1. Published
    Vickie Hansen knew that when she retired, she didn’t want to “retire.”

    She had heard the stories. A person retired, didn’t have a plan on what to do with the time, and quickly wasted away. And she knew the science. Continued mental stimulation and problem solving are good for maintaining thinking skills. Maintaining social engagement is associated with staving off chronic disease, and staying physically active, even if it's just walking, can lead to both better health and sharper thinking skills.

  2. Published

    “Forty-two pounds of Edible Fungus
    In the Wilderness a-growin’
    Saved the Settlers from Starvation,  
    Helped the founding of this Nation.”

                    - Robert McCloskey, 1943

  3. Published

    Illinois is world famous for its snakes. This week, a road in Southern Illinois – Snake Road to be exact – closes to vehicles as it does every year so migrating reptiles and amphibians can safely cross.

  4. Published

    Garlic mustard, just two little words can bring a groan from naturalists across the Eastern United States. But garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, also known as Poor Man’s Mustard, Hedge Garlic, Garlic Root and Jack-by-the-Hedge didn’t start out in this country as a menace.

  5. Published

    By the time February rolls around, many of us are longing for springtime.  Spring brings a renewal of plant life in our forests, the arrival of the first batch of neotropical birds migrating back from their southern winter homes, and the awakening of reptiles and amphibians that have been long dormant during the frigid temperatures of winter.  Skunk cabbage’s emergence out of the soil, the first calls of spring peepers, red maple buds bursting into bloom, and woodcock displaying in the meadows at dusk are all proof that spring is on its way.  But for me, the most

  6. Published

    When we think of the bawdy, overbearing characteristics of alien invasive species, often what first comes to my mind is their early-to-rise, late-to-bed season of growth. By emerging earlier than our natives, invasive species leaf out, scoop up all that precious sunlight and moisture, then quickly shade out the natives under their canopy that are still waiting for their time in the sun, which may never come.  

  7. Published

    A couple of months ago, a Master Naturalist sent in an interesting photo of a bird. It was dark brown on the back with a reddish-brown belly but with white discoloration all over its body. Almost like nature’s printer was having ink issues as our bird was printed. Upon closer inspection, our Master Naturalist found the bird was a robin, but a special kind called colloquially: “piebald.” Some search on this topic found that this bird is not albino, but a term called leucistic.

  8. Published

    Have you heard about the celebration of the whistle pig? Maybe its more common name, Groundhog Day, rings a bell.

    Every year, Punxsutawney Phil’s appearance on February 2 is a reminder we are halfway through winter and – shadow or no shadow – spring is on its way.

  9. Published

    I distinctly remember being in a car with my parents one early morning.  My father, an agronomist, knew endless amounts of nature information. He knew more than just everything about soil and creating high bushel numbers for our local farmers. He knew secrets, at least that is what I believed, and he often described the simple wonders of nature to me from the front seat.

  10. Published

    Welcome to winter. During this cold and snowy time, many American Indian cultures use the time for traditional storytelling. Storytelling serves two main purposes, entertainment and education. And the really good stories do both. Hearing a story or reading a book is like receiving a gift from the storyteller or author.  In Native American cultures, a gift of tobacco is offered to the storyteller before the story begins as a sign of respect. The storyteller will often take the tobacco outside and place it on the earth as an offering to the spirits of the story.

  11. Published

    Late fall and early winter provide an opportunity for a rare glimpse at a fascinating phenomenon, if you are willing to get up early!  Frost flowers, also called ice flowers, are thin, often undulating ribbons of ice that form at the base of certain plants.  This happens when the air temperature drops below freezing, but the soil temperature remains relatively warm.  Frost flowers usually appear in late fall as the temperatures drop below freezing at night but can also form in spring sometimes or in warmer stretches of winter.

  12. Published

    As part of nature ourselves, humans feel a connection with the natural world-a feeling I don’t have to explain to any of you. This connection has caused us to seek out nature or integrate more natural elements into our landscapes. Prior to the Landscape Parks Movement in the 1870’s, our urban landscapes held little to no trees, and parks were few and far between.

  13. Published

    When I chose the shrublands habitat to cover for this blog post, I thought a great way to start would be to interview my Master Naturalists who are extremely active and well-versed in local restoration work. They know the natural areas of Will County like the back of their hand. So, I was surprised when they said, what shrubland?

  14. Published

    A big white school bus decorated with colorful flowers and butterflies pulls into the parking lot. Ms. Mariposa has arrived! The doors of the mobile classroom opens and out comes the “Butterfly Lady”. Smiling and energetic, Rhonda Brady alights from the driver’s seat and nimbly comes down the stairs, drawing children and adults alike.

  15. Published

    The Beaver Moon was at its fullest this morning at 3:30 a.m. CDT. My unreasonable alarm, set for 3:15 a.m. to view it, was for nothing more than a drink of water. Here in northern Illinois it was overcast and only my faith in the moon’s existence was clear. However, as I peered half asleep at the glowing cloudy sky, I realized that this same shrouded moon had been viewed by my ancestors, my friends, and everyone who has ever been awake in the darkness.

  16. Published

    Imagine you are five years old and playing in the tall grass, feeling the spongy wet soil beneath your feet, when suddenly the quiet is interrupted by shockingly loud, deep guttural calls all around you.   You are startled beyond your wits and leap out of the grass in a rush back to the house thinking some huge predator must be close at your heels.  That was my daughter’s introduction to crawfish frogs

  17. Published

    Growing up in central Illinois, I was familiar with swaths of Canada Geese migrating across the sky and their characteristic HONK!, but after moving to Northeastern Illinois, I have discovered the joy of a slightly more charismatic bird that captures the hearts of naturalists and nature enthusiasts alike with their Gurrooo-gurroo-gurroo calls and large migrating flocks.

  18. Published

    September blue is not a paint color option at the home improvement store, though it should be.

    September blue is the distinct color of the sky in that imperceptible month between the last heated days of August and the ever so popular start of fall in October. In land management and conservation work, it is the breath between constant labor-intensive work, with all volunteers on deck, and winter when work is at the mercy of the weather. 

  19. Published

    The mighty white oak tree, Quercus alba, has long been the subject of folklore and legend. Sometimes called the “King of Trees,” the oak is often associated with titans in the pagan pantheon, Zeus and Thor to name just two.

    In Illinois, we recognize its importance and have named the white oak our state tree. We celebrate the month of October as Oak Awareness Month or Oaktober fest.

  20. Published

    Illinois is the prairie state, but don’t think all prairies are the same.  While deep-soil, tallgrass prairie dominated much of the landscape, other prairie types found niches too.