In the early days of the pandemic, I was conflicted whether I should continue mixing and mingling with others at my favorite nature nook, Council Point Park. Then, after deciding I should mask up and get on with my walking regimen, a second wave of fear hit me … was it prudent to be fiddling with the camera so close to my face? So, I put the camera away for a while and just kept on walking … and walking …and walking. Longtime followers know what happened next … I toted the camera along on the very day that Council Point Park closed suddenly. It would remain closed for one month due to visitors who breached social-distancing protocol.
Here in Southeast Michigan we are blessed with many parks in our state, so I checked out my other favorite haunts as well as some new ones. Weather-wise, we had way more sunny days than rainy ones; in fact, we never saw rain the entire month of June! And, when we had rain, it was often torrential downpours, sometimes several in a day.
I made multiple forays to view and photograph the lovely Lotuses.
One simple joy I experience while meandering the marshland trails at Lake Erie Metropark is the arrival of the Water Lotuses every August. The Water Lotus beds, which are about two and five acres respectively, are found at Cove Point’s rocky shoreline and also along the Cherry Island Marsh Trail.
I’ve showcased the Lotuses in past posts. By early August this year I wondered if all the sunny days and our very warm and humid weather might have caused these blooming beauties to arrive earlier than usual. To that end, I traveled three times to Lake Erie Metropark to see and photograph those Water Lotuses. Surprisingly, the first two visits, the Lotuses were just so-so, small and unremarkable blooms plus some large leaves, but really nothing special.
Well, the third time was the charm.
Those lovely Lotuses were rising high from their leaves which one might aptly describe as “big as an elephant’s ear” – that should not surprise you, since each Water Lotus may be two to six feet (60 cm. to 183 cms.) wide. Water Lotuses may be pink or white, however, the beds here yield only white Lotuses, and, although they are fragrant, even when the beds are in bloom, from the shoreline or along the Cherry Island Marsh Trail, they may loom large, but are actually too far away to enjoy their scent.
Since today’s post will be quite picture laden, I will put the Lotus shots into this week’s Wordless Wednesday post, so stay tuned.
Early morning meander at Cove Point.
Of the three occasions I went to view the Lotuses, the last time was my favorite. It was Labor Day Saturday morning and I spent three hours at this locale, before leaving to walk at Elizabeth Park. It was a busy and brisk-feeling morning! I arrived bright and early and this is my trek, from start to finish … come tag along with me, okay?
Hope you enjoyed tagging along with me on this very long trek; in the next post, just a few of the Lotuses will appear for Wordless Wednesday.
In my many walks at local parks, I’ve come to realize that ducks, in general, are a happy bunch. Just look at this header image. Don’t you agree that our fine feathered friends pictured above are either enjoying a good joke, or, perhaps these Mallards were hopeful their human friend, a man who threw them a handful of potato chips from where he sat on a nearby park bench, would reach into that bag again if they gave him a big smile?
What a tranquil scene …
It was a peaceful early morning and the venue was Ford Field Park in Dearborn. I stopped briefly at this pond to check out the ducks as they placidly paddled along without a care in the world, blessedly oblivious to the trials and tribulations we humans are dealing with as 2020 rolls on. Their world is paddling, dabbling, waddling, preening and bathing … good stuff.
And then bliss turned to bullying – bigtime!
But soon I discovered that these seemingly companionable Mallards were just as fickle as we humans sometimes, when a bully duck waddled over and poked another duck in the side, for no apparent reason that I could discern. I witnessed the altercation through the camera lens. “Stop that!!” I cried out (as if Mr./Ms. Meany was going to listen to me, a mere mortal), but that jab was downright mean and seemingly unprovoked!
Of course I could not referee, only observe, when they butted heads moments later. I continued to watch, clicking the shutter, while feeling helpless to intervene.
So what was the outcome?
Was the fight nasty, a visual I should think twice about sharing here in my feel-good forum of fun nature pics and tranquil settings? Nope, not at all. Within minutes they were fast friends as they waddled off lockstep to the pond. Go figure.
Well, if only if we humans could get along as easily after a disagreement.
