Nature Archives

Remember the storm that swept through here last week on the evening of June 8? There was an F1 tornado associated with that storm, which followed a path from Verona to McFarland. It also happened to be the anniversary of the June 8, 1984 Barneveld tornado, an evening I remember well because that storm kept blowing open the front door of our Stoughton home, a home which remained standing after that storm, but then was leveled during the F3 2005 tornado in Stoughton (dramatic video footage here).

Anyway, last week’s storm knocked down one of the trees in our backyard.

A normal person would have already had the tree hauled away by now, but it didn’t hit the neighbor’s fence or the power line, so we’ve left it alone for now because our two youngest daughters like to play in the “jungle” the fallen tree has created in our backyard (photos taken with my phone by my 9-year-old so excuse the poor quality):

The above photo may have given you the false impression that the green space is actually grass instead of the weed-filled rustic terrain it actually is. It would be unfortunate to leave you with that impression, so here’s a shot where you can see some of the weeds. Unfortunately the Creeping Charlie, dandelions and wild violets aren’t in bloom right now:

The jungle presents climbing opportunities that were heretofore unavailable:

Attempts to turn the jungle into a rain forest by using a sprinkler have so far been underwhelming, but the girls will probably try again.

Other advantages to the fallen tree:

It cuts down on the mowing I have to do.

It blocks my view of the “way back” of the backyard from the kitchen window so I’m unable to determine at a glance the height of the grass back there, which will cut down on yet more mowing.

It ultimately saves us some money because we were going to have that tree taken down anyway and it will be cheaper to haul it away this way.

Eventually the novelty of the jungle will wear off – probably when the mosquitos take up residence – and the leaves will die and it will look unsightly. If you know of someone who could remove it without charging a fortune,  leave a comment or send an email to info @

Autumn Meadow Missive

On Wednesday the temperature was in the 60s.

When you live in Wisconsin you don’t tend to take 60 degree November days for granted, so I determined to spend some of it outdoors, figuring this might be the last 60 degree day for months.

I decided to take a walk in the meadow at Aldo Leopold Nature Center. I hadn’t been there for a couple of months and looked forward to a mosquito-free walk.

In recent years I’ve realized I prefer rustic trails through woods, meadows and prairies over pristine gardens, like those at Olbrich.

This was made apparent to me a couple of years ago while gazing at an extraordinarily large and elaborate backyard flower garden. There literally wasn’t a weed anywhere. No visible dirt either. The lack of weeds was so distracting I couldn’t see the flowers for the lack of weeds.

The flowers were nestled atop beds of mulch. The gardener told me he adds a few dozen bags of mulch to the flower beds every month during the spring and summer.

I dunno… as beautiful as the flowers were, it seemed unnatural for all of them to sit in flower beds with no dirt or weeds in sight, just the mulch. Give me unkempt flora over the pristine kind any day.

Then again, I’m one who favors a purple yard, so you may want to take my opinion on such matters with heaps of salt.

Anyway, I set out for the meadow, with fantasies of a nice stroll through the meadow one last time this fall. I thought perhaps the colors would be similar to those in the painting at the top of this post. (I know. Silly me.)

I’m sorry to say I didn’t even set foot in the meadow. As I approached it, the grass looked scorched and uninviting. I didn’t hear any birds or honking geese. I realized then that fauna is as integral to the meadow experience as flora, which is another reason I prefer meadows to pristine flower gardens.

Like the recent time change, the autumn meadow was too much of a reminder of the approaching winter.

Speaking of winter, in a fit of optimism a few weeks ago I actually pondered the possibility of acquiring used snowshoes so I could snowshoe in the meadow during the winter. (I know. What was I thinking? I hate the cold.) But I fully expect my next meadow missive won’t be until next spring where, I hope, there will be white-throated sparrows waiting for me.

Then Came November…

Weather or Not…

 Remind me that I can’t complain!  No matter what happens, bad weather or not. 

  I always complain about the weather.  Too much snow in the winter.  The spring was too cold.  Summer was beyond WET. 

This autumn Monona has been graced with a long stretch of beautiful weather.  Perfect days that have seemed to be endless made up September and October.  We have been so gifted this season that I have come to expect views like this of the lagoon each morning– a mix of autumn colors, rising sun and misty fog from a slight frost. 

    It won’t be long.  I will bemoan a wet weekend or comment that it is so cold.  Who knew it would get cold in autumn in Wisconsin?  I KNOW I will complain about the snow as I shovel it, after the magic of the first one is gone.  That moment will come very quickly for me, I am afraid.  I will complain.  No matter what happens from this point on remind that I can’t complain because Mother Nature has given Monona a perfect autumn this year.

Dear Geese,

This is a bit late, but I just want to quick thank you for pooping on the bench on the west side of the lagoon in Winnequah Park last Tuesday.

Because you did this I was unable to sit on the bench and read. I had to keep walking and, as a result, I arrived near Nichols Road just as a friend was driving by.

She stopped, invited me into her car, and we drove to her house and had a nice chat on her porch.

Then her mom and sister arrived from out of town for a visit. I excused myself so they could go enjoy their time together, as I knew that they don’t often have opportunities to visit. But her mom and sister graciously invited me along and we went to Crema Cafe on Monona Drive.

