Tag Archive | humor

November in Spring Valley

Not living in the country, I have to be a bit resourceful when it comes to nature rambles. Of course we see plenty of wildlife in our own back yard but walking around the garden a couple of times doesn’t really constitute a ramble, does it.  Nor does going to the local parks, one of which is devoted mainly to sports and the other two which, although admittedly have ponds and a few trees, are just too open to the public gaze.  Whip out a pair of binoculars or a camera and the walkers immediately think you’re up to no good. It’s not that I’m planning to do anything weird or subversive you understand.  It’s just that if I want to get down on the ground and talk to a toad at eye level I don’t want someone reaching for the nearest phone and calling for the men in white coats to take me away.  Nature ramblers, I’m sure, will understand this sentiment.

Even the Forest Preserves are not always conducive to nature rambles especially when you have to pick your way through Coke cans, used condoms and soiled diapers.  I’m sure the people who leave these things strewn about are not nature lovers!  We are lucky enough, however, to have several very nice nature centers in our area and Spring Valley is one of my favorites. It’s only about a fifteen minute drive away and the walk itself, once you get there, is just far enough to provide healthy exercise without having to send out for a rescue party.

The opportunities for photography are good too. Apart from the trees, fields, ponds and streams and the wildlife therein, there is a small farm where they keep cows, horses, pigs and, sometimes, sheep. Spring Valley is owned and maintained by the local park district and has, over the years, turned out to be quite a successful venture as far as I can tell. Best of all, it’s secluded enough that you can commune with nature without having to worry about a cyclist or roller-blader running up the back of your legs every five minutes.

A ramble through Spring Valley is always interesting at any time of the year and November is no exception. Autumn colors still linger and woodpeckers beat a tattoo among the branches as they look for any bugs that haven’t yet completed their life cycle.  Although the frogs seem to have tucked themselves in for the winter, there are still a few ducks bobbing about on the water and the squirrels are dashing about among the leaves busily burying goodies for later consumption.

This is also the time of year when volunteers assemble to perform what is called, I believe, a controlled burn (something I do quite often , figuratively speaking, when I get particularly annoyed about something.) This process is very interesting to watch, from a secure distance.  You would imagine that once something like this got started it would quickly get out of hand, but the people in charge know what they’re doing and the flames, having done their job of clearing the way for fresh growth next spring, are safely doused.  Soon the winter will be here and the ice and snow will make it difficult to get around so I’ll make the most of these dwindling Autumn days and spend as much time as possible in this pleasant suburban sanctuary.


Autumn Leaves

I just love the colors of Autumn!

I prefer the word Autumn to the American term of Fall. Autumn conjures up visions of fiery red and golden yellow leaves, tawny grass and orange pumpkins. Fall, on the other hand, merely summons up a picture of me lying sprawled on my back on the ice last winter. It’s such a negative word! You can be heading for a fall, watch the stock prices fall (as my husband is always pointing out to me), fall out with people or fall by the wayside. No, I think I’ll stick to Autumn!

Every year I make my Autumn pilgrimage to the Morton Arboretum and I realized recently, looking back on all the photos that I’ve ever taken there, that I’m shooting the same scene, the same tree year after year. But its not the same, is it. Oh, it’s the same trunk, the same branches, maybe a bit bigger than the year before, but the leaves are different. They’re not the same leaves that were there last year. A new party frock, granted the same color but seen in perhaps a slightly different light, a little gaudier than last Autumn or a tad more subdued depending on the weather.

I’ve tried to vary my Autumn shots to include close-ups of leaves on the ground, floating on water, clinging to life on the end of a twig, swirling through the air or patterned against a clear blue sky.  The trick is to take them so they don’t look too contrived. And to be honest, some of them are. Nature doesn’t always look the way we would like it to and there are times when you have to improvise. I remember my dear mother standing off-camera, hurling armfuls of leaves into the air while I tried to catch them on film floating gracefully to the ground, exhorting her to “Chuck ‘em up higher! HIGHER!!”

But it’s not just how the leaves look in Autumn that is so captivating. It’s the sound they make too. The crunch as you kick through them on a walk through the woods, the rustling, skittering noise they make as the wind blows them hither and yon, the swish as you rake them into a pile on the side of the road to await collection by the village vacuum cleaner.

Buy a kid the most expensive toys and they won’t have half as much fun with them as playing in a drift of crackling Autumn leaves.

