Friday, November 17, 2023

Checking out the Local Scene(ry)

Hennepin Canal at Lock 19 near Wyanet

 I love traveling. Whether it’s checking out unusual and breathtaking scenic areas or experiencing different cultures, architecture styles, foods, museums, and other cool stuff in a big city, traveling is an amazing experience. Wherever I travel to I try to soak up as much local color as possible. Since we live in an area that isn’t known or widely visited for its scenic beauty we oftentimes overlook it. But there are so many local areas to explore, and once you start looking closely the beauty shines through.
Eastern Tailed Blues at Nachusa Grasslands

Because I’m constantly on the lookout for new-to-me species to include in the children’s books I write, I’ve been on the go a lot the past couple of years visiting natural areas to keep expanding not only my photography collection to use in my books, but also to expand my knowledge of the natural world. After all these years—more than 37—of working in and studying nature, I still not only enjoy it, but am always learning something new. In fact, I’ve decided that the more I know, the less I know.

For example, who knew there were so many fall asters? The more species I come across, the harder it is to tell one from another. Even individual plants within the same species may have color, size, and growth variations, further complicating the identification process. Even though many people probably don’t know or care about telling one aster apart from another, it’s fun for me to run across ones I’ve never seen—or noticed—before.

Compass Plant at Munson Prairie near Cambridge

Plus, there’s the fact that these late bloomers are a goldmine for pollinators. During a recent trip to the Sandy Hollow Prairie area at Dixon Waterfowl Refuge, I noted a dozen butterfly species within a few hundred feet from the parking area. Most of them were attracted to Showy Goldenrods (and yes, there are multiple native goldenrod species as well!). When I visited the next week, the goldenrods were done blooming, and pollinators were feasting on clumps of the remaining Aromatic Asters in bloom.

Shadows behind Prairie Dock at Dixon Waterfowl Refuge

Another neat place I’ve discovered this year is Nachusa Grasslands, east of Dixon. This huge area is composed of both remnant and restored prairie, savanna, wetland, and forest habitats. I’ve lost track of the new plants I’ve encountered when roaming over the thousands of acres (being careful to avoid the roaming bison within their fenced in prairie pastures) of this site.

Goats Rue at Nachusa Grasslands

I’ve also “haunted” some local remnant prairie cemeteries this year such as Munson Cemetery near Cambridge, Scotch Cemetery near Victoria, and Hetzler Cemetery near LaMoille. These hidden gems are great places for those who want to go back in time to experience both the historical aspect, plus the natural aspect. Having never been plowed, these areas are a goldmine of high quality native plant species. Some are well maintained with fire and weed removal while others need some help, but there are still hidden treasures within them, waiting to be discovered. I also visited McCune Sand Prairie north of Mineral a few times during the summer. What an interesting and beautiful place not far from home that’s full of Eastern prickly pear cactus and other neat finds.

Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus at McCune Sand Prairie near Mineral

With the onset of much awaited fall foliage comes a different type of beauty. As I drive to and from work, my mouth gapes in wonder at the lovely diversity of not only color, but also shapes, sizes, and textures of the trees, especially my favorites, oak and hickory trees. When you see a hillside dotted with trees, it’s like looking at a crayon box full of vivid yellows, oranges, reds, greens, browns, and all colors between. During summer, the tree foliage looks pretty similar, but once the days grow shorter and cooler, the differences between the trees become more apparent. Finally, the late fall winds and cooler temperatures bring about a starker beauty, and we are left with the bark and branches. 

Rustic Corncrib in Putnam County

While we may long for sandy white beaches, tall snowy mountains, or the thrill of a foreign and ancient city, we can still take a mini vacation without leaving the county. All we need are good observation skills, and you never know what is waiting to be discovered on our local backroads.  


Spiderweb and Stiff Goldenrod at Munson Cemetery Prairie near Cambridge
Rock Formations at Nachusa Grasslands -- Stone Barn Savanna

White Oaks at Mount Bloom Cemetery near Tiskilwa

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Rocky Mountain High


View from Lily Lake

My family recently visited Colorado for our family vacation. It had been several years since I had visited the Rocky Mountains, and I was excited to see them again. Of course, the mountains themselves are quite spectacular, but all the mountain lakes, streams, canyons, waterfalls, and other scenery are cool as well. However, the living aspects—plants and wildlife—are their own draw. We were fortunate to see several wildlife species, and the increased rainfall this summer made wildflowers abundant and gorgeous. I snapped multiple shots of them throughout our time in Colorado and on the way home in Nebraska. 
Bear Lake

We spent two days exploring Rocky Mountain National Park and could have easily spent more time there. We enjoyed hikes around Lily Lake and Bear Lake, plus other areas on the first day, then took the Old Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road the second day with multiple stops along both routes. Since this is such a popular park, planning ahead to make sure you have reservations and timed entries when needed is essential. Driving through Big Thompson Canyon was another treat. I’m in awe of the beautiful rock formations along this route.