After the “peaceful pond” I wandered around Ford Field afterward.
This park is not overly large, but it is an enjoyable trek through a forested area that is not too dense. I walked along the Rouge River shoreline and admired this huge Willow tree.
There are many Willow trees around this park. Here’s another one near a short footbridge.
But the most-enjoyable part of my trek was crossing over this covered bridge …
… where I could gaze at the Rouge River as it rippled and roiled over the rocks below.
This covered bridge offers a picturesque setting …
… so I guess that is why so many folks chose to make their proclamations of love at this site where they will remain engraved or painted on the trusses and railings for eternity (or until the bridge is replaced).
I walked about three miles at this park as I went on to participate in the virtual Mutt Strut 5K thereafter, an event that benefits the “Friends of Animals of Metro Detroit” and I will write about that trek in a future post.
The alarm rang, its incessant beeping interrupting my sound sleep. I flipped off the covers and quickly pulled them back over me. There was a definite chill in the air, so I snuggled down to catch 40 more winks. I had a busy day planned, so I stifled a yawn and headed to the kitchen to make breakfast as I aimed to get to two parks. It was the first day of the long holiday weekend so I wanted to beat the crowds. The weatherman said it was only 58 degrees … a little chilly for Labor Day weekend!
I left the house in a hoodie and when I arrived at my first destination, Lake Erie Metropark, as I walked along the shoreline to get some shots of water lotuses, I had to admit I could have used a pair of gloves – yikes! I’ll write about that three-hour trek in a future post, but after a long walk and at least 100+ photos taken, I headed to Elizabeth Park.
It seems many others had the same idea to visit this venue.
Whenever I go to Elizabeth Park, it is usually earlier in the morning before it gets busy on the circular path that surrounds this island park. By noon, available parking spots are nil and the path is crowded with bicyclists, roller bladers, runners and walkers, not to mention many pooches enjoying a long outing with their owners. So showing up so late in the morning offered a different experience for me.
I always start with a trip around the woodsier spots of Elizabeth Park, first going to the canal area to look for geese and ducks.
Waterfowl photo ops in the canal can be counted on and these days geese are often wading in this area, which is not part of the canal, but actually is the flooded grassy banks near the canal. This area has been flooded since the Spring of 2019. Amazingly, we had almost drought-like conditions for most of this Summer, but when we had rain, it was the torrential, build-an-ark-posthaste-variety and it has kept the grassy areas soggy and spongy throughout 2020.
I always look for the Pekin and Mallard Hybrid ducks. I’ve showcased the friendly Pekins before, like when park goers Matt and his daughter Shelby were feeding M&M cookies right from their outstretched palms to an eager Pekin duck. My Pekin pal was not as interested in whether I had brought cookies, but more so about its molting miseries. It was preening and pulling out the loose feathers and the result was it looked like a pillow fight had ensued with feathers around its feet.
Moulting is tiring for our fine-feathered friends and my Pekin pal nodded off while I was watching the preening process.
The goldenrod was especially vibrant.
There are very few wildflowers in Elizabeth Park except in early Spring when Wood Anemone grows in pale pink or white clusters around the base of the trees. I stopped at the memorial tree area where all the birdfeeders and suet holders have been placed. I have termed this area “Birdie Nirvana” because in Fall through Springtime, people ensure the feeders are loaded with seed and suet and some people, like me, just stop by and toss down sunflower seeds and peanuts for the birds onto the large memorial stone. It is such a delight to see the Jays, Nuthatches, Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Woodpeckers and squirrels scrambling among themselves to snatch as many treats as possible. Those cold-season days are on the horizon, especially with the cooler weather settling in this past week. The birds were scarce that day, foraging on natural treats like berries instead.
But the squirrels were present and accounted for. The squirrels are always plentiful and in the winter, I’ve stepped out of the car door to see their anxious and expectant faces that translate to “did you bring peanuts?” Elizabeth Park is a haven for squirrel lovers, so of course I am right in my element. Some people feed them as they walk along the pathway, but you often see people just park and open the door and the squirrels come to them.
