Look up and Around, Birds, Birds, Birds

When we look up into the branches of the trees on property we see birds. They’re also on the ground, in the shrubs, sitting on  the sturdy stems of prairie plants. We garden for birds, providing food, natural shelter, and running water. They come to us for meals, to train their fledglings, and to bathe. This time of year, even natural enemies set aside their differences. Our stream will have three or four bird species bathing together. In spring, they defend their territory, and only hang with their own kind. It’s like school kids, the 3rd graders don’t get to play with the middle schoolers. Now, the field is open to all.



WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge:Look UP

Charly Makray-Rice Photography @ Viewbug


Here an Angle, There an Angel

A Wisconsin winter woodland and prairie are rawboned, gaunt, and sharp. Summer’s soft mantle of leaves, drape of morning dew, and distraction of bird song are gone. Autumn’s fragrance of parched leaves has become frozen nose, sharp cold, and biting wind. Only in the first few hours of fresh snowfall, or complete oblivion, are the skeletal, angular, bent,  signs of aging unnoticed on Mother Earth.

The softest of summer’s grasses are brittle, cracked, and snapped to the ground. Snow covered branches rest heavy burdens on frozen ground. All around me, I see chaos, disorder, geometric, shadows, and little of the softness of winter’s first snow. My backyard prairie, woods and garden are certainly full of angles, and one Angel.

Thanks for passing by The Road Less Paved. Hope to see you again.

Weekly Photo Challenge:Angular


Losing Ground and Lost in Place

For the second year in a row there has been a noticeable loss in the variety of our prairie plants. Our three native varieties of coneflowers disappeared entirely. Last year, only one bedraggled half-grown coneflower struggled for survival on ground where dozens had bloomed in past years. The Rattlesnake Masters are also gone, their blue-grey spiked globes hovering above waving grasses like minute alien aircraft. Perhaps it’s too early, but I can’t find my usual stand of Big Blue Stem prairie grass either. August may end up being the month we intentionally kill off half our prairie, necessary to replant and restore balance to our small re-creation of lost Wisconsin prairie. It’s been a very long time since I posted … I’d hit the blogger wall of indecision and over questioning; why was I doing this, what did I expect, and who am I? I’m back where I started, still haven’t answered any of those questions, but I have completed another set of photos to post. My site also looks different. I messed with my theme during my renewal and found I couldn’t upload my backup. Still working on THAT one! My apologies to those that I may have lost in the process … my links are also gone. Please contact me if you haven’t heard from me in a long time – I’m literally lost in WordPress land!


Bits, Tids, Snips, Blobs and Sundry other Stuff


Weekly Photo Challenge – Lairs and Layers

Mid-November in South-central Wisconsin is drab. There is no other way to describe it.  Layers of dead, drab brown oak leaves litter the ground. Oak trees tend to keep at least half their leaves until the following spring so the view from my windows is also khaki colored. I’ve reached back into my files for a few photos I took during mid-September of my backyard garden lair while it was in the transition stage from late summer to early autumn. Lot’s of layers of color, texture, and reflections. Let me know what you think. I appreciate your feedback.

I’ve been singing this to myself a lot lately …

Autumn leaves or winter’s coming

Living enfolded within nature, I cut my season’s, pizza-like, into manageable, daily, slices of color. A grey day on Wednesday, sunny beige on Thursday, gentle and calming mauve on Friday. Dropping through the branches of the oak tree a sunbeam gently prods Smokey, our garden dragon peering out from his small rock cave. I stopped and gave him a pat on his worn concrete head. While some people seek God in a book or in a building, I believe I’m touched as he touches all his creations: gently prodding us to just hold to our best, to bend when the burden proves heavy, and to renew with each season. 

Looking for variations in light is second nature to me. I seek it in the underbrush and find it unexpectedly in a fern frond lit from below during a sunset. I’ve found sunlight temporarily imprisoned within opalescent beads strung to needles of a white pine after a gentle rain.  I was there when the rising sun turned an ordinary frosted leaf into a blood-red shield for the armory of the wee forest people. Light is a reverse chameleon, changing the environment instead of matching the scenery.

Aspens’ pay their dividends in late September, showering the earth with shimmering golden coins. In the marsh in the elbow of the Fox River,Tamaracks blaze bright yellow-orange candles, flaming against an azure October sky. In autumn, sunlight strengthens on the horizontal and landscapes clash beneath deep blue or rainy day drab and dreary gray.

Reds’ become umber, burgundy, and scarlet. Yellows’ turn to alloys, becoming gold and brass and copper. The colors of a languishing landscape define dimension. It’s like looking through binoculars; one flattened layer succeeds another; they appear lined up like a cardboard diorama with each successive layer growing smaller unto the horizon.

