Sunday, December 9, 2012

Eagle Eye

When I was my daughters' ages, seven and nine years old, I had never seen a bald eagle. I think I was probably 30 years old before I saw my first bald eagle in nature, and I don't remember even seeing one in captivity before that.  However, living on land between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, it has become quite common during the past decade to site bald eagles, especially along the larger creeks, streams, and canals.

Yesterday and again today, I had my first eagle encounters since last winter. After a hectic morning of getting my daughters ready for school and myself ready for work, I was finally on my way to work. I took a shortcut  backroad that is full of twists and turns, beautiful, old trees, a restored prairie, and the road runs parallel with the Hennepin Canal for a couple of miles. Since I saw two eagles yesterday, I had my eagle eyes ready to spot more today. Sure enough, as I drove down a hill, crossed a bridge over a larger creek, I squinted through the trees and saw two huge bald eagles perched on tree branches. The view was perfect, and I was struck by the size of one of the eagles.  The stark contrast of the white heads and dark body feathers was very district, and my breath was taken away by these birds. Who would guess that seeing these birds would cause this reaction? After all, I have a yard full of dainty songbirds that are quite beautiful, with their shades of gold, blue, and red feathers and catchy bird songs. Why would birds that are a simple black and white combination stir me so much?

Over the next few months, as the eagles use local water bodies, I will keep my eyes peeled for views of these beautiful birds. I enjoy seeing these majestic birds not only because they are our national symbol, but seeing them in larger numbers symbolizes that we must be doing something right environmentally, if eagle populations are increasing from the rare numbers of my youth and early adulthood.

I constantly point out wildlife to my daughters as we are driving, but they don't always see what I am trying to show them. This winter, I will make sure that we schedule a time specifically to view bald eagles. We'll bring binoculars and take a hike to get better views.

I would love to capture these gigantic birds in photographs to use in a Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk book. I have taken a few photos of eagles, but to get a better view, I need to purchase a larger lens that is able to zoom in better. For now, I'll stick to taking pictures of plants and inanimate objects to use in Rachel and Sammy books. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Bright Moon Light

This morning crawled out of my warm and cozy bed to go running. Since it had been a few days since my last run, I was anxious to get back to my normal routine, so that made getting out of bed on a dark, cold morning a little easier. As I left the house, bundled in my warm running gear, I noticed the moon. The light radiating from the full moon was stunning. It was so bright that I thought my neighbors had switched on their outdoor light. The entire western sky was lit up from the light of the bright moon. Even though it was 5:10 a.m. in late November, the sky looked very light. The air was cool and crisp, and no breeze was blowing. The humidity appeared to be very low, as there were only a few specks of frost glistening on the grass. The weather conditions were perfect, my lungs and legs cooperated, and I had the best run I'd had in a couple of weeks. Between the beautiful moon and the feel-good sensation that comes from vigorous exercise, I was ready to meet the challenges of the day!

A beautiful sunrise or sunset is mesmerizing to most people. The sun is not only essential to our lives, but the sun can be a magnificent site! And the light that shines from the sun reflects on objects and adds more beauty to nature. I rely on sunny lighting for most of the photos I take for Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk books. Bright sunshine illuminating a pretty blue sky makes a nice background and adds a crisp quality to nature photographs. Overcast and foggy days also hold beauty and may make interesting photographs, but I prefer sunny days to provide optimal contrast and lighting for the pictures I use in the books.

But the night sky has its own splendor. No matter what the current moon phase is, the moon casts an eerie glow on an otherwise dark night. The stars stand out distinctly in the night sky. Looking at the moon makes me feel very peaceful. When I am out early exercising, I enjoy the solitude of very few people on the sidewalks and not many cars on the streets. Having the moon keep me company is enough to help my mind and body awaken, and watching the moon entertains me and keeps my mind from focusing too much on how I'd really like to take a break.