Beaver Meadows
We decided to visit Eldorado Canyon State Park the next day. To quote my daughter’s friend who was travelling with us for two days, “you don’t have to work for this scenery.” It was right there in front of us. After a bumpy drive through the tiny town leading up to the park entrance, we were beginning to wonder if the park would be worth the trip. But gorgeous red rock formations greeted us as soon as we entered the park. All we had to do was park and walk along the road to see stunning views of the mountain stream and canyon walls.

 It seems like busy schedules and not enough time and money are always roadblocks to longer and more frequent travels even if we don’t actually run into actual roadblocks while on vacations. But we enjoy travelling when we can and are always looking ahead to the next adventure!

Alpine Wildflowers

Chimney Rock

Eldorado State Park

Eldorado State Park

Scotts Bluff National Monmument 

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Chimney Rock National Historic Site

Monday, May 15, 2023

Enjoying those Early Bloomers

Wood Betony
I recently had the opportunity to visit Nachusa Grasslands, located east of Dixon. This Nature Conservancy area has been on my bucket list for quite some time. It was an amazing place to visit, with its beautifully restored remnant prairies, along with a wetland and savanna, not to mention bison grazing on the prairies. Normally at this time of year I am still snooping around in the woodlands looking for spring ephemerals, but now I am also starting to venture into the prairie to see some early bloomers.

Wild Lupine
Many of the seed mixes we prescribe through our office for the Conservation Reserve Program and found in other restored prairies contain more common species and not many early blooming species. The mixes usually consist of summer forbs and later summer grass species. Even though mixes are starting to get more diverse—especially for the pollinator mixes—seeing the rarer early bloomers is a special treat for me.

It takes less than an hour to reach Nachusa from my house, so I know I will be visiting again. Since I had not taken time to do much research online before I left, I missed seeing many of the natural areas on this more than 4,000 acre site. However, what I did see impressed me, with one of the highlights, seeing six “new-to-me” wildflower species. I wandered around the prairie at the Visitor Center, an open air display area, looking at the spring species popping up in the recently burned acreage. Shooting Stars, Blue-eyed Grass, Wild Lupine, Golden Alexander, Violet Wood Sorrel, Wood Betony, Arrow-Leaved Violet, Kittentails, and Pussytoes were some beautiful and interesting wildflowers in bloom. Because the area had been freshly burned, these low to the ground forbs were easy to spot.

Once done with that portion, I turned to the north and ventured closer to where the bison were grazing and walking near the pond. Even from the distance I could watch them lumber around, graceful in their gait for such large bovines, and I could hear their sounds. Even though I have seen bison before in parks out west, it was a delight to see them in a natural setting in our Prairie State.
Violet Wood Sorrel

Pussy Toes
Once I’d seen some of the prairie, I ventured into the savanna area. Even though I thought I knew what to expect, it was much more than that. Having over a hundred acres to myself as I wandered along the trail and jumping off trail for a few photo opportunities, I was mesmerized not only by the plants I saw, but also by the plants I didn’t see. There were no maple trees choking out the oaks and hickories and no garlic mustard plants choking out the native wildflowers. It felt strange to see the same Shooting Stars I’d seen in the open prairie growing in a more shaded and wooded area. It also felt odd to see Mayapples, Wild Geraniums, and other woodland species growing in full sun. I loved the overall peaceful atmosphere of the more open woodland.
Shooting Star

I thought it was interesting to see a large culvert that acted as a travel tunnel underneath the road for bison to use when crossing from a north pasture to one to the south. I plan to revisit Nachusa to hike the wetland loop near the savanna loop. There are also hundreds of other prairie acres to explore to the north. Maybe they contain the same species I experienced near the visitor center, but I’m guessing there are many more. Since there are a total of more than 700 plant species on the Nachusa site, there is definitely another adventure or two waiting to happen in my future. I encourage you to visit this area to view plants and animals we don’t normally have a chance to see in a natural setting that more closely resembles Illinois in the past, before our rich prairie soils were converted to other uses. They don’t call Illinois the Prairie State for nothing.

Shagbark Hickory

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Friendships Across the Miles and Over the Decades

April was a wonderful whirlwind of activity for me. Not only is it a busy time at work and home, but the release of the eighth book in the Nature Station Mystery Series, April Showers, made for an even busier month. However, I enjoyed every minute of it!

