Violets, waterleaf, Jacob’s ladder, Jack-in-the-Pulpit in fruit; leeks about to bloom; three bedstraws flowering; morbid owlets on the move; crown-tipped coral mushrooms emerged

I spent Friday morning with my colleague Dr. Christy Rollinson and our summer research intern Liz Gibbons, visiting a few of the fixed plots in the East Woods. These are plots that Christy and her collaborators are monitoring for phenology, getting data of relatively high resolution in space and time, plots of 1 m2 inventoried for flowers, fruits, and vegetation cover by species about once per week. Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) is about waist-high now, Helianthus decapetalus is up to my nose, the most common Solidago sp. along the trails (which I ought to know but don’t… I’ll try not to be ignorant of it this time next year) is nodding at the tip, and hog-peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata) is looping over everything in the woods; it may be even more aggressive a couple of weeks hence, but you notice it now almost everywhere you go. Enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) is about shin-high. There are spittlebugs on the Geum canadense and Rosa and sowbugs trundling through the leaf litter. Red-eyed vireos and wood pewees were singing. Mosquitos were pretty swarmy, especially in the lower parts of the forest.

Achenes have hardened up on rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides; leaves on many of the plants are yellowing) and are nearly all fallen from early meadow rue (Thalictrum dioicum). By contrast, the purple meadow rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum) in Schulenberg Prairie is in full bloom. Fruits were falling from a buttercup I believe to be Ranunculus recurvatus, but checking our herbarium database I find that the species has not been collected from the Arboretum, so I’ll have to return to voucher it and double-check my identification. Geranium maculatum fruits are starting to ripen and curl, launching the seeds off into the adjacent woods, and the so-fuzzy-you-want-to-use-them-as-a-pillow downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens) fruits are beginning to dehisce, seeds lined up like peas in pods. Fruits are developing on Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans) and hop-hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana). Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum racemosum) berries are pinking up, and bottlebrush grass (Hystrix patula or Elymus hystrix or Asperella hystrixH. patula Moench seems to be the favored name now) is almost ripe, some of the spikelets breaking off easily, but none flinging themselves off at a touch. Some of the sedges are beginning to look bedraggled: Carex blanda perigynia are perhaps 1/3 dispersed already, C. rosea perigynia are darkening and the culms are beginning to grow weary. But most are still looking good: Carex woodii and C. oligocarpa, the latter of which I am noticing more this year than in the past, are ripe and holding their own. Carex vulpinoidea, C. sparganioides, C. molesta and C. normalis are in a slightly earlier stage. The latter is visible along the southern leg of the Heritage Trail and the east side of the road that bisects it as you walk south to the main road, and the morphological variation you’ll find in it along that walk is instructive to say the least. Carex cephalophora, C. stipata, and C. tribuloides are not quite as far along, at least the individuals I passed.

The flowering scapes of wild leek (Allium tricoccum) are becoming more obvious, though the white flowers are only visible as buds, not yet open. Meadow garlic (Allium canadense) and tall thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) are in full flower. The bedstraws are good now. While cleavers (Galium aparine) is well past — I don’t barely notice the pale dying stems in the woods now, while the yellowing stems were quite obvious this time last week — you can find the broad-leaved licorice bedstraw (Galium circaezans) with wiry inflorescence stalks and widely-spaced cream-colored flowers on the Heritage Trail right next to the delicate, densely-flowered shining bedstraw (Galium concinnum), whose pure white corollas are reminiscent of baby’s breath. In the marshy area along the road that bisects the heritage trail, I believe a third species is growing, much more airy and densely flowered than G. concinnum, which I suspect is Galium tinctorium. I have struggled with bedstraws in the past, however, and I will reserve final judgement on this until I have plants in fruit.

This morning I biked to Maple Grove Forest Preserve just as the sun was coming up over the trees. Pewees, robins, red-bellied woodpeckers, great-crested flycatchers, and red-eyed vireos were singing. Nutlets on the musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana) have become crunchy. Morbid owlet moths were flitting around in the fallen leaves. A cranefly dangled from a touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis); leaning down to get a good look at it, I found that the entire stand of touch-me-nots was bejeweled with water droplets, not dew but guttation water extruded from the plant by root pressure in the high humidity of this already-hot morning. The wood nettles (Laportea canadensis) growing right with it are of roughly the same size and height but did not exhibit the phenomenon, perhaps because their hairs break the surface tension of the water droplets. Fungi have come out: dead man’s fingers were emerging from a fallen branch, midges or gnats or some other small diptera swarmed up as I poked at a stand of decomposing mushrooms. A few crown-tipped coral mushrooms (Clavicorona pyxidata) lined the ridge of a fallen trunk with other mushrooms that I don’t know.

