Magnolia tree walk

There are four large Magnolia trees in the neighborhood. They are commanding my attention now with a bounty of mostly-pink blooms. I must walk in their presence multiple times a day.

Siberian squill carpeted the area about a week ago. Here are two views of the blue beauty:


I was surprised by this unusual daffodil that made an appearance in the front yard, planted by an unknown person:

Peony shoots bring a deep-red stroke of color to the yard:

The crocus have come and gone already:


One of my favorite native flowering plants is bloodroot.  Two interesting facts about it:       1) the juice of the plant is red, and 2) the seeds are spread by ants. Here, the flower has not yet bloomed:

A few days later a patch of bloodroot seems to glow:

We said goodbye to an old friend. The tree trunk started to split in 2014 when a large limb from another tree fell on it during a storm. To buy some time we cabled and rope-tied both trunk pieces together. But it was time to make firewood for next winter.

I counted about 60 rings:

Three days ago I returned from the last work trip of my federal career. I was in the window seat of an exit row for the Chicago to Albany,NY flight. It was bumpy early on, so I closed my eyes and daydreamed. When it smoothed out I looked north out the window and tried to locate something familiar. (I do this.) After consulting the map in the airline magazine, I figured the plane was over Lake Erie. It took a few minutes but then I noticed two white masses over a large river. Yes – it was Niagara Falls! To provide an idea what this looked like, the below photo shows both falls (from the opposite direction, though): image - License=free to share and use 4/23/2017

I remember when airline pilots used to announce what state we were flying over, or a landmark. It was exciting! I once flew over the Grand Canyon on a clear blue-sky day and it was a fascinating sight.

Until next time,


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Rain on my face

I took a walk with the dog yesterday afternoon and didn’t wear a raincoat. And you can guess what happened – a plip plop here and there early on changed to a steady shower of coolness. The dog didn’t mind and I decided to have fun with it. We muddied our feet then ran through the puddles. Our faces were washed clean. It was a gratifying experience.

Snowdrops – always a welcome spring surprise:

Afternoon sunshine beaming on the state capitol and UW campus:

I can’t pass up a stunning sunset:


In late February a pair of Sandhill cranes displayed to one another in a nearby park:


Ice-out on the lake occurred with a wild wind on March 8th. In a few hours all of the ice was blown to the eastern shore:

Two days after ice-out I heard a high-pitched chatter and then saw two bald eagles at the edge of the lake:

An abundance of male robins invaded the area just before the latest snowstorm. At one point we counted 25 in the yard, snatching up the mature hackberries:

 The promise of growth is truly a miracle!


A friend gifted me with a container of worm castings (poop). I sprinkled it over several spring plantings as a nutritious treat:


A late-February storm produced a pebble-like snow. It caused a satisfying crrrruunch when I stepped on it.

By – Jeff Ford
These hills feel ancient today,
dense fog rising out of the snow,
cradled by bare arms of oak and elm.
Ravines usually dry, now filled,
water falling, dancing, tumbling
over rocks, following paths
carved out by the laughter of
a million spring snowmelts.
Sandhills appearing out of the mist
overhead, trilling their return from a
thousand lifetimes away.
Bare ground revealed, soggy,
breathing, the smell of sweet mud.
Nuthatches making small talk
as if this were an ordinary miracle.
I become still, roots sinking deeper,
pulling up gratitude,
the fog around me clearing my head.
This is home.


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Definition: the warmth of the sun in winter

When we have it, we love it!

January 1st

I take a long walk each first day of the year, and think about what was, what is, and what might be. And I try to notice.

This year I was pleasantly surprised to find a jumbled mass of ice panes near the shore of Lake Mendota.


From a different vantage point it looked like the entire lake was frozen for the first time of the season. (It was.)


Mendota Mental Health Institute is nearby and has multiple effigy (Indian) mounds. The picture below is of an Eagle effigy there, shaped like a large “T”. When I took this picture I was standing above and to the right of the “T”.