Here are a few squirrels that I doled out peanuts to – I always pack some peanuts in my pocket for the bigger parks, except Lake Erie Metropark where they forbid you to feed the critters.
It was a “Bring-your-own ——-” type of day.
Well, this was a first. I thought it was funny seeing Angel sporting her cool sunglasses a few weeks before, but check out this German Shepherd who carried his own Frisbee for a little game of catch.
And what was this? You couldn’t miss this bright-yellow hammock strung between two trees. I’ve never seen a hammock at this park (or any park) before. I guess it is allowed … it’s not like a permanent fixture. From my vantage point I saw a pair of legs hanging down from that sagging hammock and I snapped a picture.
But, as I neared the hammock, it was soon evident there were two people in this over-sized hammock, perhaps accounting for the sagging fabric. Evidently they were reading and I got a quick shot, lest they think I was some kind of voyeur.
I neared “Birdie Nirvana” and craned my neck, hoping to capture a bird nibbling on treats. There was a suet cake but my little friend was not snacking on that. Instead that sweet female Downy Woodpecker was inching up a nearby tree. I heard it grumbling “where did that grub go?”
In my peripheral vision I caught sight of something new to that area – a big birdhouse. So apparently, it was “bring-your-own-birdhouse” to Elizabeth Park as well. I stepped up to the tree for a closer look. It was definitely a new addition to this area, with a fresh cedar smell, and nothing marring the hardware or wood – should I alert the birds to this find? I’m sure it will be inhabited on a first-come basis no doubt.
After one complete turn around Elizabeth Park, it was time to walk down and stroll the boardwalk.
The boardwalk was a hoppin’ place.
There were people galore along the shoreline enjoying the sunny, but chilly day.
I rounded the corner near the vintage bridge. Note the water level on the side of the bridge in the first picture.
Out of the corner of my eye, I heard a quick shriek and saw a woman holding a fishing pole and she evidently had a wiggle on her line. In the blink of an eye, she set the fishing pole down, was unhooking a fish, then she called to her companion to take her picture. I said I was going to sneak a picture and she said “no problem” and right after the photo was taken, she bent down and let the fish go. For you non-fishermen out there, this was a largemouth bass (and yes, I had to ask).
There were other “fisherpersons” lurking along the Boardwalk.
Maybe these boaters were fishing too? There were lots of boats on the chilly water that mid-day.
As I strolled the Boardwalk, this is where I saw the roly-poly groundhog which fellow blogger Wayne quipped on my Wordless Wednesday post that I should have named “Fat Albert”…this sure was a groundhog with some girth.
All the groundhogs I’ve seen to date take off running to their burrow when they see the whites of my eyes, so imagine my surprise when it just stood there, next to its burrow, and stared at me. We weren’t even social distancing … that critter was no more than three feet away. It was too lethargic and I figured it was sick, maybe rabid? A guy pushing a youngster in a stroller was coming from the opposite direction. I called out “be careful, don’t get too close – this groundhog is not moving, he may be sick.” He smiled and replied this was the resident groundhog and he was waiting for food because everyone brings treats for him when they see him on the Boardwalk. Hmm. See what I miss by always going to this park earlier in the morning?
Beyond the boardwalk was the marina where a seagull was woolgathering. That is the Grosse Ile Free Bridge in the background. The bridge has been closed since May and won’t open until year end.
I guess the seagull was uninspired by what it saw as it began to yawn – either that or it was a screech and he/she had laryngitis.
The last encounter before heading to the car was this treasure hunter using a metal detector. I asked him if he found any treasures yet and he responded “not yet” and gave me a grin.
Finally, the sun was brighter and stronger and I could unzip my hoodie. Between here and earlier at Lake Erie Metropark, I walked seven miles altogether … onward and upward.
Of course we humans have had it tough this year, even if we have been blessed and our loved ones and ourselves have remained healthy and unscathed by COVID-19.
This beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly pictured above apparently has not fared so well. I’ve seen many butterflies in my day, flitting around my butterfly garden, to sipping nectar from wildflowers on my treks, but I’ve never seen one with such tattered wings.