A fallen sugar maple that appears to have been knocked down by a larger Fraxinus americana that fell on top of it is sending up anemic, yellowing leaves at the crown, about 45 feet up from the splintered base of the tree, where shards of wood stand to more than six feet tall. Will the tree survive, shoots connected to the ground by 40 feet of horizontal vessels? At the base of the tree, American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) and stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) stand chest-high in a field of touch-me-not.

Stickseed (Hackelia virginiana) foliage has become obvious throughout the woods, along with Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). The white snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) leaves have filled with leaf-miner trails, and young inflorescences are rallying in the leaf bases of a few of the enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana), which you can see everywhere now. Scapes of leek are evident along a few of the trails, at the same state they are in at the Arboretum. Looking at one, I was stopped by a gentleman who told me that the leeks have been poached from these woods in the past year by folks collecting to eat them. I hope they were collecting leaves only, and just one leaf per plant… this might be sustainable, even if it’s not legal within the forest preserve (which it wouldn’t be without a permit). Seeds on the blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) are the size of chickpeas, and capsules on the large-flower bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) are swollen, dragging the plants down: seeds inside are hardening up. Fruits on the upright carrion flower (Smilax ecirrhata) are pea-sized. Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) was twining around the plant I observed in fruit, and further along the trail I found the prickly Smilax hispida, which I hadn’t seen here previously. Fruits are developing on the jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), and fruits on the downy yellow violet are, as at the Arboretum, starting to dehisce.

The great waterleaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum) straddles flowering and fruiting right now. On some plants, a few flowers persist near the base while the upper flowers have gone to fruit. The fruits are downy with short hairs, armed with longer, wiry hairs that remind me of the lemmas of Leiberg’s panic grass (Dicanthelium leibergii). Squeeze them, and the pulpy seed inside pops out, slippery and pearly white, perhaps not ripe yet but too hard to easily bite into. The Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) fruits are very similar in appearance, if perhaps a bit further along.

As I am studying Hydrophyllum fruits, a chorus of American toads erupts from the pond close by, strident, or at least insistent, and keeps up for a few minutes before they are silent again. It is Father’s Day. I walk out past flowering nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) and elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), a solitary fruiting Carex grayi displaced upslope about 20 feet from where it belongs–making me suspect, again, that there is something hydrologically funny about this place–and Carex rosea dispersing along the road. I arrive home to find my younger son ready to chat about music and games and the baseball game of last night. My older son is sleeping, then he wakes up, tells me they are going to cook breakfast for me, and closes the door so I can continue writing. As I finish these notes, the boys are cooking breakfast downstairs. The bacon smells good, and I hear David coming up right now. “Is it ready?” I ask. “Almost… the eggs are still cooking.” He looks over my shoulder and talks about the day to come, but I know he notices everything. They both do. They catch things I’m not even aware are going on and infer much of the rest.

And now breakfast is ready. Happy Father’s Day to you.

Toads singing at full volume; cow-parsnip in bloom; black cherry and geranium and may-apple in fruit; bloodroot seeds dispersing

We arrived home Friday night at about 10 p.m. to find a square, muddy scar in the ground roughly 8 inches deep and seven feet on a side where our burning bush had been just two hours earlier. We were delighted. We had cut the bush out earlier in the week and our neighbor, who possesses a backhoe, had unexpectedly found time to scrape away the leftover stubble and landscaping stone that the previous owner had installed, which made it almost impossible to dig through by hand. The burning bush stumps were laid to the side and lengths of metal and plastic edging were peeled out and lined up along the edge of the opening. This would have taken me a couple of weeks to remove. Jupiter was a fist’s height above the southern horizon, and the sky was gauzy but filled with stars.

At 3:00 a.m. we were awoken by thunder, and when the sun rose, the scrape where the burning bush had been was filled with water to the height of the sidewalk. The rain seemed to be done for the morning by the time we were up, forecast to the contrary, but it was still dreary out. I made a cup of tea, thumbed through Andrea Wulf’s biography of Alexander von Humboldt, wrote a note to my mom, almost settled in for the morning. But I could tell I’d be antsy, so I biked to Maple Grove.