I normally schedule one book event per month, sometimes two, but rarely three! April kicked off with the Bishop Hill Book Fair on April 1st. Not only was I an author participating in this event, but I was one of the organizers. Severe storms rolled through the night before, making last minute preparations a little tricky, as we made trips to the basement, and electricity flickered. As I drove to Bishop Hill in the strong winds, cool temperatures, and various forms of precipitation, looking at the devastation the storms had caused, I wondered how the turnout would be. Fortunately, book lovers don’t seem to mind venturing out in the elements to chat with local authors. I enjoyed not only networking with some of my favorite author friends, but also visiting with the loyal friends and family who stopped by to say hello and show their support and made new many new acquaintances as well.  

The next event was a much warmer and sunnier day and was held at the Wordsmith Bookshoppe in Galesburg. I’d spent the morning baking for Easter, so I had to “book it” to make it to Galesburg in time. Luckily the owner, Teri, had everything set up, and I breezed in and had a great afternoon chatting with past teachers, co-workers, dear friends of the family, local author friends, and others. It was a fun and rewarding afternoon. Teri is so supportive of local authors and does a wonderful job with her customers as well. 

My third event was held at Peck Farm Park in Geneva, a park district property. This was an Earth Day celebration and one that is well attended. The rain, sleet, snow, grappa, ice, and other precipitation forms may have prevented some people from attending, but I enjoyed visiting with those who stopped by to chat and to purchase books. I read aloud from “Rachel and Sammy Visit the Prairie,” since this property boasts a beautifully restored prairie, in addition to original outbuildings and an Italianate style house. I brought along an order of Rachel and Sammy books that will be stocked at the park’s gift shop.

While all that was wonderful, it was the meetups that took place that day that really made things shine. The night before I received a message from my college suite-mate, Heidi, telling me she lived within walking distance of the venue. She came to visit while I was setting up, and it was great to see her after several years. I had already arranged to meet my mom’s cousin, Mary, afterwards for a late lunch. Mary arrived in time to help me pack up my goods. It was fun to catch up with Mary and her husband while she showed me some local sites, and we ate a delicious lunch together.

Earlier that morning I had discovered that my friend, Matteo, from Italy was visiting his brother and family in Chicago. It didn’t work out to meet that day, but even better, we made arrangements to meet a few days later. We spent a fun day of hiking at Matthiessen and Starved Rock State Parks and catching up on thirty years of news. We had originally met at an environmental work camp in East Germany in 1990. Later that week I heard from a mutual friend from that same camp, who lives in Denmark. Pia and I had a great conversation--sharing photos and catching up on our daily lives. Ah, the wonders of technology that allow us to stay in touch across the miles. I have been blessed to be able to visit both my friends in their respective countries, as well as when they have visited the U.S.  

I also enjoyed chatting with shop owners when delivering my new releases in April. I have been doing business with some of them since my first book was published in 2010. With all these wonderful social interactions throughout the month we promised to stay in touch and meet up down the road. These are not empty promises on my part. My circle of friends is not huge, but it is long-lasting and loyal. While I am not always in the mood to be social, book events are the exception. Some authors prefer to bypass local events, but I always enjoy them. What perfect opportunities not only to showcase my work, but to also strengthen existing relationships and form new ones. 

The world is a big and scary place, but it is smaller and friendlier when you know there are people who are there for you—across the miles and throughout the decades.

Pictures taken at Matthiessen State Park







Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Just in time for Spring, Eklund Publishing recently released April Showers, the eighth book in the Nature Station Mystery Series by Jannifer Powelson. 

Kristen Stevenson, owner of the Nature Station, is excited to welcome her first guests to the Nature Station’s newest addition—the recently renovated Corncrib. The new living quarters are shipshape, but once guests arrive for a weekend retreat, things begin to go awry—and in a big way when a body is found after dinner the first night.

When Kristen and her friends start showering retreat guests with questions to determine if one of them is the culprit, they discover more than they bargain for. Is the murderer one of the guests or someone much closer to home? As Kristen tiptoes through beautiful spring woodland wildflowers during a peaceful April shower, will she come face to face with a vicious murderer?

The author will officially be launching this newest release at upcoming events.

Saturday, April 1st - Bishop Hill Book Fair - 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. - Creative Commons

Saturday, April 8th - Wordsmith Bookshoppe - 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. - Galesburg

Copies of this book are available, along with Powelson’s other titles, online and from several local retailers. 

Print ISBN: 979-8-374194-5-24

Print Edition: $11.95 

Kindle: $4.99

Purchase from Amazon