Thursday, May 25, 2006

Working to Beautify Buildings and Gardens

Dropping by the Little Egypt Arts Association yesterday on the Marion Square, I was not surprised to find Neal and Patty Morrison hard at work with the exciting remodeling going on there. LEAA is revamping their building's upstairs after decades of not being in use, and they are uncovering history at the same time. Marion residents remember the downstairs as the home of Albrights, where we could find nice men’s shirts and ties for Christmas presents. Not many remember ever being upstairs.

Volunteer electricians, plumbers, painters, the Morrisons and others are in the midst of making this fine building, donated by the Powell family, a fitting home for the visual and performing arts. Located in a prime location close to the Civic Center, LEAA is giving our area something to look forward to with pride.

Gay blocks of multicolored tile greet you as you enter the first upstairs room from the new second staircase, which was required by fire and safety codes. (The old staircase on the opposite end of the building enters from the street from the days when doctors and others used the upstairs as their office quarters.) Last week the Morrisons carefully laid the donated blocks to create the most attractive pattern possible. Patty also said they had learned to “mud” to cover up flaws and problems with the ancient walls. The result looks good. A center upstairs room with lesser amounts of light is planned for quilters and watercolorists, which will help protect their work.

Much thought and effort is being exerted in making this major expansion of LEAA headquarters into an even greater valuable addition to the Marion Square. The children who take art classes and those of us who love to view the beautiful paintings in the downstairs gallery have always appreciated LEAA. Now we will be enjoying the improvements made by all this donated labor for years to come. Working in the l00-year-old accumulation of dirt and grime is not easy nor pleasant work, but the results are pleasant.

Continuing to Katherine’s house, I relished seeing the beautiful tall healthy lilies blooming brightly around their front lawn lamppost. In their backyard, I see my mother’s lilies that Katherine dug up at Pondside Farm before we left there. Out her bedroom window is the only remaining lilac bush that survived of the eight small plants she dug from beneath the old bush we loved so. This lilac bush too is healthy and growing taller each year, and Katherine hopes it will bloom next spring. Maybe I will get a start from it. She had dug the lilacs up from hard baked earth in hot July sun five years ago, when no one with MS should have been outside--let alone digging up plants.

She had also transplanted some of the lily of the valley plants that lined our walk at Pondside Farm, They were given to us by our late friend Helen Lee, the mother of Katherine’s friend Karen who died at 18 in a tragic car accident going to work in Harrisburg. Unless there is a plant or two left in her far-back shade garden, which we didn’t check yesterday, these plants did not make it through last year’s remodeling construction. These flowers were against the park fence and not in the path of the construction, yet the plants and the protective brick around them oddly disappeared during the late fall when the family had to be out of their house.

Yesterday morning Katherine had noticed two young men with weed eaters working at her next-door neighbors, and she wheeled out to ask them if they’d use their weed eaters for a quick front lawn task she needed done. She quickly wheeled back in to get her check book thinking whatever they charged would be worth it and came back with the check partially written out. The young men would have none of the check. She laughingly said she planned to tell her husband that she had weed eated yesterday morning and see his reaction. All of us are profiting from the beauty she created with much effort and pain before her chair became a full-time necessity.

Generous volunteers and good-hearted workers creating beauty make life richer and worth living.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Duckling Disasters and Foul Fowls

What a difference a day makes. One day we were happy and confident in this year’s duckling population. The next day things changed.

We woke up last Thursday in a hurry to take off for Green Tree Elementary School at Lake Saint Louis, where Gerald was to be an honored guest at the fifth graders’ luncheon. This event climaxes the biography project, and the students present the honorees with spiral-bound books of their life stories.

As we both frequently do, I started my day by looking out our bedroom window. Gerald likes to see the large carp feeding in the lake early in the morning. I always hope to catch a glimpse of the multi-colored ducks with their amazing and beautiful feather patterns. That morning I was wondering if any baby ducks might have hatched overnight in the nest below our window. Sure enough looking down, I could see movement of baby ducks and felt excitement at their birth. Then to my horror, I looked up and several feet away in a weird position the mother duck was lying motionless. I ran calling Gerald, who always gets up hours before I do. He hadn’t looked out the window that morning. We ran outside to find the mother duck was headless--we blame an owl. Gerald gathered up the eight ducklings (altho he could not get the little wiggly things counted right then) and he took them to a warm overhead light in a pen in his shop, gave them water, and starter mash. He had not planned to mother any of our ducklings this year; he was going to let nature take its course under the mother ducks’ watch. However, there was already one duckling there under the light in the little pen.