Of course the rain was not done, and it was coming down slowly in relaxed, plump drops by the time I reached the entrance to the forest. The upper surfaces of the ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana) leaves at the entrance glistened, and I regretted that I hadn’t brought my raincoat. I was glad I was there all the same. I am always glad to be out when it rains, even when I’m not particularly in the mood to go.

The forest has ripened just a little since Wednesday. The wild leek (Allium tricoccum) flowering stalks that eluded me then are evident on a trail I hadn’t got to along the east edge of the woods, in height ranging from about the length of my middle finger to the length of my hand, from wrist to fingertips. The flowers are mostly still shrouded in the papery spathe, some just emerging, the leaves now completely gone. I didn’t see even remnants of them at the bases of the scapes, which I rarely notice. The flowering stems only emerge after the leaves die back, and they are subtle, dark and inconspicuous against the leaf litter. I don’t have the timing quite figured out yet.

The dying cleavers (Galium aparine), by contrast, form patches of yellow reticulum a few feet in diameter that are obvious throughout the woods. They have died back but haven’t given up their seeds yet. Perhaps there is no need: it may be better for the languishing plant to give every last resource to the developing fruit, then sink together into the soil. I’ll have to watch for this.

I noticed several bloodroots (Sanguinaria canadensis) whose capsules have swollen in just a few days to the point of dispersing. The capsules seem to snap open, the sides flattening out into elliptical panels that dangle from the top of a central open frame. The seeds inside have ripened to a deep chestnut, and the whitish elaiosome looks good enough to eat. Of course, to the ants it is. I first got to know this this plant well in prairie- and savanna-dominated Madison, where it had been planted in the sites where I most often encountered it, and where the ants that disperse the seeds are lacking. There, at the UW Madison Arboretum, a place that probably last hosted native sugar maple forest 10,000 or so years ago, before the prairies really spread out, bloodroot that had been planted 20 years or more earlier persisted right in place and spread slowly if at all. I’ve enjoyed getting reacquainted with the species in a place where the ants are ready for it.

Glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus or Rhamnus frangula… it’s not clear to me right now which is the favored name, and the Flora of North America treatment leads me to suspect it may be a somewhat stylistic decision) is flowering. May-apples (Podophyllum peltatum) are in various states of disarray, many yellowing and falling over, many with fruits swelling. I found withering flowers on one blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis). Geranium maculatum fruits are nearly ready to pop, the seeds swollen at the bases of the turgid crane’s bills. Cow-parsnip (Heracleum maximum) is in flower. Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is in fruit. A sedge I missed on my walk Wednesday–Carex cephalophora, a common species of dry-mesic forests that I have probably seen here previously but forgot–is in fruit, bringing the number of carices that I am aware you can see on a casual walk through Maple Grove to seventeen.

As I was approaching the ephemeral pond in the center of the forest, the rain was coming down more steadily. Mosquitoes were being batted out of the air by raindrops. I found the slough I had looked at on Wednesday filled with water, edged with Carex grayi in fruit and a few C. tribuloides without any obvious flowers. American toads were calling full-throatedly. The forest was filled with their song, and I recalled a morning more than 20 years ago when I was working as a naturalist at Preschool of the Arts in Madison. I was teaching the students about frogs and toads and had the good fortune of having in my possession a dehydrated American toad on loan from Sue Bridson, a great educator and naturalist with as fine a personal collection of naturalist’s artifacts as I have ever seen. I was playing a tape of toads singing as we talked, and we had reached the end of the story. We were sitting in a circle on the floor looking at the dehydrated creature. There were Christmas lights hung around the classroom, and no one was speaking. After a moment, one of the students stood up and turned out the lights. She returned to the circle, and as we sat in the semi-darkness, the chorus playing in the background, the dried toad on the table in the middle of our group was transformed from a cadaver to a relic. We were displaced to a forest somewhere else, at night, perhaps just to the north of us, perhaps 10,000 years back in time. The teacher and the children and I all became older than our years for a minute, as everything stood still.

It’s Monday now and the rain appears to have let up. Enjoy the week.