First it crossed my path, then I watched it alight on this leaf. Despite the massive tears on its forewings and hindwings, the damage didn’t seem to impede it in the least. I watched this butterfly open and close its wings and I was able to get this shot where its tattered wings don’t seem as bad as in the photo up top.
You’ll recall during that long post, I mentioned the many butterflies I saw along the way. At one point in the trek, there was a flurry of Red Admirals that zipped past me, then landed in a meadow area where they began sipping wildflower nectar.
Then, there were a few butterflies that decided to dance, fly or flit alongside me, or even land on the trail ahead of where I was walking. One such example was this Red-Spotted Purple butterfly.
At times it seemed this butterfly was playing a little game with me, i.e.“Catch me if you can!” I was careful not to tread on this delicate creature each time it placed itself square in my path. Luckily I was still fairly fresh in my trek and it was not at the tail end of my eight-mile journey, especially after I got lost in the hot sun in the middle of nowhere!
In the distance, meadows were filled with colorful wildflowers in vibrant shades, mostly yellow or purple, and, as I walked on the various trails, wildflowers grew everywhere. Some of the blooms would bend ever so slightly when a butterfly or bee settled down onto it, or the wind gently stirred the stem or leaves.
I took many pictures of these wildflowers, but these were my favorites and this last photo of the wild Black-Eyed Susan with the droopy petals looks like I felt at the end of that eight-mile walk.
Here’s a little factoid for you about Black-Eyed Susans: they are considered a symbol of encouragement and motivation, which can be attributed to the plant’s adaptability and widespread availability. Well I was motivated to get back to where I began that trek and I made it!
I crossed another venue off my “Parks Bucket List” on August 8th. For several years, I have wanted to visit Crosswinds Marsh and Nature Preserve, in New Boston, Michigan, which is a 50-mile round trip from home.
Crosswinds is not one of the 13 Metroparks in this region. It is a county park and highly touted as being a go-to spot for everyone who likes nature. It is comprised of 1,050 acres of wetlands, which includes an open marsh, wet meadows, forested wetlands, and upland forests. There are one and a half miles (2.4 km) of wooden boardwalks that cross ponds and streams and seven miles (11 km) of hiking trails. What wooed me most was the opportunity to see 240 species of birds and 40 species of mammals and perhaps a chance sighting of the pair of nesting bald eagles who have lived at Crosswinds for over 20 years.
So, with a large bowl of oatmeal and a couple of cups of coffee under my belt, I drove there, eager to see all that this place had to offer. Admittedly, I could have picked a cooler day, but I went anyway.
The focal point of Crosswinds is the marsh.
I have followed Crosswinds Marsh on Facebook for several years. Although there have been almost no posts this year due to COVID-19, thus no interpretive programs, Jennifer Panek, the Park Manager, often posts tidbits of facts, plus photos of what she sees in and around Crosswinds in her daily walk. This could be snakes, turtles or even one or both of the pair of nesting bald eagles. What fascinated me the most were Jennifer’s photos of Great Egrets walking on lily pads looking for their next fish dinner.
The camera was ready and so was I, as I stepped up to the wooden overlook.
There is a looooooooooog wooden walkway that stretches across the marsh. Every picture online you see of Crosswinds features the shot you saw in the header image.
This is one of the additional wooden overlooks.
From the walkway, I peered into the water where it was wall-to-wall Pond Lilies. Unlike Lake Erie Metropark’s Water Lotuses that rise high into the air out of enormous leaves, these are smaller and daintier lilies that sit near the pads. Here are a few of them.
Though it was a hot day and the venue was a marsh, meaning it would be buggy, I still wasn’t keen on slapping on a lot of bug repellent while handling the camera, so I wore long pants and a long-sleeved shirt to thwart bug bites. Whew – it was already warmish and not even 9:00 a.m.!
I used my hand to shade my eyes when I noticed a white blur in the distance. I honed in and no, it was not a Great Egret, but a Mute Swan alternately gliding through the lily pads and diving for aquatic plants that flourish beneath the lily pads.
I stood on the wooden walkway, peering into the water intensely, figuring that lily pads equal frogs, right? No frogs, but there were lots of swallows flitting about and as I neared the wooden structure, swallows were either darting all over or sitting on the wooden railing.
