Monday, March 30, 2015

Birding Journal on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!

Last week I was so excited to find out my book, "Birding Journal: Through the Seasons" was on Tina Fey's new show, "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"!  Earlier in the week my friend Christina emailed me she saw my book on the show.  I assumed it was in the background somewhere.  Then the next day my friend Margot emailed me this photo and I couldn't believe it...front and center!  In the scene Ellie Kemper (who plays Kimmy) is trying to prove how nerdy her employer's step-daughter is and she holds up the book and says something like, "Look, she even has a waterproof birding journal."  It is probably in the scene for five to ten seconds.

I had heard good things about the show but I don't have Netflix.  However, I am going to my Dad's for a week where I plan on binge watching the whole show.  If any of you watch the show keep an eye out for it in Episode 10 at 21:40!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sketch of St. Mark's

Last weekend Christina and I walked over to Evanston to sketch St. Mark's church.  Every time I get off the highway I drive by this beautiful church and admire the tower.  The church is no longer open but there is a school attached to it that is still functional.

After sketching we walked over to the new coffee shop, "Community Blend."  My smoothie was delicious and according to George and Christina the coffee was good too.  It was nice to support a locally and employee owned shop (see video about it here).  If you are in the area you should stop by.

You can see Christina's sketch here!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Spotted Salamander

Friday night there was a steady rain and George convinced me that it was the magical night he had been waiting for for weeks...the night of the spotted salamander migration!  The spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) spends all winter burrowed deep in the ground.  In the early spring on the first rainy, warmish night, they venture out of their winter hiding to migrate to vernal pools to lay (or fertilize) eggs. It is one of the few times a human might actually be able to catch sight of these highly reclusive creatures.

Earlier in the week George had gone searching for the elusive amphibian only to be disappointed.  It was indeed the first warmish night of spring, but the pool still had a skim coat of ice; not a single yellow-spotted creature to be found.  So when he came up to the computer room Friday at 9:30 pm where I was cozily surfing the web, I was not sure I wanted to don my wellies and raincoat to search in the rain and mud for this illusory prize. 

But boy was I ever rewarded for braving the elements. As you can see above we were successful in our quest!  We had barely arrived at the trail before George spotted those yellow spots.  I was amazed how big and fleshy its body was.  And I loved the ridges on its flanks, not to mention those wild yellow spots.  The whole creature seemed quite improbable and yet there it was looking back at us in the soft rain.

The distance from the trail head to the pool was only about a half a mile, but I couldn't imagine how such a small-legged creature could walk so far on those little side-protruding limbs.  But somehow they do it!  And when we arrived at the pool it was clear that many do indeed make it.  The video below shows a salamander on the moss-lined edge of the pool making its leap into the water.  When we looked into the pool you could see maybe twenty or so salamanders writhing, swimming, and every so often coming up for air.

(After pressing play, click the bottom right corner to enlarge the video.  It is fun to watch it large!)

We found five or six salamanders on their way to the pool.  At first I wasn't too worried about stepping on them because of the bright yellow spots, but then George found a couple that had no spots.  I am not sure if they were young ones or a different species. 

On the drive home I couldn't help but think that we live in a crazy, amazing world.  To think this startlingly beautiful creature not only exists, but lives right near me blows my mind!  And I must mention that, yes, they really do appear to have a smile on their face.  I know I am anthropomorphizing here, but I will never forget their docile, yet determined nature.

So if you are ever offered a chance to search for gold in the middle of the night in the pouring rain, take it my friend... take it!  You will be rich in experience, your heart will sing, and you won't be able to wipe a ridiculous grin off your face for weeks.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Chinese Lantern Plants

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I stopped to photograph these Chinese Lantern plants growing in my yard I was excited to find one with the orange seed still inside this late in the season.  Usually the sun, wind, snow and rain have worn through the walls of the seed pod to free its precious cargo.

As I sat here looking at this incredible seed pod I couldn't help but imagine myself as that little orange seed.  My first thought was, "What holds us in and makes us feel secure is what holds us back."  But then I thought, "No, this cage does indeed protect us for a while and the slow wearing away gradually allows for a beautiful, slow maturation.  Until one day, when we are ready, life wears down enough of our barriers that we fall into our potential.  Everything about the system is perfectly timed and designed."

OK, enough waxing philosophical.  If you also didn't notice I had a hard time deciding how to crop these images.  The top two are the same image and so are the bottom two.  Normally I just make a firm decision and move on, but I was torn between loving a good close-up and really enjoying the composition of the original images.  And because the fun of the blog is to do whatever I want, I decided to post them all!