My lofty dreams of a snowy winter, where I could walk along frozen paths and enjoy the glistening sunshine have all been dashed and I find myself scraping mud from my boots at the end of the day.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Wild Things Conference at the University of Illinois Chicago. The event happened to fall on one of those rare winter days that fooled everyone into believing it was spring. Warm, sunny and with crystal clear air, Chicago was at it's finest. The mood of the day was friendly all around the city and at the conference.

Every year about this time, Argyle Lake State Park holds it's Maple Syrup Festival. I had the opportunity to attend the event about two weeks ago on a fine Saturday morning. The park has good stands of sugar maple trees(Acer saccharinum) well suited for tapping and collecting sap for boiling down for syrup or sugar. They have developed a great festival to display to the public how this old time tradition is carried out not only here but in many places across North America.

On an unusually warm and sunny December day, I had the pleasure of accompanying a small group of local girl scouts on their outing to Big River State Park.

The objective of the day was to learn about trees and identify at least 5 different trees on our hike.

Today, on this Earth Day, I planted a forest. One Hundred and Eighty tree seedlings is a tiny bit of what it is going to take to re-forest these acres, but it's a start.

The land I live on was once a forested along Henderson Creek on rolling terrain with breaks where prairie appeared, and bottom lands were rich in a diversity of plants. This is the western edge of The Grand Prairie Division.

This season has been a rather extraordinary one for the glowing bugs. I am treated nightly to quite a show. It seems there is more this year than before. A good thing for a species that has seen numbers decline.

The firefly is not actually a fly but a nocturnal member of the beetle family. In the order Coleoptera, the family name Lampyridae comes from the Greek lampesin or "to shine."

The chemical reactions they create in their bodies is now known as bioluminescence, and it occurs in other creatures around the world as well.

Fall arrived this year rather late. The warm temps continued past the official start of the season and our area remained very dry for a time.

The beautiful colors that Sugar Maples typically display were missing.

Now, moving into late fall, a different kind of beauty has taken the place of Sugar Maple leaf color. Oaks will sometimes hold their leaves all winter but before it gets really cold these leaves turn a deep russet brown or sometimes golden yellow and the Red Oaks a bright orange-red.

About this time of year, a tiny flash of orange begins to appear along trails and paths through woodland borders and along meandering streams. This lovely little gem is Impatiens capensis also known as Orange Jewelweed, Spotted Jewelweed or Touch-Me-Not. From its Latin name you can guess what familiar garden plants it is related to. Native to North America, it is certainly a familiar bloom here in Illinois. It is a very sought after source of nectar for both bees and hummingbirds and so the pollination and success of Jewelweed here is high.

 

It was a winter warm night
So I zipped into my Carhart coat
And pulled my Peruvian hat
Down over my ears.

Not one small sliver of moon
Lit my solitary journey
Down a trail my boots
Knew by heart.

Perhaps late for city concrete
The ominous silhouettes
Belong to bear-sized cedars
Planted by birds.

The only real danger was me
Tripping over tiny changes
In the grassy elevations
Beneath my unsure feet.

On a beautiful Saturday morning in July, I had the pleasure of joining four other Master Naturalists for a walk along the trails at Blackthorn Hills Nature Preserve in Warren County.

This park is a prime example of our region's Grand Prairie-Forest division. There are old timbered areas that open up to prairie as well as forested bottom land along the meandering waters of South Henderson Creek.

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a hike at Argyle Lake State Park near Macomb. The walk was hosted by the resident state naturalist and was attended by a few other brave souls on a cold December morning.

This was the first time I had ever been to this state park. Despite being off the beaten path , the park entrance and visitors facilities are well maintained.

It is now approaching the end of May, and the trees have filled out, and the nests have been built and new life born this spring is emerging to explore the world. I will never tire of watching this story unfold year after year. In fact, it is why I choose to live in this part of the world where seasonal changes are more dramatic. There is joy in anticipating the changes to come from season to season.