You see the large wooden building which is at the end of the wooden overlook? This screened-in building with picnic tables inside is where interpretive programs are held, or you can just go in and catch your breath and step out of the searing sun if you’d like. I didn’t stop here, but just kept plugging along, keen on seeing as much as possible before the heat of mid-day.
Like a fork in the road, you had a choice which trail to choose.
So I hopped off the wooden walkway and opted for the Mallard Trail. It was short, just a half-mile …
… so I soon had to make another decision. Hoping to see one or both of the bald eagles, I chose the Bald Eagle Trail.
According to the trail map posted near the parking lot …
… this was a 1.80-mile (2.9 km) trail. It began on a boardwalk and ended up in a wooded area which was great as it cooled me off a little.
Along the way I ran into a scene reminiscent of the rock group ZZ Top. This is “Angel” sporting her very cool sunglasses and her owner, that I asked to pose with her, but didn’t get his name. We had a fun chat wherein he told me his last dog had 20 pair of sunglasses – Angel only has two pair.
It seemed all the humanity was at the marsh overlook and not too many people had ventured onto the trails. Then, amazingly there was another set of signs to choose which trail to go to next.
I was already about two miles away from the marshland area and began following behind a young couple – he was explaining to his female friend where the trail would eventually lead.
We chatted briefly and he told me he’d been to Crosswinds twice, but this was the first time for his friend. I said “first time for me too – I was enjoying your tutorial and I’m awaiting the next trail as I’ll tag along behind if you don’t mind.”
Well that idea fell flat, because the woman was not as enamored of the woodsy area as he was and he next asked if she’d like to go back. I saw a head shake, so there went my guided tour. I asked if he’d ever seen the bald eagles and he said “no, but go this way and you’ll enjoy the hike.” His suggested route was “go right, then left, then right all the way and that will take you back to where you started.” That trek sounded easy enough, so I thanked him and set off once again.
Oh no – I strayed off the beaten path big-time!!
Soon I would regret that impetuous decision to stray from the beaten path and go it alone. I actually ALWAYS make it a point to never go too far into a wooded area, unless I’m on a 5K walk or there are other people around.
So, just like the proverbial fork in the road, there was a fork in the path – hmmm. Though there were a flurry of signs leading FROM the marsh overlook to guide you to various trails, there were signs like this …
… sadly, none of them offered much direction to get back to square one and the last one was a wee bit disconcerting.
The trail meandered as I went along – for a while I’d be hiking through a shady woodland area which cooled me off, but then I’d go through areas of gravel road or dirt trails with the sun beating down on me. It was getting very hot, but I was more uncomfortable with the fact that I was lost than I was getting very warm and I never carry water. As I walked along, I hoped I’d see that wooden structure or one of the wooden overlooks – but all I saw were trees and trails.
As I went through the multiple meadows, there were wildflowers aplenty and butterflies flitted around my head and a few landed on the path as I walked which was kind of fun. And there were a few dragonflies and damselflies too. In between grumbling to myself about being lost, I appreciated these delicate creatures entertaining me, but was surprised that even common critters like squirrels or songbirds were nowhere to be found, leading me to blurt out to no one in particular: “where are those 240 species of birds, and 40 species of mammals that are supposed to be here?”
I spotted the “Horse Trail” signage and remembered that marker from the map and saw hoof prints leading into yet another trail. The Horse Trail is 4 1/2 miles (7.2 km) … well fine, if you’re astride a horse. Thankfully I am used to extra-long weekend treks, but I was not going down this trail and tacking on another 4 1/2 miles to my meanderings, even though this trail might take me back where I started. I soldiered on, though I was getting really hot and a couple of droplets of sweat slowly rolled from my forehead into my eyes stinging them. I thought maybe I’d remove the bandana face mask and fashion it into a sweatband, but thought better of that idea in case I ran into a crowd later.
So where in the heck was I and where was the *&%# marsh?