A bumblebee patrolling under the leaves; a trio of black squirrels; the surprising beauty of burning bush flowers

If I could give my sons one gift, it might be knowing how to spend an unexpected afternoon with nothing in your hands but a notebook.

I started work early today and was done by 2pm, and after dropping the boys off at a friend’s, I took a break to walk in Maple Grove. I rarely feel the freedom to just go walking in the middle of the day like this. It was warm and dark, and the grasses at the entrance shone in the heat. I sat for 10 minutes keying out a grass. It’s funny how much pleasure I find in working through a dichotomous key, even when I don’t quite hit the answer. There is a joy in being guided over ground that someone else knows so well. “Look at this,” I am told. “Now look at this. Did you see it? No? Then look again: it’s there. You just have to look closer.” And there is a pleasure too in noticing things that aren’t in the key, and then later finding them it in the key: it’s like sharing a secret with a stranger. I keyed the grass (to Sphenopholis intermedia, which I believe is correct but will verify in the herbarium to be sure) and then found another similar thing, spent 5 minutes keying it to exactly the same place. On the slope ahead of me, white bear sedge (Carex albursina) was shedding perigynia all over the slope, and fruits were swelling on the small-flowered buttercup (Ranunculus abortivus).

I crossed the bridge over St. Joseph Creek. There was a fleabane in the floodplain and red-eyed vireos singing all around. From the cracks in the concrete, Russian mulberry (Morus alba) and stickseed (Hackelia virginiana) were growing. At the far side of the bridge, an enormous bumblebee caught my eye. She was patrolling the forest floor at the base of a Carex jamesii, pushing leaf litter out of her way. Her abdomen was a wonder of hairs and glossy black. She nosed her way underneath the papery brown dead leaves for 5 or 10 seconds, then emerged again and cleaned her face scrupulously. She then started to scale a leaf that any of us could have told her would not bear her, and it predictably crumpled under her weight. Like a toddler who has just toppled a toy chair far too small for her and then set it back upright to try again, the bee headed up an adjacent leaf. She crawled high enough to right herself, then buzzed off as the leaf was starting to bend over.

I stood up and felt the infructescence on a Carex rosea that was almost but not quite ripe. In a week or two the perigynia will spring from the stem at a touch. A sickly-looking annual bluegrass (Poa annua) was yellowing along the roadside. I headed up the narrow trail that Sunday I had found full of knee-high Impatiens, and I swear they have gained an inch in just three days. The Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum racemosum) is tipped with clusters of hard, mung-bean sized whitish berries. At the turn in the trail stood a great burning bush, a shrub I just tore out of our front yard, a noxious weed. I’ve no affection for this species. But it was in flower, and I had my hand lens, and I’m obliged to report that the flowers are exquisite. With the naked eye, they are sweet cream-colored nuggets, but at 10x they resembled nothing so much as an alabaster mosque submerged in white sand, only the dome exposed, sentinels standing at four corners, attending some ceremony inside, a black-tipped spire at the top of the dome. I am not exaggerating. I had not expected for an ovary with a stout style, flanked by four stout little stamens, to give so much pleasure. I suspect that Hell itself will be found to be full of beauty like this if its denizens are armed with hand lenses. Satan will do well not to invite botanists.

Further up the trail, one of the black squirrels I generally see here scampered across a fallen log and then stood stock still. I turned and realized there were two more! Three black squirrels in one field of view! One scrambled up a sapling and almost out of view in the foliage, then a gray squirrel scurried up a tree in the background. I stepped off trail in search of wild leek (Allium tricoccum) fruits. One black squirrel kept me company, moving and then standing, always visible in sharp contrast against the leaves, a gift to hawks and the color-blind. Watching them, my attention was drawn to a tiny chickweed on the forest floor, Stellaria pallida or, perhaps more likely, S. meadia. It was dark in the forest, here under the maples, and I would not expected to find this thing out of the fields like this. I did not find the wild leek fruits, though I saw one fruiting scape on Sunday.

The mosquitos were becoming pesky. As I walked out, the song “There will never be another you” came to mind:

There will be other songs to sing
Another fall, another spring
But there will never be another you

I walked out singing, thinking of my boys, who were (and still are, as I write this) swimming at a friend’s house; of my sweet wife, who is downtown now, sewing and printing, figuring out how the world is put together; of my lab, everyone working on her or his own project, discovering some novel corner of the natural world; of the plants along the trails, some common things I know and some I’ve never learned; of my friends and colleagues in Mexico, collecting plants by the roadsides and in forests; of growing old watching plants, listening to birds in the afternoons. I unlocked my bike and headed out to get a cup of coffee and then get back to make supper and finish work on a paper before the boys get home.