A short time later, the sun started to rise, and the moon was less visible. Still, the view of the early morning moon was stuck in my head for the rest of the day and continued to give me feelings of optimism and hope.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Watching You Like a Hawk

My normal route to work includes many country roads. Since crops have long been harvested, the land is wide open, and you can see for miles. Lately, I have noticed several red-tailed hawks on my drives. Sometimes I see hawks perched on fence posts, and many times they are perched on tree branches, road signs or power poles. It doesn’t really matter where I spot these giant birds of prey, they are an awesome site, and they always seem to be keeping an eye on me.

These regal looking birds, comprised of earthy colored feathers, are easy to spot by their characteristic dark red lower tail feathers. The red is a bright contrast to the rest of this bird’s brown and white body. Even though these hawks are quite common, I always enjoy seeing them. Most days on my work commute, I drive by one farm and see the same hawk watching me. It’s nice to know that another creature is watching over me, as I speed around, trying to make it from place to place on time.

While writing this, I am signing new edition Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk books at a gallery that showcases the work of many local artists. It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and there is a nice crowd of people walking around and looking at beautiful paintings, photographs, pottery, wood working, and other forms of art. The dulcimer display across the room from me is popular with the children, as the kids are allowed to play music on one of the demonstration models.

Working in the conservation field for my day job, I enjoy being around beautiful artwork when I get the chance. When I am doing book events, it’s fun to talk to people who stop by to look at my books, and I usually have interesting conversations. I may spend 10 or 15 minutes talking to people who share a common interest, or maybe we have a connection of knowing some of the same people.  

As an author of children’s books, I feel it is important to be able to converse well with people one on one or in front of larger audiences, if you wish to promote and sell books.  Luckily I enjoy talking to people, even if I’ve never met them before. Having a book event in a small community that is also a tourist destination draws an interesting mix of people. Some visitors are local, and some are tourists from other towns and states, especially during a holiday weekend.
I wrapped up a successful day of selling books and talking to interesting people. On my drive home, I encountered another beautiful red-tailed hawk, and it made me feel like someone was looking out for me and guiding me safely home. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lucky Rainbows

Ideas for the fourth book in the Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk series spent months spinning around in my head. One day on my drive to work, I looked out the window at one of the many farms on my back road commute. I've done field work on this farm several times for work and enjoy the view of the farm's creek, well preserved red barn, rolling crop ground and pasture, and mixture of oak and hickory trees. As I glanced at the field, all the ideas in my head came together into a solid outline, along with the title of the book, "Rachel and Sammy Learn to Conserve". From past experience, I know that if I wait for the right idea to hit me, the piece is easier to write, the first draft, anyway. Still, I was amazed at how everything fell into place at once!

Soon after the ideas came together, I began writing the rough draft. Writing went smoothly, and I was getting close to having the text refined into coherent sentences that explained conservation methods. I worked to fine tune the rough draft into the final version and recently submitted it for editing. I started taking pictures for this book almost a year ago. On another recent drive to work, I went by the same field, and I noticed that a new conservation practice had been installed; several water and sediment control basins were constructed to help reduce gully erosion on the crop field. The dams are well constructed, and I thought that including a picture of them in the soil conservation section of "Rachel and Sammy Learn to Conserve" would be perfect. After a long, hot, and dry summer, the rains have finally started to fall, and the weather has prevented me from getting the final pictures I need. More importantly, this much needed rain is starting to cause soil erosion on areas containing bare soil, and the basins were already working to hold soil in place.

Driving to work last week, I was near the same farm, when I looked to the west and saw dark clouds looming. I also noticed a double rainbow and pulled over to take pictures. As you can tell, this farm draws my attention and inspires me with many ideas, but this time, the rainbow I saw near the farm was a symbol of optimism. My life has been very busy and stressful the past few weeks, as I try to balance my day job, book work, home and family life, and working with my partners to form and grow the Rising Phoenix Press. Seeing the beautiful rainbow against the dark, stormy clouds made me realise that with continued hard work, all will be well and that good luck will prevail!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Leave the Highway

Driving along the interstate highways in Wisconsin on our Columbus Day weekend getaway, I was amazed at how beautiful the trees looked. We had driven on some of these same roads in August, when trees were merely green, and the difference was astounding.