With winter coming, evening tugs down the shortened length of day. Faint glimmers’ of far-off galaxies sparkle, sending pale grey-blue notes to glitter on December’s coming snows. Between areas of light pollution, especially by moonlight, the frosted landscape becomes my grand idea of nature’s dining table. Set for special guests only, silver and edges of cut-crystal will gleam across the candle-lit prairie. I’ll pause and give thanks for the invitation to feast my eyes, while awaiting another year of autumn leaves.


Click on the any of the photos to turn it into a slide show

Most days members of Aldo Leopold’s family at the Sand County shack recorded in detail the natural surroundings and activities of their lives. Aldo wrote most entries, but family and visitors added their own sightings and comments into the yearly journals. The shack’s so small the journals must have been in plain view where any visitor could jot down what they saw before it was forgotten. Each event lists by initials which of the seven family members and by name any friends or relatives that were also present during each notation or entry.

The Leopold family used the shack year round, driving up from Madison in snowstorms, during high flood on the river when they had to abandon their car and walk in, and during swarms of insects. Nothing kept them from using the wood shack to gather and recording the coming and going of life around them. When the property needed repairs they looked to the river for scraps of wood that had washed ashore, or discarded lumber from old projects.

Standing in the shack I realize in one stride I’ve completed my walk across what is now the dining area. I’d been told Aldo and his wife’s bed used to occupy that place. One more stride and I’ve covered the width of the fireplace, half a hitch and I’ve hit the end wall which contains the cooking, wash basins, and a few extra oil lamps.

A lean-to built onto the side holds two home-made bunks with a couple of feet of head space and just enough room to put a lamp table between them. No closets, no dressers, no indoors plumbing. In a few seconds I inhale decades of smoke scent permeated into fireplace rock, and listen to the rafters still singing with music, laughter, and love. Yearning for simplicity, I crave a few days whispering after my lost muse in this space.

Other than a shared love of wild places, I doubt Aldo Leopold and I could have lived together a week in that shack. I would have adjusted to the Parthenon, campfire cooking and bunk house sleeping. Keeping meticulous records of what time a bird sings, what kind of weather and light accounted for variations in its arrival, tracking animals, even going so far as to count the daily roadkill, oh no, not me. I would have shoved a fist at Al and he would pointed the stem of his pipe at me.

Main reasoning, I can’t get up that early much less remember the names of all God’s creatures small and smaller. I love them all, but I have Attention Deficient Disorder and can’t maintain concentration for more than 15 minutes on any subject. Writing this blog creates an agony befitting a square peg in a round hole each week. I start with a grandiose idea, begin research, get sidetracked in various alleys of research material, lose track of speculative nuggets, get depressed, misplace focus, give up, start another idea, knock head against wall – ah, the crap of adult ADD.

I would have left in Aldo’s journal memo’s to posterity such as, “Do you really think anyone is going to care in 50 years that you saw 3 dead rabbits on the road today? Screw it, Al – went home to take a bath!”  A poor guest, I would have left guiltless the hard-working Leopold family to plant among themselves the thousand of trees on the barren shack property. I’d of been long gone and good riddance to bad rubbish before they got around to planting the hundreds of species of native wildflowers. Lucky for the rest of us, it doesn’t appear they suffered from Attention Deficient Disorder. The world is a richer place that they didn’t have a slacker like me for a friend.

Luckily, most  prairie and woodland plants on the Aldo Leopold properties for viewing along the hiking trails were planted between 1935 and 1948. I’d have been in diapers in 1948 so this entire scenario is, fortunately, a load of hooey. I read Sand County Almanac in 1974 and although it transformed my thinking and converted me to a prairie lover for life, I got the wrong sand county. Wisconsin has several of them. It would be another twenty years before I discovered the shack still existed.

The Leopold family had some prairie remnants still growing on the farm, like Big Bluestem, Over the years, they discovered other dwindling or marginal native prairie, woodland, and wetland plants growing on the property and transferred them to other areas they thought more conducive to survival. Some species were found on neighboring farms, in danger of destruction, and so they moved and transplanted them to the farm.  The remainder was brought in from their Madison home or donated by friends. Unlike todays garden centers there was no place they could  purchase native prairie and woodland plants.

Having thrown aside my internal furies I decided to focus my battles and my camera on the prairie and rain garden established at the Aldo Leopold Foundation Center. I attended the grand opening in 2007 and I wanted to see how it had grown from seedling to mature garden.  His daughters, Estella Leopold and Nina Leopold Bradley had spoken of their father and their years living in the shack. They were both lovely ladies with a passion for life, land, and their father’s dream. Although my photography focus differs greatly from the scientific precision of the Leopold legacy, I would hope Estella, the remaining Leopold,  would understand and appreciate the joyfulness I’ve found in exploring her family legacy.

The Sand County Shack, notable in the Sand County Almanac, is a  few miles north of Baraboo, Wisconsin. It is located next to the Aldo Leopold Center.  Use the link for directions and information. Walking tours of the property are free; tours to the shack area include a fee.

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