I had never visited Crema Cafe before. Normally a sandwich-intensive cafe isn’t my thing because I can’t eat wheat or gluten, so I was going to just enjoy a glass bottle of cola. But her mother really wanted to treat me to lunch, which was very kind of her, so Crema Cafe served me egg salad on greens instead of on bread. Cool. And kudos to the staff for actually knowing what “gluten-free” means.

We sat outside and enjoyed the lake view. I was reminded of how enjoyable it is to meet the mothers of friends – seeing your friend in a daughter role helps you get to know her better.

As it turns out, that might have been the last 70-ish degree afteroon this fall, and that was a lovely way to spend it, instead of walking home from the lagoon and eating a boring lunch by myself and spending the afternoon working indoors on the computer.

So thanks for the goose poop! Enjoy your winter down south.

Kind Regards,


Autumn Walks Along the Lagoon…

Around the lagoon we will go

It wasn’t until last Thursday that I walked around the perimeter of the lagoon at Winnequah Park for the first time. Even though I’ve lived only 2/10 of a mile or so from the lagoon for 11 years. And there’s even a rain garden back there I hadn’t noticed before.

I’ve only enjoyed the Healy Lane side of the lagoon all these years because, I dunno, I guess I thought the land on the other side of it belonged to the homeowners because it looks private and there isn’t signage or clear trail markings. Or I never saw anyone walking back there and never considered that was something one could do. Or I was too busy focusing on my children all these years so I simply never had time to think much about the lagoon (first blame the children, I always say 😉 ).

Now that all four kids are in school I can pay more attention to these matters. I greatly enjoy my new routine of walking on the other side of the lagoon because it’s like looking at a different body of water entirely. I also like the great blue herons and, dare I say it, the geese. Although the public bench on that side had an unfortunate preponderance of goose excrement on and around it today so I was unable to sit and read there. Next time I’ll have to bring cleaning solution with me.

All of which is to say that it’s always a treat to discover something new and special right in one’s community.


Treat Yourself: Enjoy a few moments each morning on Lake Monona.

Little Walks in the Prairie

After a seven year hiatus, my daughters and I have rediscovered the joys of walking through the meadow and prairie at Aldo Leopold Nature Center.

Why a seven year hiatus, you ask?

Well, it’s kind of embarrassing, but in the summer of 2002, while traipsing through the Edna Taylor prairie at the nature center with my (then) infant daughter and two oldest daughters (ages 6 and 9 at the time) we managed to get lost.

After walking in circles with two tired children – and getting mighty weary of lugging the infant – I was reduced to calling the nature center from my cell phone to ask how I could get to a path that would get us out of there.

The lady who answered the phone didn’t seem to bat an eyelash, but I couldn’t help but wonder if, after hanging up, she leaned over to her co-workers and laughed and said exactly what Bugs Bunny does in this five second video. She certainly would have had every reason to.

After this Lost in the Prairie episode, my two oldest no longer begged to go to the nature center.

I then proceeded to have another baby, started a business and, well, the nature center fell off our radar screen.

Fast forward to today and, this spring, my youngest daughters and I have visited the nature center several times already.

We’ve spotted bluebirds in the meadow and enjoy walking through the tall grass to get to the little island. Walking on paths like this reminds me of the show Lost. It reminds my daughters of Little House on the Prairie (a show they are very into right now, via YouTube).

Only today did we finally dare to venture into the prairie.

We didn’t go very far but enjoyed the shady trail. We weren’t even bothered by the carrion, low branches that we had to duck under, goose poop and mud.

Actually, that’s what I like the most about Aldo Leopold…there’s nothing fussy about it. It’s rustic and peaceful. Weeds are allowed.  As much as I enjoy my flower gardens at home, and going to places like Olbrich Gardens, they are fussier places. So it’s nice to go to Aldo Leopold and feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere even though you’re still in Monona.

Thank you note to the baby robins

Dear Baby Robins,

I know the proper term is “fledgling” but we like referring to you as baby robins. Anyway, thank you for spending so much time at our grape jelly feeder this week.

In all the years we’ve had a grape jelly feeder, we’ve never had baby robin visitors before. Only orioles and the occasional house finch.

When you first arrived a few days ago I flipped through my bird book, wondering if you were a rare bird. I had never seen an orange speckled breast on a bird before.

Then I saw a robin arrive and put jelly in her beak and transfer it to your beaks. My youngest daughters loved watching your mama feed you.

But already you don’t need her help anymore. I see your mama comes and eats some of the jelly for a snack, and even did so during the heavy rain on Friday when there would’ve been worms a-plenty. I’ve never known an adult robin to eat jelly but I guess even mama robins need a carb fix sometimes.

Oh, by the way. I know you’re still young and all and don’t know the proper etiquette, but would you please not use the grape jelly dish as a bathroom? Let your waste fall to the ground instead. Thank you.

I’ll keep the grape jelly dish stocked as long as you need it. I know you’ll outgrow it soon so good luck out there in the real world.

Kind Regards,

The Ashland Family

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