -- it doesn't hit you in the face like an ocean or a mountain. But that almost makes it better, like we have a secret. However. I think the problems with my area of Illinois with which I have been grappling are more related to the human-influenced sense of place. I live in a world where most of the stores are in strip malls and are just like every other place. I guess that's becoming true everywhere, but here it seems worse. Maybe I just notice it more. I don't know. I could explain it more, but I've already written a lot about far less depressing things.

One quick phenology note: as of Monday, there were still meadowhawks in my yard. It's cold, but the dragonflies are hanging on!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Birds and the Trees

Acorns are littering the ground underneath the bur oak trees...
Aspen trees are yellowing and leaves are blowing off during windier moments.

This morning was a bird-heavy morning. I saw grebes in the lake, disappearing and reappearing in new spots; mallards dabbling, geese flying south, and a heron stalking some prey. RWBBs were also very active, dipping and diving as my students disturbed them. Also saw goldfinches and some other LBBs, plus a chickadee. Oh, and gulls. In less than an hour, and I wasn't looking for birds. So it's a bird-heavy day.

Other notes:
  • milkweed pods are splitting open and spilling their seeds.
  • Very few purple asters are left -- just a few New England's remain. A lot of white ones are still flowering, though.
  • Goldenrod are also going to seed.
  • Grasshoppers are sluggish but coming out this morning...

Monday, October 12, 2009

It's definitely getting autumnal around here. Trees are turning vibrant colors and prairies are turning browner. Above, a maple, bright red, is already shedding its leaves. Below, the ash tree in my front yard has a burgundy crown with yellow underneath. (You can tell from the photographs, it's a cloudy, dreary day...)
Snakeroot blooms in my yard. This was a little treat when I arrived home, as I had forgotten about this final flower.
In the garden, we planted garlic yesterday. Last year (harvested this summer) we grew 18 bulbs in 2 varieties, of which we saved 2 bulbs for planting this year, and have 3 bulbs left BUT we have been eating garlic from the farmers market because I wanted to save some of ours for a little while. This year (for harvest in 2010) we planted 42 cloves, in 10 varieties! It's exciting to do something for next year in among the cleaning-up and destroying... yesterday I also removed all our tomato, pepper, basil, melon, corn and bean plants (and a lot of weeds that had grown in between them to snugly to take out before). And I started the long process of flower bed tidying with the composting of the nasturtiums. So it was a long, chilly afternoon in the garden -- and several more are needed before the winter sets in!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Back in IL

Where to start? I don't even know... I'll guess I'll begin with the present. Back in Illinois, there was a hard frost this morning. Perhaps not the first, but small bodies of standing water (puddles, the water in our grill, etc.) are frozen solid; the morning glories and nasturtium are down for the count. The ash tree in the front yard is turning burgundy and losing its leaves. My typing is full of typos because my fingers are quite cold.

We have had quite a week; I wish I could show the hundreds of photos I took... but I'll have to cut it short so I don't risk losing readers to boredom at my long-windedness...

"Ocian in view!...

...O! The Joy!" wrote William Clark in November, 1805, as he looked over... the estuary of the Columbia river, still 20 miles inland from their eventual winter camp at Fort Clatsop, near the shores of the Pacific. I obviously can't fathom a journey such as theirs. But just a little bit, I know how he felt. Driving in a car, with a map, I excitedly shouted "Ocean in view!" about 10 times before we actually saw the ocean. There were times I thought we may not see the ocean at all... this was our view of the river as we drove toward the coast... from in and above the fog.

But eventually, we made ocean... and we thought it was worth it, as Lewis and Clark must have also (before the terribly dreary, rainy winter they spent there began in earnest.)
I know, right? Spectacularly beautiful, the towering old growth forests (separate entry) and mysterious ocean... Why do I live in Illinois, again?

We saw a lot of fascinating marine life, although some of it was dead marine life, left on the wet expanses of sand by the receding tide. This is my sketch of a crab shell, with a small barnacle growing on it.
This was the largest and freshest of the jellyfish that had washed up on to shore. It was actually still moving, wrestling with death, but there was nothing we could do to help it...
In the tide pools, my camera's underwater function got proper initiation. Prior to this, its underwater usage had been limited to fascinated tweenage boys submerging it in bowls and faucets. This photo is pretty cool, I think -- it has the anemone and its reflection on the top of the water from underneath! We also saw sand dollars, a variety of shells, kelp, etc.

Forces both human and natural had shaped the sand landscape. Streams to the sea and tides had made sand mounds and ripples like miniature canyonlands; sometimes I felt as though I was a giant looking down on a desert landscape from high above....
Was Andy Goldsworthy on the beach before us? I think not, but this was a neat cairn someone left behind.