Saturday, October 25, 2008


I was just struck by the colors of our weekly haul from the Westside Community Market. This is such a great time to shop the markets--as if any time isn't!

  • Winter Squash
  • Goat Cheese with Nettle
  • Cranberries
  • Eggs--white, brown and green!
  • Leeks
  • Radishes
  • Shallots
  • Yellow Onions
  • Fingerling Sweet Potatoes
  • Carrots--yellow and gold!
  • Bell Peppers--green and red!
  • Cucumber
  • Heirloom Tomatoes including Taxi and Green Tiger
  • Hot Peppers Including Hungarian Wax
  • Parsnips
  • Cranberry Bread--nom nom nom!
  • Pumpkin Crackers (not pictured)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Lily Pond and Conservatory

In the 1930s Alfred Caldwell designed a garden in Chicago dominated by a large central lagoon. It is called The Lily Pond and yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting it with friends. Extensive use of limestone shelf rock is meant to evoke a prairie river cutting through bedrock. A council ring, that icon of the Prairie school of landscape architecture, sits atop a small knoll giving views of the lagoon. The garden was a great success when it first opened but over the years bad redesigns and general neglect nearly destroyed Caldwell's vision. In 2000 an extensive restoration and reconstruction was begun. Now restored nearly to its original beauty--obligatory changes were made to accommodate ADA--the garden is a tranquil and apparently little known gem adjacent to the Lincoln Park Zoo.

We also made a visit to the conservatory in the park. I love conservatories. I still sometimes dream of having a nice stone house topped, at least in part, by a classical glass and metal conservatory where I can sit in the winter with my exotic plants and a good book.

A lovely statue in the pond of the Palm House

In the Fern House

A mass of some sort of maidenhair fern in the Fern House

In one of the houses a grapefruit tree and this sour orange were heavily laden with fruit

A beautiful pink Datura for my friend Wildetype--There was an even larger golden one nearby but the lighting was not good

Oh look! Wildetype has shown up to see the Datura. No, my mistake--it's a creepy geisha mannequin in the Show House.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Luxury Home vs. Rare Orchid: Who Wins?

We're all familiar with the story. Developer buys undeveloped land, rare plant or animal discovered, ugly battle ensues between environmentalists and in the end the rare plant or animal may or may not be saved for the moment. That's not what happened this time, according to a story out of

Builders of luxury vacation estates in Gloucestershire in England discovered the "nationally scarce" green-flowered Helleborine (Epipactis phyllanthes) on the spot where a 1 million pound (nearly $2 million US) home was slated for construction. After investigating the possiblity of moving the plants they decided to move the house instead.

It sounds like these developers, who apparently have a landscape and ecology manger, are a bit more in touch with the natural resources they're developing.

This isn't the first time nature has dictated terms at The Lakes. Nesting birds forced tree clearance to be postponed for months and a mature tree facing the axe will be protected after being identified as a probable bat roost.

A fence has now gone up around the rare colony [of orchids], which could become part of a nature trail.

Maybe it's easier to think this way when you aren't surrounded by a culture that believes in unlimited land resources.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Sideways Sun

I wish I could look forward to autumn more than I do. The season has a lot to offer with the striking colors of the trees and shrubs, the cool weather and more reliable moisture for my garden. But I can't get over the fact that, except for on the weekends, the sun is always right in my eyes for the brief time I get to see it. In the morning by the time it's higher in the sky I'm ensconced in my windowless office. When I escape at the end of the day it's right there shining in my windshield as I leave the parking lot. It just seems harsh. Still, I shouldn't complain--and I don't, really. Before long the sun won't even be up at all by the time I get to work and will be back below the horizon when I come home. Oh, well. It's been a great summer and will be again next year. If only it didn't seem so far away.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Summer's Morning in October

This morning I decided on the spur of the moment to check the Biocore Prairie for migrating sparrows since it's only a short distance from my house. Parking at Frautschi Point gave me a chance to walk through the woods for a while. At the point where the trail turned off toward the prairie I found a group of two or three tiny birds busily foraging in the trees right by the trail. Tiny birds = warblers! The closest I could come to an identification was to call them Pine Warblers.

Once I reached the prairie the view of the lake was wonderful. Unfortunately I had dressed for a more typical October day even though I knew it was going to be hot eventually. I didn't realize how quickly that would happen. After spotting a few birds I headed back to the woods to cool off. On the way I met a woman who was obviously a much more serious birder than myself. She asked me what I'd seen and I told her about the Cooper's Hawk, White-throated Sparrows and Pine Warblers back in the woods and the Cedar Waxwings and others I'd seen on the prairie and its edge. She seemed to think the Pine Warblers were odd but plausible and also mentioned seeing White-throated Sparrows and hearing Kinglets. We wished each other luck and went our own ways.

Photo Courtesy of Birdfreak.comBack in the woods I recalled what she had said and started to wonder exactly what a Kinglet looked like since I don't recall ever seeing one. Flipping to the relevant page in my field guide I got more than a little excited to see that the illustration looked very much like the little birds I'd seen earlier. By some miracle the mystery birds were still feeding in the same area where I'd seen them before and I had a great opportunity to watch them. I was soon 90% sure what I was looking at were Ruby-crowned Kinglets. It wasn't pointed out in the field guide, but I noticed the illustration showed black legs and yellow feet. Sure enough, these guys had them! Then, even as I wondered if they only showed their red crowns during the mating/breeding season, one of them hopped down on a branch by another and erected his ruby crown. Bingo! Now I was sure enough to add bird #224 to my Life List. (Ruby-crowned Kinglet Image Courtesy of

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wisconsin Birdland

Today's edition of the local daily newspaper had a front page story on birds in Wisconsin. It touched on the importance of the state as a migration route and some of the things that have been and are being done to protect our resident and migrant species and their habitats. The article mentions a recent report from Birdlife International detailing the declines in many bird populations. I discovered BI only recently via The Scout Report. It's a rich source of articles on birds. Some of them are outright depressing, but they're interesting to read.

One of the birds in decline noted by the WSJ is the Red-Headed Woodpecker. When I was a kid I saw them often on the wooden telephone poles along the road. Only this summer when I got a glimpse of one flying over the highway as I rode along did it occur to me how long it's been since I've seen one. It saddens me to think such a beautiful bird might disappear forever, but it's happened before. (Image courtesy of

I've been reluctant to face the upcoming winter. It's a while off, but I've gotten so used to being able to just be outside--when it's light out!--that I'm worried about adjusting to the end of a great birding season. Maybe I'll spend some of my time looking into some concrete actions I can take to help protect, preserve and restore the species that need help.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

All About Sausage

For some inexplicable reason I like to pick up the odd vintage or kitsch cookbook that I run across from time to time. The graphic styles of bygone eras are often a treat to see and they also show how different food and entertaining have been in the past. A very good friend of mine knows of my cookbook interest and once gifted me with "All About Sausage" published by the Oscar Mayer company in 1973. It's enlightening, amusing and disturbing all at the same time.

Beginning with a self-serving glossary that manages to define even the most unfoodlike products they make into "sausage", the authors take us on a meatfest joyride. Stops along the way include party platters, breadless sandwiches and more ways to combine beans and weenies than you can shake a weenie at. My personal favorite is the Holiday Meat Tree. Correcting Mother Nature's oversight we are instructed how to compose a tree-like lump of twisted and folded luncheon meats pinned to half a bread loaf.

O sausagebaum, o sausagebaum! They leaves are pink and greasy.