Soon they’ll all be gone but isn’t it nice to know that in the Spring the cycle will begin all over again and we can look forward to a new harvest of Autumn leaves.

A Rose By Any Other Name…….Is Worth Photographing

Experimental psychologist Dr. Gustav Fechner first advocated it in 1848. Famed American horticulturist Luther Burbank endorsed the idea many years later. Prince Charles does it and what’s good enough for him is good enough for me.

People may think I’m talking to myself out there in the garden but I’m not. I’m talking to the flowers. And why not? They don’t answer back, give me any lip, and best of all, seem to thrive on a few well-chosen words of encouragement.

“Good job, peonies! Nice try, delphiniums! Better luck next year, hydrangeas!” (Sounds a bit like the Cubs, doesn’t it.)

I’ve always loved gardening and taking photos is, for me at least, part of the process. Just as taking shots of our girls in their pretty prom dresses was a given, so snapping pictures of the roses, irises and poppies in full bloom every year is a must.

“Beautiful! Just look this way, daffodils! Say cheese, lupines! Show us what you’ve got, foxgloves!”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Nature is a wonderful thing. It provides the most exuberant colors, intricate shapes and fascinating textures, all of which can be captured on film and pored over during the long winter evenings when every living thing outside lies beneath a blanket of snow, keeping our hopes and dreams for the next growing season alive until the first snowdrop valiantly pushes its way through into the sunlight.

Photos of hollyhocks, chrysanthemums and daylilies stand right alongside portraits of Grandma and Great Uncle Arthur in our albums. Some of the perennials in our garden have been with us so long they are just like part of the family now, and one can’t help feeling a certain amount of parental pride when, having carefully sown zinnia and cosmos seeds in the spring and tenderly nurtured them through flood, drought and rabbit attack, they finally burst into flower.

But like all children they are bound to get into trouble now and then. I was once accosted by an irate neighbor who launched into a diatribe aimed at “THOSE BLOODY MARIGOLDS!” (They had a tendency to spread themselves around and invade his garden periodically.) I remember drawing my breath in sharply and it was all I could do to stop myself from running and putting my hands over their ears. Or at least, I would have done if they’d had any.
There are many places in the Chicago area where you can take some very nice pictures of flowers. The Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe is the first that springs to mind but there are other, less obvious locations.

Cantigny Park in Wheaton has some beautiful gardens which is in itself rather ironic when you consider that a large part of the grounds is given over to the commemoration of World War I, which was anything but a bed of roses.

The Shakespeare Garden, established in 1915 by The Garden Club of Evanston, is a picturesque and secluded spot on Northwestern’s Evanston Campus which proved to be so secluded that it would have been quicker for me to find and dig up Shakespeare himself, but the search was well worth the effort. A note of interest; all the plants and flowers growing here are mentioned in one or another of The Bard of Avon’s works.

Lurie Garden, located at the southern end of Chicago’s Millennium Park is certainly good for a picture or two. The garden is named after Ann Lurie whose $10 million endowment helps to pay for  maintainence and upkeep.  That’s a lot of lettuce in anyone’s parlance.

Of course, there are certain advantages to taking photos in your own back yard. You can do a little judicious pruning; get rid of a stray leaf or odd stalk that just doesn’t belong in the picture. Try doing that at the Botanic Gardens and you’d quickly be shown the exit; go in there armed with a pair of secateurs and a trowel and you’d probably find your mug-shot up on the wall with the ten most invasive weeds.

If you are planning on doing a spot of home garden photography, here are a few tips that might just be of some help.
There’s nothing like going out first thing in the morning and taking a picture of a rose petal covered in dew; but failing that, you can always take the spray bottle with you and give things a quick squirt. Just make sure that it’s water in there and not the leftovers from the color job you gave your hair the night before.

Try to avoid photographing flowers on a windy day. I’ve taken too many shots where the breeze has blown just at the crucial moment and produced a tantalizingly blurred image or worse still, blasted the subject out of the picture altogether. I have, on occasion, tried to pass some of these blurred results off in competition as artistic or experimental photography but the judges never seem to fall for it.

Don’t be afraid to scream if an earwig drops inside your shirt. The neighbors will merely think it’s creative genius at work.   And above all, remember, in order to get the best results, get to know your flowers; have a friendly chat. You’d be surprised what a quiet conversation with a carnation can do.