In early October, fall leaves are at their peak in this area and contain a rainbow of colors, including various shades of yellow, gold, orange, rust, brown, green, and red. The bright sunshine shown directly on the pretty leaves, making the contrast between colors even more striking.

Although we noticed beautiful scenery along the major highways, at least more so than on Illinois roads, the scenery along lesser traveled roads was even more spectacular. We left the highway and journeyed toward lovely state parks in Door County and were fascinated by the gorgeous fall landscapes. We enjoyed breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and its sandy beaches, mixed in with colorful trees; we were seeing nature's handiwork at its finest.

A particular favorite view of mine was the white birch tree bark highlighted against the scarlet leaves of maples and the burgundy leaves of ash trees. I snapped photo after photo of the peaceful splendor, in an effort to complete taking photos for my upcoming book, "Rachel and Sammy Learn to Conserve". I kept thinking of how these pictures would have also worked well in "Rachel and Sammy Learn About Trees".

Whether you choose to read "Rachel and Sammy Visit the Prairie", "Rachel and Sammy Visit the Forest", "Rachel and Sammy Learn About Trees", or "Rachel and Sammy Learn to Conserve", I try to capture the true beauty of nature to use for the books' photographs. The photos, in conjunction with realistic illustrations and educational and fun storylines, help readers learn to better observe and appreciate our many natural wonders.

We had a fun weekend of relaxing, eating, swimming, and a little shopping, but it was experiencing the stunning autumn scenery that was my favorite part of our trip. I hope that as leaves continue to change and drop, you can all find a place to relax and enjoy the autumn's magical beauty. It won't be long before the landscape is drab, cold, and bleak, as winter nears.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Have Book – Will Travel!

I’ve been working with a local library to set up an event using my book, “Rachel and Sammy Learn About Trees”, as part of the library’s summer reading program. I love the 2013 theme for summer reading, “Have Book – Will Travel”. That theme pretty much summarizes my life. I love books, and I love to travel!
Living in the Midwest is wonderful, but I always enjoy traveling to other areas to absorb different landscapes, cultures, and traditions. As I write this, I am headed north to our neighboring state of Wisconsin. It is Columbus Day weekend, so we have a break from work and school. The colors of fall are at their peak, and I’ve been looking forward to this weekend since we returned from our summer vacation. In addition to spectacular fall foliage, we are planning to enjoy Lake Michigan, which is the landlocked Midwesterners' version of the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. Driving through the pretty and quaint Door County is on our list of things to do. The scenery along this peninsula is amazing, and we will visit state parks along the way.

In addition to doing the normal vacation things like seeing new places, relaxing, spending extra time together, swimming in the pool, shopping, and eating great food, I plan to finish taking photographs for the fourth book in the Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk series, “Rachel and Sammy Learn to Conserve”.

Rachel and Sammy books are intended to be read indoors and then taken outside and used to help young readers learn more about nature, so “Have Book -- Will Travel” is truly a reflection of my life and the books I write.  By reading Rachel and Sammy books, you can visit your backyard or natural area and turn that trip into a grand learning endeavor. Whether you are reading an old favorite book or a brand new one, reading is a great adventure, and the same is true with traveling to different places. If you are unable to travel to far away places, it is easy to get caught up in a great book set in an exotic location, and you can experience the world by reading. You don’t always have to travel far from home to learn something totally new and exciting. A good book will help you see the world with new eyes, no matter where you are!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fall into Nature!

It was the first day of autumn and a bright and beautiful day.  I was on my way to Forest Park Nature Center, where I was reading "Rachel and Sammy Learn About Trees" and leading a nature walk. After a busy morning of doing household chores and preparing for the program, it was almost a relief to hop into the car and begin the hour long drive.

I headed south in my car and enjoyed the shelter from the brisk and windy day; it felt good to absorb the solar heat. As I drove up the bluff near the small town of Tiskilwa, I noticed the leaves on a few maple trees starting to turn into various shades of red, orange, and gold. In sharp contrast to these earthy colors were the periwinkle-colored asters blooming in the understory.