Why? Well, we’d been bragging on the first mama duck who had hatched her eggs this season. For several days, she had been keeping all eight ducklings alive. Even the afternoon before, we had looked out and enjoyed seeing the mama duck walking across the lawn. Only five babies were left to follow her, but that is better than most of our mother ducks have done, so that was good enough to make us happy. And they were so cute. We noticed a couple of drakes nearby.

It had started sprinkling, and we were leaving the farm to go look at plant nurseries for some flowers to put in the new rock garden Gerald is creating beside his shop. As we passed where the ducks had been in the lawn, there were the five little ones huddled together and no older ones around. Gerald was upset, but I wasn’t. In my heart, I was confident that mother was probably close by in the shrubbery or someplace. I could not imagine her deserting those tiny fluffy little ones.

When we got back home, one baby duckling was alone on our patio. Gerald caught it and cuddled it and rode all over looking for the mother and the others thinking it may just have gotten separated from the gang. Not only did he not find the deserting mother and the four other ducklings, neither was there any sight or sign of the second mother duck who had hatched about the same number of little ones.

So we left for Lake Saint Louis with heavy hearts altho our friend Scott and little Katie were to look out for the ducklings in the shop while we were away. They did a good job, and we had eight ducklings under the light when we checked on them Saturday night.

Sunday morning I started that day by hurrying out the front door to check the setting duck under the azalea bush. I stopped abruptly. Our front sidewalk was covered with droppings. And our front porch. Not a pretty sight. I had been so amazed that with all these ducks around, our patio and front porch and sidewalk remained clean. Our experience with the geese years ago at the other farm house had not been so pleasant. I found it odd that after four years we suddenly had this problem. But I got a bucket of water, soap, and a broom and cleaned the area. (What I did not know was that Gerald, who had gone downstairs when he got up, had seen the same thing all over our walk-out lakeside patio. He cleaned that with a hose later in the day.)

Not too much later, I looked out the front door again and there on the sidewalk were the two parent geese and their seven children, who are now quite gawky and amazingly large. When I started out the door, the nine geese ran off and oddly have not been back on the sidewalk or patio since. I guess our being away lured them up to our quarters to investigate. Although the ducks are all over our yard, usually the geese have kept their distance at the edge of the lawn down by the lake.

So now I know one important difference in ducks and geese: ducks have better potty habits. When we walked around the lake the next day, I loved seeing the two adult geese guiding their seven goslings off the island and into the water. I just hope these geese continue to know their place!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Spring Green and Other Delights

A quail is whistling, “Bob White,“ as I walk to the mail box. The killdeer are screaming fiercely for my attention as they fly up and away from the gravel in our lane. They really don’t need to fuss and try to fool me like that. I will not likely find their eggs in the gravel at the edge of the roadbed even though I will look for the nest. I did see one nest last year. The eggs were in plain view, but still were almost invisible lying there camouflaged with the gravel around them.

Everything is lush and so brightly green that it is almost overwhelming after winter’s duller colors. The lavender iris that Scott and Sonje gave us from a family farm up north are blooming profusely, and I saw one yellow bud on the day lilies beside the house. Gerald’s garden is up and growing.

We found out that the “bachelor goose” that was honking so incessantly was indeed guarding a nest and not a bachelor after all. Gerald and I were riding the “mule” around the lake and saw a head sticking up in one of the floating nests he had made a couple of summers ago. He had earlier seen a duck nest there that evidently the predators had reached. Yesterday he pedaled out in the pedal boat and saw the nesting goose there on her eggs.

We have had two nests of ducklings hatched. The first mama had eight babies, and so far she has kept them alive, which is very different than our previous experience. Gerald thinks maturity has somehow taught this second-time mom ways to be more wary. We haven’t seen the second set of baby ducks since the mother took them to water. There is yet another nest outside out bedroom window and one in the front lawn under an azalea bush.

The martins are peering out from the openings in their house, and we assume there are little ones inside. The hummingbirds are back from Mexico. The red-bellied woodpecker still comes to the deck for a treat of suet that Gerald has stuffed in holes he made in a beaver-log turned bird feeder.