This plaque from 1910 is on the center part of the “T”:


We observed a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH at our feeder this day. It was a bit of a shock as we hadn’t seen one of these for several years.


On January 5th, four EASTERN BLUEBIRDs appeared at the feeder. To see a glint of royal blue as they flew was a treat. These two seem content to be sitting in the sun:



The squirrels have been performing acrobatics while trying to obtain a few fruits from the Hackberry trees.


It was a fine day for apricity. I took our dog Jimmy on a long walk on the Lake Mendota ice. Here are cross-country skate-skiing and ATV tracks.


Jimmy sniffed at each of these holes.




I enjoyed the play of gray colors seen on Lake Mendota as the ice melted last week during a warm spell.


The PINE WARBLER has remained nearby for several months now. It is glorious to see the familiar flash of bright yellow out the front window.


by Joseph Mills

On the Interstate, my daughter tells me
she only has two questions. I’m relieved
because she usually has two hundred.
I say, Okay, let’s have them, and she asks,
What was there before there was anything?
Stupidly, I think I can answer this:
There was grass, forests, fields, meadows, rivers.
She stops me. No, Daddy. I mean before
there was anything at all, what was there?
I say that I don’t know, so then she asks,
Where do we go when we die? I tell her
I don’t know the answer to this either.
She looks out the side, and I look forward,
then she asks if we can have some music.

– Jean

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Winter warbler

I’m back after a blog-rest. And there are plenty of pictures to share!

I’ll start with the present and go back in time…

The last week or so a PINE WARBLER has been visiting our suet feeder in the front yard. For the longest time we didn’t know what it was, even though we kept on thinking “warbler”. It shouldn’t be here this time of year! Sure enough, it was confirmed by the Wisconsin Birding group on Facebook to be a Pine warbler. AND, it was added to the official Wisconsin annual Christmas Bird Count for Dane county!


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A male Red-bellied Woodpecker also enjoys the feeders. Yesterday I watched for a few minutes and this bird would snatch a piece of peanut, fly to a nearby Hackberry tree, and jam the morsel into an opening in the bark.


Watching Lake Mendota undergo multiple changes during the winter is an interesting activity. The ice builds up and then recedes with the air temperature…and steam can rise from the warm water.

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A week in Berkeley, California to visit my daughter was a welcome change of scenery. The backyard of the Airbnb I stayed at was a work of art, and extremely calming. I discovered more about my host on this Quirky Berkeley website.


I come upon the most interesting things when walking the Berkeley neighborhoods. Painted murals are common. Here, I was surprised to see a Resplendent quetzal, a bird only seen from Mexico to Panama. (Once, my partner and I had a chance to get up early and try to see them when we were in Costa Rica and we decided to sleep in….yes, a regret)


Colorful flowers blooming in December? Oh ya.


Urban art on a student apartment building wall, discovered when walking downtown:


Another beauty that I passed multiple times:


In the front yard of the Airbnb is this towering Angel’s trumpet tree, with pendulous pastel yellow flowers. Some of the flowers were not yet fully bloomed and the tendrils were fascinating to me. I also snapped a few photos of the inside of a bloomed flower.

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Back home…in early November I woke up early on a weekend for a volunteer activity. I am not an early riser, and have been missing daybreaks like this all my life. Sigh.




My partner and I took a driving vacation in the late fall to Nashville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina. One day we hiked into the hills of Montreat College near Black Mountain. The leaf colors were muted but still provided a kaleidoscopic view.


I had no luck determining the name of this runty purple-flowering native plant we saw intermittently on the forest floor while on the hike back to the car.


Northern Mockingbirds are supposed to be in the U.S. year-round but I think I’ve only seen one in Wisconsin. They are surely in North Carolina, filling the air with their repetitive trills, warbles, and songs.


Back at home…this “Pineapple Sage” annual salvia plant only bloomed after the weather started turning cooler in September. But wow, what a stunning show, and the hummingbirds loved it.