I finally saw a human – yay! Hopefully it was someone who was familiar with Crosswinds Marsh or had a smartphone with a map. Since I have a flip phone I had suddenly become quite needy. This was a runner and he kept running in place as he explained breathlessly that I should return the way I came from and go back to the “grassy cut” and I’d be good to go … I thanked him, apologized for making him break his momentum, then walked the suggested “3/4s of a mile” back where I just walked. (Sigh.) By then, in the hot sun, it felt more like twice that amount to walk, but I found the rather nondescript grassy cut.
I remembered seeing it before, but I was sticking to the trail, so just ignored it. I must tell you that initially there were wooden signs everywhere with the names of the trails and directional arrows on the signs, but out here in the boonies with the bugs, butterflies and blooms, there were no signs, especially back to the central area where the marsh was.
I went along the grassy cut only to see this sign about trespassing. Great, just great!
I was exasperated and next I saw a couple with a baby … I went over and said “I’m a little frustrated at still another fork in the road – can you tell me if you came from the marsh to get where you are now?” Yes, they had and suggested I turn left and follow that path and walk “about a mile and a half” and I’d be there. I thanked them profusely and said they set my mind at ease.
There must be some kind of way outta here!! (Channeling some Jimi Hendrix here.)
I walked, pausing to take a few shots of the many fields of wildflowers as well as individual wildflowers, as I still craned my neck to see the high overlook and wooden structure to no avail. I kept plodding along like an old horse on the trail, with considerably less spring in my step than had been when I stepped out of the car some three hours earlier.
Finally, a wooden walkway and some reeds poking through the slats gave me a sign of hope that indeed the marsh was near and a woman named “Sue” and her dog “Pepper” came up behind me as the walkway was quite narrow. I once again told my tale of getting lost and she said “no worries – Pepper and I walk here all the time and we know our way around. Did you want to return to the marsh or the parking lot?” I said “back to the marsh please – oh thank you soooo much!!” She said “that’s how I’m going – we can walk together if you’d like.” So, we walked at least another mile. I wondered how many miles I’d walked but my pedometer was under my shirt, hooked onto my pants and covered by my fanny pack and the camera bag.
Finally in the distance, the wooden structure was in view, rising high into the air. I breathed a sigh of relief and my comfort level increased immediately. Sue and I walked along companionably, chitchatting about the marsh and how many times she’d seen the eagles and told me that I “just have to return in the Fall to see the colors and the Canada Geese stepping across the marsh on the lily pads.” Finally we reached the entrance to the marsh where I also saw the second couple I’d asked for directions. They had taken a shorter trail – I, on the other hand, looked, and felt, like I’d walked the entire 1,050 acres of Crosswinds Marsh!
Sue, Pepper and I parted ways – I had one more stop to make.
Check out this interesting wild bee hotel.
If you Google Crosswinds Marsh you’re sure to see either the long wooden overlook and wooden building pictured above, or the entrance to the marsh area.
I wanted to visit this part of Crosswinds Marsh last since I figured the mid-day sun would bring out more butterflies. So, at the end of this very long trek, I stopped to view the “wild bee hotel” which was situated near that wide swath of colorful perennials.
The butterflies were also busy sipping nectar. I’d have stayed longer, but I just wanted to get back to the car and put the A/C on, cool off and sit down.
Finally, I plopped down on the car seat, pulled out the pedometer – a little over eight miles! It seemed like it should be double that amount. The perfect end to this long trek should have been a cool car before I drove home. But the A/C was on the fritz and it was horribly hot in the car. Talk about an inopportune time to need an air conditioning recharge!
Once home in the cool house, I conceded it was a long trip to get there, and getting lost was not fun, but I’m glad I went anyway.
P. S.: I had butterfly and wildflower photos, but left them out as this post is already picture laden and long – maybe down the road.
… but you could have fooled me, as we’ve had a very warm weather week and temps will climb to 80 F (26 C) today!
Last Saturday, on the last weekend of Summer, I added two layers of clothing and even broke out the gloves – I’ve never worn gloves on the 19th of September. I don’t usually wear a coat, nor do I turn on the furnace, before Autumn’s arrival, but I made an exception since that morning we tied a longstanding record of 38 F (3 C) – brrrrrr!