Gerald went to the island and had to knock five ticks off his clothing when he left there. I have been wanting to go over, but that slowed my desire. He has mowed a wide swath all around the lake for walking, and so far I’ve not had any unwelcome visitors. Ticks are definitely not one of spring’s delights.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Two-Parent Family with Seven Goslings

Gerald and I looked up from the breakfast table this morning to see two adult geese marching with great dignity across our lawn with their seven babies parading behind. How those children are growing! The family were on their way to the gravel in our long driveway to get some rock for their craws, I think. Later they turned back to the lakeside and headed south and eventually went back to water. They can also be seen down the lane crossing the gravel to get to our neighbor's wheat field.

I did not see the family when I took a walk around the lake at twilight last night, but one lonely goose was talking at the top of his voice the entire time I approached that side of the lake. We keep wondering if he has a mate someplace with a nest, but if so, Gerald has not found it. He stayed in place until I was very close. I tried talking to him soothingly as I approached assuring him I would not hurt him. But he left anyway. Jumping in and swimming out into the lake, he kept honking noisily.

Remembering my brother Jim's story this weekend about our father having a problem with his sheep herd being attacked by dogs or other animals, I started singing to the goose. The goose did not respond to the song. Jim had recalled that Daddy could not get the sheep to come up to safety at night. One evening with his work done, he went out on to the porch in the cooler air to play his violin. Before he knew it, here came the sheep. His problem was solved. He played for them each evening and they came up to their pen.

Although my singing did not attract the swimming goose back to lakeside, the goose's vocalizing may have had a similar effect on his friends. As if the honker had called them in, here came two geese from the field across the road below us to fly low over the water toward the other end of the lake. I stood and watched in awe at their beauty, strength, and skill as they glided rapidly through the air over the lake which was reflecting the pink and lavender twilight clouds above. As I continued walking, the sky was darkening and, thus, the lake was also. The ducks were gathered on the small dock near the lawn seemingly ready to settle down for the night. I undid the arms of my jacket tied around my waist and put it on and headed for the house.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sharing about Priscilla at Schingoethe Center for Native Americans

Fields of yellow mustard now brighten the Southern Illinois countryside. Most of our flowering spring trees are already green, but as I traveled up to the northern part of the state to Aurora, I was able to enjoy the flowering red bud, pear, dogwood, and other blooming trees all over again.

I left Woodsong on Saturday to go to Mattoon to visit my brother Jim and his wife Vivian. Finally I got to meet 17-month old Willow, my great grand niece. Her mother Leana (my great niece) and her grandmother Judi (my niece) were visiting with Jim and Vivian when I arrived. Just like I had been told, Willow is a live wire who was busy every minute exploring. I did not try to hold her because a success would have lasted only a few seconds. Instead I enjoyed receiving the magazines and other items she rushed around the room gathering and bringing to me and her great-grandparents. With blue eyes, light complexion, and lovely blond curls, her beautiful face would have made an exquisite doll. As the evening progressed, she did not slow down but her little face registered fatique, and I bet she was asleep in the car seat before her mother had her back home to Charleston.

On Sunday I met Dr. Darrell Latch at Arcola in front of his power lifting gym to ride the rest of the way to Aurora University where the Illinois Trail of Tears Association was meeting at the Schingoethe Center. A beautiful facility with artfully arranged displays in the museum, the small library, and auditorium, the curator Meg Bero has crated an exciting and colorful environment to help us appreciate native Americans.

I enjoyed sharing the story of Priscilla, the Hollyhock Girl, who was freed from slavery off the 1838 Trail of Tears in the southern part of the state. And I invited folks down to the annual Memorial Day weekend open house held at Silkwood Inn, where Priscilla lived, from l0 to 4 on Saturday and Sunday. Sponsored by the West Franklin Historical Society as well as the Mulkeytown Historical Society, the museum in the former Mulkeytown School will be open as well.

Arriving back in Mattoon to Jim and Vivian's, I was ready to relax over late-evening sandwiches and with late-night visiting. We finally went to bed a little after midnight and slept in very late Monday morning. More visiting over a late breakfast and an afternoon lunch at Sullivan, where Jim took me around the square so I could at least see the theater there that I have read so much about. Finally at five, I figured I better be on the road again to head home. Gerald and Gerry were also headed home from Louisville, KY, where they had gone back to see Erin and Notre Dame play a double header after the games were rained out on Sunday. We hoped to possibly meet at Mt. Vernon for supper, but I was enough ahead of them that we didn't try that rendevouz.