Another profuse bloomer that attracts hummingbirds is Vermillionaire.


We discovered nearby Yahara Heights County Park this past summer, and have taken our dog Jimmy on several walks there. It has a peaceful, winding trail that hugs the shore of Cherokee Marsh.


I’m looking forward to a fresh start in 2017, how about you?




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Cedar Valley serenity

I recently allowed myself a four day retreat at Cedar Valley Resort in West Bend, Wisconsin. It is a no-thrills kind of place, but that’s fine with me. The trails through the property and peaceful environment are so relaxing. And the meals served are delicious! I’m sharing photographs without any captions…because they don’t need them.


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I started a new daily practice while here:

– 5 minutes of meditation

– Think of 3 specific things I am grateful for

– Do 1 kind act

I can’t get enough of this place.


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Take a walk outside and notice the many patterns in nature – shapes, colors, textures, behaviors, cycles – to name a few.

For instance, one night in August I stepped into the night air to take the dog for a short walk and yowza! The motion light outside the door revealed a large intricately woven spiderweb.  It was truly a work of art (or should I say architecture?). Later, I looked up “spiderwebs” online and learned that usually only females make webs, and the webs are all made out of silk. The silk is in liquid form until released from spinnarets (part of the abdomen) into the air, where it hardens.


Also in August I noticed two juvenile Robins in the front yard. I know they are young because of the large black spots on their feathered breasts, a pattern that is lost by the end of fall when new rust-colored feathers push out the old ones.


I stood up from working one afternoon for a stretch break and looked out the window to the backyard – and saw a Red Fox sauntering along the property line. It then stopped to perch on the neighbor’s firewood pile. I ran for the camera and thankfully he or she was still there by the time I returned. (The tree is more in focus…it was a rush job.) The fox’s pattern is orange-red fur on the back, sides, and head, with white fur under its neck and on its chest. There was a white tip on its tail too.


A vibrant zinnia has flowered from a seed packet handed out at my nephew’s wedding I attended in May:


One of my favorite perennials is Cardinal flower. Each flower has three lower petals and two upper petals. I think of our cat Max when I see these flowers because I scattered some of his ashes in the hole I dug when it was planted – because he was full of energy like the color red.


A friend gave me this ornamental grass two years ago. It is planted at the edge of the large rain garden in the backyard. A close-up of the seed heads reveal a spiky design:


A few findings from the summer of 2016 reveal the pattern of new bird life each year, the spiral design of a land snail, and the numerous delicate barbs of a Crow feather:


“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

-Henry David Thoreau


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Dazzling daylily display

The daylilies I planted in the backyard rain garden two years ago are blooming for the first time. These were a gift from a good friend, when she divided her plants.  Every day I must go outside and admire the blooms.  It is a stunning show and makes me happy! Here is a typical sight:


They are my 4th of July fireworks. Ooooh, ahhhh, wowza!

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I try to always have fresh water for the birds to bathe in:

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While poking around the backyard one day I stumbled upon the delicate and showy Pink Wild Columbine (interspersed with a healthy crop of Garlic mustard). I love these kinds of surprises. I’ve read that the blossoms look like birds in flight; you can see that best in the bloom on the left:


Siberian iris popped up new this year near the driveway. Last year, a neighbor gave me a few shoots and apparently it is happy here:


A “fauna” photograph is needed for balance about now, right?

Male and female Downy woodpeckers were stationed at the feeder one day. I didn’t know they like oranges!


Peonies! They are only in bloom a few days a year but reliably put on a big show. The darker two in the front are descendants from a peony plant in the yard where I grew up. The plant has been transplanted each time I moved – a total of four times. It reminds me of mom.


About ten Common milkweed plants have popped up this year in the front yard. I’m glad! They are flowering now. Monarch butterflies require milkweed so hopefully they will show up soon.


Here’s a photograph from our first canoe trip of the year – July 3rd – Lake Mendota:


Wishing you smooth paddling,


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