That brisk weather quickly moderated and now we have Summer-like conditions once again – go figure.
The cicadas are very loud this year. I did some yardwork last Sunday and the noise was almost deafening at times with their continuous buzzing/rattling sound. The invasion of the 17-year cicadas does not happen until 2021 (and no, their arrival was not cancelled this year due to COVID-19). I swear that thousands of cicadas must have converged into the trees in the ‘hood. Have you ever seen or heard cicadas? If not, you can see what they look like (ugh) and hear the noise (OMG) simply by clicking here – it’s a long video but interesting and the buzzing noise I referenced can be heard at 1:40.
Enough of bugs … how about some pretty blooms and butterflies?
Before Summer took that brief pause, I went to the Taylor Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, hoping to get a few more shots of blooms and butterflies before the cooler weather settled in.
I also hoped to see a hummingbird or two hovering about the Cannas, or on the Cardinal Flowers, but I was out of luck. There were no hummers at the Cannas and this year, no bright-red Cardinal Vine was climbing over the top of the mesh-like Conservatory structure like it usually is. Perhaps next year?
By the way, I managed to get a few shots of Hope, the female hummingbird here at the house, but the photos were taken through the screen door and it was drizzly and gray. I believe Hope is still here, having seen her buzz by the other day; I asked her to send me a postcard when she arrives in Florida or Mexico, whatever her Winter destination of choice is, so I know she arrived safely and I can take the feeders down.
A little bit of eye candy to close out your week.
Nothing says Summertime like beautiful blooms and butterflies. The Botanical Gardens never disappoints.
Cabbage Whites, while not as colorful as some butterflies, are every bit as dainty as they flit from flower to flower.
Suddenly there were five butterflies enjoying nectar for breakfast.
This is a Painted Lady butterfly.
A second Painted Lady arrived as I was ready to leave.
Here’s a collection of flowers found inside the Conservatory.
It’s funny how one little item might trigger a special memory sometimes … a person, place or thing that you’ve not thought of in many years. First it was that old willow tree that was damaged in one of Mother Nature’s many fits that she’s had this Summer. I guess we are all worn and weary from being immersed in our COVID-19 woes and Mother Nature’s miseries, a bad combo that has likely shaved a few years off my life and likely yours too.
I’ve had a few instances this year where I remembered a person from my past. I dreamed of someone or happened to think of someone from years ago – it was a strong premonition to find out something about them. In both instances they had passed away recently. It was a little unsettling.
Sandra, a fellow blogger who is an avid photographer, recently did a few posts showcasing Cosmos … no, not pictures of the universe, which would not be surprising as she often features shots of the moon. Sandra was experimenting with macrophotography and had up-close pictures of a pink, dainty-looking flower. I recognized that bloom right away – thirty years ago this Summer, there was a sea of Cosmos in the yard next door.
A little backstory – The Mystery Man.
In the 1980s, we got a new neighbor. He never said a word to my mom nor me … in fact, he’d be sitting out on his front porch at night, or on the weekends, and, if I was doing yardwork, or my mom and I came home from an outing, he would promptly turn his chair facing the opposite way. Smart women that we were, we quickly figured out he wanted nothing to do with us … so we did not exactly welcome him to the neighborhood with a tuna casserole and a chocolate cake. Furthermore, we certainly didn’t lose any sleep over his strange and unsociable behavior.
In 1988, the City tore up our street. We got letters from City Hall telling exactly what the project entailed and how long it was projected to last. The easement in the backyard was City property and we could expect it to be torn up as part of this undertaking and possibly the City sidewalk as well. I was upset as I’d spent the Summer of 1985 re-landscaping the front, side and backyard. It was a humongous undertaking and my poor AMC Pacer had to have its springs replaced from lugging home landscape ties, 2 X 4s, mulch, dirt, lava rocks … yes, I could have hired a landscape company to do that work, but I thought “how difficult could it be anyway?” It was a job for much younger legs, but I digress ….
This neighbor left for work before I did, never had people over at the house and, if he and I happened to be closer than twenty feet away from one another, i.e. doing yardwork or shoveling snow at the same time, he scurried into the house before we could make eye contact … he was a bit of a mystery man.
