Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Day in Thatcher Woods

Took a late afternoon walk in snowy Thatcher woods, rarely so beautiful. Everything white and quiet, and hardly any traffic on nearby streets--natural sounds usually in the background pushed forward and layered the air. A squirrel scolded;  I turned to peer through trees and soft falling snow to see a hawk launch heavily off a tall tree, ghostly gray.

I walked north along the path on the river's snowy, icy eastern bank. Near the railroad tracks, some teens were sledding down an old high mound, once debris, now smoothed by age and overgrowth and years of sledding. Their newly matured voices rang out, distinct in their individual, blocky tones. As I went on and their voices faded, I grew very conscious of the trees next the path--for once undistracted by summer green or autumn russet--seeing clearly their size and age--the extreme corkiness of the bur oaks' bark, all furrowed and ridged; the smoother strips of the red oak; the diamond weave that marks the green ash; the textured patchiness of the maple. At intervals, I stood and looked and listened, before walking on. No sight of the usual deer, except tracks, of course.

I have seen the river nearly iced over, but today the central channel flowed, deep gunmetal gray, fairly low, so the current rippled and eddied around obstacles; the sound of the water riffling over some rocks surprised me, for the river is normally a quiet presence in these parts. Further south is the noisy dam where people fish in summer. After awhile I reached the place where the river broadens and curves around an island, a place where many trees show the angular cuts and stumps have the cone-shaped tops that beavers create, a place where grasses flourish in an opening the beavers helped make. The snow lay heavy on what looked to be a dam across the channel between the island and the west bank, something I hadn't noticed as complete a month ago. All remained still.

Alone in the woods is very different from together in the woods. A quiet walk alone is sometimes the necessary thing. After standing awhile, dusk coming on, I turned and headed for home.

Best wishes to all for the coming year.

Update 12/28/10: Dave Coulter at Osage + Orange took a walk that day, too. He sent this picture.

Des Plaines River

Related Posts:
Gardening in Thatcher Woods With Help
Bloom Day
Behold the Inglorious Garlic Mustard

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lawncare Resources On the Web

No chemical lawn inputs, please
Ecological lawncare advice-givers and activist groups abound on the web. While preparing my post "The Polyculture Lawn," I discovered several helpful websites which I recommend for those interested in learning more about ecological lawns.

Because they are national in scope, a good understanding of your own local conditions is necessary before taking their advice. In addition, people interested in native-plant-centric gardens (in my opinion the best kind), should be aware that many plants--especially groundcovers--suggested as alternatives to turfgrass are exotics, and even invasive. That being said, go have a look.
  • The Lawn Reform Coalition at offers many suggestions and pictures.
  • Safe Lawns at News and information, and you can order "safe lawn" signs for your turf.

Related Posts:
Pollinator Garden Resources on the Web
The Polyculture Lawn: A Primer
Once in a Lifetime: This is Not My Beautiful Lawn

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    New Blog Design

    Introducing my updated blog design, which I hope readers will find more user friendly. To enhance the reading and browsing experience, I used cleaner colors (which coordinate with my personal business card), and put the text in Verdana instead of Arial. Verdana is designed for more comfortable online reading. I also added share features, and jump breaks ("read more") on longer posts so more content can appear on the front page. I'll continue tinkering with details as I get to it. Look for more informational pages tabbed across the top in coming months. What kinds of information would you like to see?

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    The Polyculture Lawn: A Primer

    Bee in Creeping Charlie
    During a recent conservation/climate change seminar, I happened to comment about the relationship of home gardens to natural areas; how we need to cease thinking of nature as being something over there, while our private yards and gardens are treated as separate; and how our gardens can help sequester carbon. Afterward, a woman came up to me, someone who had spoken knowledgeably about habitats, biodiversity of prairies, and the difference between C4 and C3 plant species. “Without using herbicides,” she said, “What am I to do about the creeping Charlie in my lawn? I just hate it.”

    A fellow gardener and I tried to explain: a polyculture lawn is ok—herbiciding creeping Charlie not worth the environmental cost (besides which it’s nearly indestructible)—it’s easy to pull up—it mostly grows in shady areas where grass has difficulty—bees like the flowers—looks nice in spring—don’t fight it…Well, she wasn’t going to hand weed it, thought she was allergic to it and lawns shouldn’t have flowers in them. We gave up; we had encountered another urban/suburban dweller who hadn’t yet realized that one of the best ways to do something about conservation and climate change is to change how you take care of your own land.

    Now, as we transition towards a less oil soaked, lower carbon way of life, many of us will realize, possibly of necessity, that of course there are all kinds of things we could do with our valuable urban and suburban land instead of having a lawn. However, until the day that there are chicken coops, beehives and clotheslines in every backyard, vegetable and pollinator gardens out front and bioswales along the side, I’m assuming most people will have a lawn of some sort. The thing is, as I’ve ranted here, there are conventional lawns and then there are post conventional, ecological lawns. After reading that post, a number of people asked, “Ok, so what is an ecological lawn and how do you make one?”

    My answer is that an ecological lawn is, above all, intentional and mindful. The ideal ecological lawn is appropriately sized for its purpose, thoughtfully placed, polycultural, and cared for by organic means according to natural seasonal cycles and time frames with inputs furnished from the property. A polyculture lawn, which some call a clover lawn, provides ecological services, increases biodiversity, helps manage and conserve water, and stores carbon. Not only that, it looks good, it’s safe for children and animals, and it’s cheap. All you have to do is move beyond the idea that a lawn should comprise grass and grass alone.

    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    Meteorological Winter

    Sleeping In

    I turned over my pillow and
    went off to sleep again; finally I
    turned over and stretched out;
    the papered windows are bright,
    so I know morning is here, yet
    I stay in bed because my quilt
    is as warm as spring;
    do not stop me from being lazy!
    Better to comfort me with
    pleasant words; outside the cock crows
    but I continue to sleep, no longer
    emulating those who
    attend early court.

    (Imperial audiences were held before sunrise. Translation, Rewi Alley)

    "Prairie" - Karen Hanmer
    So wrote Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi sometime in the early 800s. I woke thinking of that poem yesterday, the first day of meteorological winter. Cold weather has finally arrived for real, and we keep our house cool, especially at night: how I love the warmth under my quilt, how loath to emerge in the chilly gray morning!

    I can lie there feeling satisfied about the completion of fall garden tasks. Herbs harvested and frozen, and pesto made; a few jars of homemade jam placed on the shelf; seeds collected and saved; compost spread on the raspberry and rhubarb beds; leaves raked and either spread in the beds along the fence or composted; bean and morning glory vines pulled down and composted; one last weeding done; containers divested of their annuals (composted) and brought in the basement; the compost heap turned one last time. Other than some annual herbs cut after the first hard frost, I’ll wait until early spring to cut down anything else, so the garden looks like the season, full of russets and golds which will fade into browns and tans as winter progresses. Satisfied to let things be.

    Starting out through the garden on a morning walk, I hear a downy woodpecker singing an it’s-a-good-day song, and spot it high up, traversing the rough-barked trunk of the silver maple across the alley; as I crane my head back to look, I notice two red tailed hawks higher above, heading north on business.

    I give thanks for the non-human members of our biotic community who grace us with their presence; who, simply by living their lives, help make the earth a fit place to live, for themselves and for us.

    Related Posts:
    Blooms Day Since 1904
    National Poetry Month in the Garden