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.