If I could give my sons one gift, it might be knowing how to spend an unexpected afternoon with nothing in your hands but a notebook. It is such a joy, watching the world and writing down the things that strike you, and I hope they come to love this or something else as much as I do. The French utilize the verb profiter more liberally than we generally use the verb “to profit.” “Il faut profiter du soleil,” my friend Christian occasionally told me when Rachel and the boys and I were living in Bordeaux, during a spring when I generally arrived at work soaked from my bike ride. You have to profit from the sun, and from your afternoons, and from your mornings, and from every minute you’ve got. In my retirement, I pray that Rachel and I have the health to walk around and watch bees nudging their way through the day and touch-me-nots growing from cotyledons in March to flowers in June. We’ll be happy having just that. It will be more than enough.

Summer has arrived in the north and south: sedges are in their glory

It had been two weeks since I was last at Maple Grove Forest Preserve, and yesterday it seemed summer had arrived. The sedges are in their glory: at least 16 species can be found here now in flower or fruit. Carex hitchcockiana, C. albursina, C. jamesii and C. sparganioides greeted me in full fruit at the Gilbert Park entrance yesterday morning, with flowering Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum racemosum) near the end of flowering, fruits developing, and wild ginger (Asarum canadense) with flowers spent, the seeds inside starting to develop. In the uplands, Carex rosea is forming dark green clumps nearly a foot tall, and right next to it in some places you can find the similar C. radiata sprawled across the ground, culms and leaves nearly flattened, as though they’d be trampled (they haven’t: this is just what C. radiata does). Carex hirtifolia is laden with fruits, seemingly exhausted, arched over and largely hidden in the forest understory. There is a colony of C. woodii that I’d never seen before. I paced it off to about 20 feet across. There are scattered fruiting culms throughout; I wondered if it might be a single clone. There are few species growing interspersed, though I didn’t wade through the thicket of foliage as I would have liked, loathe to disrupt it. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a perfect stand of this species, which has long been one of my very favorites for the lush burgundy of its basal sheaths and its gracile, fountain-like habit. Beside it, I found Carex oligocarpa, a relative of C. hitchcockiana that I didn’t realize grew here. Both are sweet, svelte plants with slender perigynia etched with dozens of fine, narrow, impressed veins. They are a joy to find.

In the flat leading out of one of the ephemeral ponds I try to visit most Sunday mornings, a small grove of Carex grisea is growing with a few C. blanda. I hadn’t realized before yesterday that this was a drainage, but it is evident how happy the sedges are, and the vegetation along its keel appears to have been flattened by occasional runoff from the pool just uphill. These two sedges have produced a garden of sedge seedlings, a few upslope, but most within the drainage, and a particularly dense patch lodged along the edge of a branch that has fallen onto the forest floor. A solitary C. tribuloides is flowering, a floodplain species that shows up in depressions throughout our forests. In southern Wisconsin, I know this species primarily from floodplains, but the soils there are of coarser texture than the clayey soils of Downers Grove. Following the drainage upslope to the pond margin, I found several more friends I made in Wisconsin floodplains: C. squarrosa; bushy C. lupulina in full flower, anthers spread wide; the comely C. grayi in fruit; a modest-sized clump of C. crinita, inflorescences arched and flowing like water. Growing with them are fowl manna grass (Glyceria striata), ragwort (Packera paupercula), a giant knotweed (Polygonum sp.), hairy wild rye (Elymus villosus). Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is coming into bloom. Maple Grove is wonderful for these little wetlands, and they are in their early-summer splendor.

