Thursday, December 16, 2021

Fall Fever

When Fall first arrived this year, I was skeptical that it would be a pretty one, in the way of fall foliage, that is. We had been dry for several weeks until that point, (at least in my neck of the woods in Princeton) and the temperatures were above average. Normally fall foliage performs its most spectacular and colorful displays when the weather conditions are right—cooler temperatures, especially at night, and more moisture than what we’d received until that point. When the rain started, and the temperatures started to cool, it was amazing how the tree leaves responded. 

Slowly but surely, not only did the maples begin their color show, but hickories began to change to lovely golden hues. I awaited the rest of our deciduous beauties to begin their fall displays with my trusty camera in hand. I snapped several hickory shots this fall. I normally enjoy the shaggy bark of the Shagbark Hickory at any time of the year, but this year, I took time to appreciate the beauty of the hickory leaves, which ranged from bright yellow to orange, to rust, sometimes on hickories within the same grove. Hickories’ huge compound leaves are pretty all throughout the growing season, but Fall makes everything special.

The oaks were taking their time, but their color is always well worth the wait. Their more subtle colors complement their drastic textures, with their heavy-duty leaves and ornate branching patterns and bark contributing to their fall beauty. As other tree leaves swirled in the wind and landed on the ground, many oak leaves persisted. Driving through our local countryside on the lookout for my known oak and hickory haunts, I am always on the lookout for more.

What started off to be a slow Fall that didn’t seem promising in the color department, turned into a beautiful lightshow of color. Most of the leaves have now fallen to the ground, waiting to be raked, piled, mowed, burned, or just blown around by the wind, and we are now experiencing the bleak late Fall time before the snow starts flying. Soon there will be another season of beauty to enjoy.    


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Eastern Adventures

American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls
As much as I enjoy Illinois’ subtle beauty, I’m always ready to travel to other places. Since it had been two years since our last family vacation, (that included my husband) I was rearing to go. We had discussed a trip to Colorado but decided to head northeast, toward hopefully cooler and moister weather. We had visited Niagara Falls six years ago and thought it would be a good starting point. Despite traffic and road construction, we made it to Buffalo in ten hours. After a dinner of local favorites—much appreciated after a long drive—we made plans to get up and get moving to visit Niagara Falls State Park the next morning, before it got too busy.

Horseshoe Falls
Starting off the day in rain, we got even wetter on the Maid of the Mist boat ride. Once the rain cleared away, we were left with beautiful views as we walked around the entire park, getting up close and personal looks at the Niagara River, rapids, and the waterfalls. I was disappointed we could not travel through and stay in Canada (since we did not get a chance to do that last time), but there’s always the next time. I think the Canadian borders opened shortly after we returned home.

Chimney Bluff State Park
The next day we headed further east, driving through the Finger Lake Region. The parks we visited featured more lovely waterfalls, but totally different than the massive Niagara Falls. The Taughannock Falls State Park was a last minute sidetrip, en route to Robert H. Treman State Park. We were glad we made the stop, as Taughannock Falls plunges 215 feet past rocky cliffs that tower nearly 400 feet above the gorge. There was also an amazing pollinator garden at the visitors center that made me feel like I was back in one of my favorite places—an Illinois prairie. By then, we thought we’d seen enough waterfalls and wanted more Finger Lake time. However, once we realized Robert H. Treman State Park was more waterfalls, we hiked to both the upper and lower falls, with amazing views along the trails of the surrounding woodlands, gorge, and falls.

Fair Haven Beach State Park

Even though we didn’t get to explore as much as the Finger Lakes themselves, though drove through the region and had beautiful views of them, we did make sure we had plenty of Great Lakes time. If you’ve read my articles before, you may remember that I’m slightly obsessed with the Great Lakes. On our Lake Ontario Day, we started off at Fair Haven Beach State Park for a neat large pebble beach experience before heading west to Chimney Bluffs State Park. Not only did we spend much time hiking along the beach near the massive clay drumlins that look like chimneys, but we had a beautiful skyline view of the royal blue waters and contrasting gray drumlins. The steep hike was well worth the view.

Adirondack Mountain Stream
The Adirondacks were next on the itinerary. We spent the next day exploring these subtle mountains of dark green trees and other plant life, plus multiple mountain lakes and streams. Though the day was cloudy and hazy, we still enjoyed getting a taste of this six million acre park. I know this area would be even more beautiful in the fall, when leaves are at their peak!

As we started for home the next day, we opted to visit Lake Erie. Stopping at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, we enjoyed the driving along this interesting peninsula park—an oasis so close to Erie. Full of beautiful beaches, inland marsh and swamp areas, and an interesting lighthouse, this park is a real asset to the area. It was nice to stretch our legs for a lakeside hike along one of the many beaches and lighthouse area before doing more driving toward home.

The rest of the trip was downhill after that, as we hit more traffic and construction than we did on the way east. Even though we tried to change our route to avoid some the areas we hit driving east, it did little to help. Still, it was a fun family road trip, and we will savor the memories for years to come.

Chimney Bluffs State Park on Lake Ontario

Friday, May 21, 2021

Spring Woodland Wildflower Wonders

Wild Blue Phlox
Wild Columbine

I think most of us look forward to spring after a cold, dark, and snowy winter. Even though our “real” winter weather only lasted for a couple of months this year, we had a wide variety of precipitation forms packed into that time period. I was happy that when the snow and ice started to melt, spring seemed to be on its way.