The sky was a bright blue, and with harvest beginning early this year, several corn fields were picked, allowing for uninterrupted views of the countryside. I drove past several fields that had combines, trucks, tractors, and wagons working away, a sure sign that fall had arrived. Closer to my destination of Peoria, I went by Tanner's Orchard, which was bustling with business. Beautiful mums, pumpkins, and other fall decorations were scattered around, and added to the beauty of the day.

Soon I arrived at the Forest Park Nature Center, and I was treated to more fall splendor!  The prairie plot near the front entrance was ablaze with color and texture, and birds and insects were buzzing around the plants.  The trees were full of seeds, nuts, and fruits, which would make good food for the animals that lived in the area.

I unloaded my crate of book supplies and entered the building. I was excited to have the opportunity to read the new edition of "Rachel and Sammy Learn About Trees" to a group for the first time.  Chock full of information on tree parts, tree products, photosynthesis, and more, this book also contains 41 photos  and 16 realistic illustrations that help teach readers the basics about trees. I had brought several leaf specimens to illustrate the difference between deciduous and coniferous trees, alternate and opposite leaves, and a few others to show children the diversity of leaves. After the reading, we went outdoors to enjoy the fall scenery and hiked along the nature trail, just like Rachel Raccoon, Sammy Skunk, and the other the characters in the book! All in all, it was a great day to Learn About Trees!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Perfect Day to Visit the Prairie

On Saturday, the weather was perfect. The temperature was warm, but not hot, and the sky was sunny and filled with big, puffy clouds. After a hot, dry summer, this nice day was a welcome relief.

As I drove east along Interstate-80 toward Goose Lake Prairie State Park, I realized that 200 years ago, the flat areas along the highway would have been covered with a variety of tall prairie plants, mile after mile, for as far as the eye could see. What an amazing site that would have been!

Driving through the park to the visitor center, I noticed that the Goose Lake Prairie was ablaze with colorful and hardy plants. I parked at the visitor center, where I was scheduled to present a program and read Rachel and Sammy Visit the Prairie. It was tempting to spend the morning hiking through the prairie or hopping on one of the prairie wagon rides that were planned as a part of the annual Prairie Day celebration. I brought several plant specimens featured in this educational children's book that I had collected the day before from our small prairie plot at work and from my backyard prairie. However, looking at specimens indoors is different than seeing the prairie in its entirety.

Most prairie plants are deep-rooted perennials that are adapted to Midwestern weather extremes. Even though many parts of the country have been under drought conditions this summer, the prairie plants survived. But, this summer's dry weather changed the normal tremendous beauty of the prairie. While plants may have survived, they are not as tall as normal, and if the plants flowered, the blooms may not have been as spectacular as usual. But, a true prairie enthusiast appreciates the beauty at any time and knows that the next visit to the prairie will be a different view that may be even prettier than imagined.

The Goose Lake Prairie State Park is comprised of over 2500 acres of original prairie and represents the vegetation that once covered two thirds of Illinois. As a resident of the Prairie State, I think it is important for people to know a little about the prairie. I enjoy presenting educational programs using Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk Books and hope that these books will inspire minds to appreciate and care for nature, even when times are tough, and the beauty is diminished.

I was excited to read the newly revised second edition of Rachel and Sammy Visit the Prairie to a group for the first time. This book, and my two others, Rachel and Sammy Visit the Forest and Rachel and Sammy Learn About Trees, have recently been released by Rising Phoenix Press, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to revise these books to improve them. I think the end result for all three books is wonderful, and I look forward to continuing to educate people on nature, using Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk books.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk books

Hi, my name is Jannifer Powelson, and I am the author of Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk educational children's books. I will be building this site to include all kind of information on my three published books, including, "Rachel and Sammy Visit the Prairie", "Rachel and Sammy Visit the Forest", and "Rachel and Sammy Learn About Trees". Please stay tuned for updates!