The floodplain along St. Joseph Creek is a bed of knee-high wood nettle (Laportea canadensis) and flowering dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis), with honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis) and black snakeroot (Sanicula odorata) flowering along the overlooking trail. Annual bedstraw (Galium aparine) is scrambling up through the nettles, heavy with paired fruits: in the uplands, the bedstraw is sprawled across the forest floor. Beside the fallen bedstraw you can find the shriveled stems of false mermaid. At first glance you may not notice it, but look closely for the brownish threads tangled mycelialike on the leaf litter. I sat and considered a patch of this stuff for several minutes. There were Virginia bluebells growing strong here a few weeks ago, but now they are yellowed, reclining against adjacent trees and fallen logs, lying out on the trail, a few shriveled nutlets remaining in the bases of the spent flowers. Elsewhere in the woods, the large-flowered trilliums have lost their petals while prairie trillium petals are desiccated and blackened. The last fruits are hanging onto Enemion biternatum. Hydrophyllum appendiculatum flowers are past. Some shrub I did not recognize has been devoured by what looks to have been tent caterpillars: had I not been watching it consistently this spring, I would assume the webbing was old enough to be last year’s. As I write, I recall the Psalmist: “My heart is smitten, and withered like grass.”

But while the spring flowers are past, many are swelling into fruit, and summer flowers are coming out. Ovaries are swelling on the Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum). Yellow violet (Viola pubescens) has gone to fruit along with sweet cicely (Osmorhiza longistylis), blisterwort (Ranunculus recurvatus), large-flower bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), whose green capsules are swollen with nearly-ripe, lustrous, honey-brown seeds crested with whitish elaiosomes to attract ants. Blue cohosh (Caulophylum thalictroides) seeds are developing but not yet blue, and green dragon (Arisaema dracontium) is starting to flower even as the staminate inflorescences of its cousin Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) are giving up and falling over. Shining bedstraw (Galium concinnum) is in flower here and there. I found one inflorescence of wild leek (Allium tricoccum) emerging on its naked stalk, leaves already gone. The woods are filled with pewees and indigo buntings and great-crested flycatchers.

Our warblers have mostly retreated northward. Last weekend I heard them in Door County, where I was teaching at the Festival of Nature in Ridges Sanctuary. Black-throated green warblers, black-and-white and chestnut-sided warblers were all singing. Things up there are behind us by at least a couple of weeks, which I must confess I recognize mainly by the sedges. Bristle-leaf sedge (Carex eburnea) has fruited in our garden but is just flowering there, where it belongs (C. eburnea is a cedar-glade species, thriving to my surprise in our DuPage County garden). Pennsylvania sedge (C. pensylvanica; yes, the species epithet really is spelled with one ‘n’) is still in full fruit in the dry uplands, while ours appear to have dropped their seeds. Inflorescences on the lovely Carex arctata — aren’t they all lovely? — are threadlike, while the kind-of-look-alike C. gracillima in our garden is in full fruit. Topping them all, in my book, was a find of the aptly named beautiful sedge, Carex concinna, on the property of the friends with whom we were staying. The species is state-threatened, diminutive, and a treat to find thriving beneath the white cedars within spitting distance of the lake shore. But these are all a bit outcompeted by the gardens of dwarf lake iris (Iris lacustris) and gold-thread (Coptis trifolia) that line the trails, the twig-rush (Cladium mariscoides) carcasses in the sloughs, and the ferns, ericads (bog rosemary! Labrador-tea!) and mosses that remind you you’re really up north.

As I review my notes from my walks of yesterday and last weekend, I am in the loop, having just finished a PhD defense at UIC. The defense took us to Argentina and Peru, and afterwards my colleague Robie and I walked out to the bike racks together. She reminded me of eating lunches outside together as a lab group when she was doing her sabbatical at the Arboretum five years ago. That was a delightful fall and feels about as long in my memory as a summer afternoon. As I left her and biked toward downtown, I passed students hoeing up a garden bed on campus, dressed for planting, tending the tomatoes in their concrete raised bed. Now, eating lunch in the park just north of the public library, under the shade of a fully leafed-out European alder, looking up at what appears to be a stone eagle or pelican or some kind of bird perched on the northeast corner of the library — not the gargoyle I expected to tell you about — I am surrounded by people walking in the sun, a dog in arm, a friend by their side, a child in hand, an envelope tucked under their arm to mail. Two seagulls are stalking towards me, curious to see if I have a sandwich. At the corner of the park an older man is reclining against a bedroll. Two girls are sitting and talking; a middle-aged man is sitting on the curb, smoking. On the retaining wall along the sidewalk is a quote from Goethe: “Nothing is worth more than this day.” This, I think, could be the punchline of every one of these blog posts. Door County, Downers Grove, Chicago, all coming into summer together in their own way, each one giving you exactly the day that you get, and it’s more than enough.

Into the library now, and back to work.