Snow Trillium

With spring comes a time of rebirth, regeneration, and rejuvenation. In addition to the grass greening up, trees blooming and budding, and some feathered friends returning, I enjoy taking hikes in the woods to view spring woodland wildflowers. This spring at least one of my two daughters, along with our two dogs, took a weekly woodland hike. While my daughters and dogs walked, I spent the time crouched on the ground—or even lying on the ground when it wasn’t too wet—getting up-close and personal and snapping pictures of wildflowers. From the first Snowy Trilliums to the Wild Columbines currently blooming, I took dozens—actually hundreds--of pictures. The children and dogs would wait for me to catch up, wondering what had taken me so long.

Smooth Yellow Violet

One day we even got caught in a thunderstorm. What started out as a few sprinkles turned into a drenching downpour. As I climbed the steep, muddy, and slippery hill to the final part of the trail, where my daughters and dogs were waiting, my older daughter’s eyes widened in surprise at my appearance. Apparently, I looked a little rough around the edges, with a crazy look in my eyes, raindrops dripping off the edge of my nose, my wild hair sticking out from my hooded sweatshirt, drenched to the bone, and my clothes totally splattered with mud, especially the knees of my soaked sweats, that were smeared with mud.

I have to say, the Dutchman’s Breeches photos I took that day were pretty neat, despite the challenge of trying to keep my lens from fogging up or getting wet, not to mention getting myself too wet. I think I failed in that respect, but it was well worth it. The girls, dogs, and I all had a great time, even if my car smelled of wet dog for the drive home and probably a few days after.
Dutchman's Breeches

Virginia Bluebells
Some may wonder why I continue to take photos of plants I’ve been photographing for over twenty-five years. The only reason I can find is, I can’t seem to resist! Seriously, hiking in the woods is a peaceful experience for me and helps to relieve stress. When you factor in taking photographs of beautiful plants that only bloom for a short time period, the peaceful feeling increases. From the practical perspective, I use the photos for educational and promotional purposes for the Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk books and Nature Station Mysteries I write, and also use them in my job as Resource Conservationist at the Stark County SWCD.
Wild Geranium

It’s amazing to me how the same flowers I see every year manage to look even more interesting and beautiful every year. Maybe it’s because after all this time, I still notice brand new details or even discover new-to-me wildflower species. Different angles, different lighting, and the novelty of not seeming these lovely plants all the time, make them great photo opportunities, year after year. I like to think my photography skills improve a little over time, so I really need to take time to weed out some of my older pictures.

Even though we don’t often think of Illinois as being the most scenic spot on earth, we do have some beautiful areas and some unique plant species. I use the pictures to try to show others how interesting these pretty wildflowers are.

I hope you enjoy this virtual walk in the woods.

Purple Trillium


Blood Root

Friday, February 5, 2021

Winter Wonderland

As I a write this, we’ve had a month of interesting weather, with more on the way. We’ve had several forms of precipitation, leaving behind much snow and ice on sidewalks and some of the lesser travelled roads and streets. Before the latest Arctic blast, it finally starting to melt, making it easier to drive my favorite backroads to work and walk my dogs around town. Before that, I was getting tired of the babystep workout, never knowing which sidewalks would be clear, and which would be a pile of hard packed snow and ice. I just tried to remain an upright position, which was challenging at times, when we’ve had layer upon layer of several forms of precipitation, including days and days of frozen fog.

We’ve only had a few days of actual sunshine lately, which I know can be gloomy for some. I’ve learned to appreciate gloomy days as much as bright and sunny days, but even I was getting a little sick of the total fog we had for so long. From sun up to sundown, nothing but fog—assuming we could actually see the sun, which we could not. However, one day, while driving to work, I was wondering how I would ever get there with the very murky fog that morning. A few seconds later, I drove up and down a hill, the fog lifted, and the sun not only peeked through the clouds, but shone brightly. Reflecting off the snow, ice, and hoar frost, it was an amazing site.

As you may know by now, I entertain myself and find peace during these turbulent times (and yes, 2021, is starting off to be just as interesting as 2020 was!) by photographing our local natural beauty. This year I began in my backyard, taking photo after photo of almost every combination of snow, ice, and hoar frost on the trees and shrubs in my yard. The herbaceous plants had been trimmed back for the season, other than the shorter prairie grasses in my landscaping, of which I did photograph. Since we are fortunate enough to have a wind and privacy break of Colorado Blue Spruce and Norway Spruce I began by taking pictures of these conifers. Their branches laden with snow and ice, they made a spectacular site.

I then moved on to the deciduous trees. The derecho in August did a number on some of them, but I was still able snap several photos of remaining trees and shrubs.

From here I branched out. I decided to photograph my favorite trees, white oaks, that look beautiful, even leafless in the middle of the winter. There are a few in town that are single and solitary, so they have much room to really spread their wings—or branches. With the foggy background, snow, and dark branches, these pictures look like they were taken in black and white, but they were actually taken in color. I found some oak leaves still on the branches, and zoomed in on the leathery leaves, sparkling with hoar frost, even in the gloom.

The day the sun finally shone, I was fortunate enough to have my camera with me. Once I arrived at work, I snuck a few pictures of the Rock Island Trail, prairie plants near the office, and the pin oak near the back door. They were all gorgeous, with the blazing sun, blue sky, and trees and plants covered with snow, ice, and frost. 

If this past year has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate my surroundings and all the everyday things we may normally take for granted. Exploring local nature with my trusty camera has opened my eyes to the natural beauty that surrounds us, whether we notice it or not.