Our good friends/neighbors across the street had a double lot and it was here the construction crew chose to park their heavy machinery in the backyard at the end of each workday. The lady of the house, who prided herself on her longstanding and beautiful perennial garden, tearfully came over the first night and asked if she could park her perennials in our yard until the project was over? We said “of course but what if they likewise rip up our easement area?” She and her husband purchased multiple five-gallon buckets, filled them with dirt and carefully “replanted” each of her clumps of Coneflowers, Daisies and Black-Eyed Susans, then nestled the buckets on the mulch in my backyard between my plants. I had the same exact flowers – it looked like a nursery back there. She promised to water them – I told her not to worry, I would take care of them like they were mine until she reclaimed them. I guess my motives were selfish – all the time I figured my good deeds may mean my backyard was spared.
The construction project was in high gear in August, in the Dog Days of Summer. The dust flew as heavy machinery tore into the easements of neighbors across the street from this house. The casualties were not just to gardens brimming with produce and perennials … a neighbor on the corner had a heart attack when he returned home from work, only to find his prized rock garden, perennials and veggies had been ripped apart. He dropped to the ground and died on the spot.
A little miracle.
A few days later the City sidewalks across the street were munched by the heavy machinery. I cringed when I saw the mess and how the metal jaws came perilously close to tree trunks along our tree-lined street. I was in the backyard watering all the flowers, when the mystery man stalked over to the fence. He didn’t introduce himself, no niceties here, but he pointed at the buckets of flowers and said “where did you get those flowers?” I explained the situation and he gave a little grunt and said “I don’t care for flowers – you spend time and money on flowers, then they die off.” Being raised to be nice to my elders, but also gritting my teeth a little, between clenched teeth I responded “well they brighten up my yard anyway.”
Half expecting him to walk away after my curt comment, he stood there looking at me. It was awkward to be sure. A long moment of silence passed. I felt the need to say something … like maybe introduce myself or welcome him to the neighborhood. But before I did so, he blurted out “they’re doing that sewer replacement job all wrong – I work in construction and you watch … we’ll have flooded basements and all the trees’ll die. Look how they plowed into the roots!” He was all wound up and I said “well good thing you and I don’t have a tree on City property and they must’ve forgotten to work in our backyard for which I’m grateful.” He just kind of grunted, turned and walked away.
Well, as he strode toward the house, I was tempted to say “by the way, my name is Linda and my mom’s name is Pauline … and you are?” But it was too late for that.
Flash forward a year, give or take a month.
The mystery man drove an old, rather beat-up, light-blue, nondescript car. He always parked out front and that vehicle leaked like the Exxon Valdez. In Winter the car never moved, but I now knew it was because he worked in outside construction. There had been no conversation since that day when he spoke his mind. I’d be outside, nary a hand wave, mouthing “hello” – none of the niceties that you do to at least attempt to be polite and neighborly.
But as Spring finally sprung, there was another element added to the mystery man puzzle, when suddenly I noticed a compact car and a stranger, a young man who owned that car and I saw him going in/out of the mystery man’s house. It was Springtime by now and orange barrels were everywhere and construction had started up for the year, yet I noticed the mystery man’s car never budged week in and week out. My mom and I discussed this and wondered what was afoot, but we weren’t going to ask.
I was working in the back garden when the young man came to the fence, introduced himself as Nicky and said he’d come to live with his father, Nick, who had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I said I was sorry and told him that in all the years he’d lived there, I never knew his dad’s name and told him the gist of our conversation back in 1988. What had just been a rather solemn moment after Nicky relayed his father’s medical diagnosis, suddenly he burst into hearty laughter. He said “Dad never spoke to you since he moved here – no way!” I said “no” and added “he turned his chair around the other way so he did not have to look at my mom and me when he was outside.” Once again Nicky roared with laughter. He then said “please don’t take it personally” then explained that his parents divorced and afterward his dad declared he was “taken to the cleaners” and swore he’d never talk to a woman again. The exception as to women was Nicky’s sister who lived in Indiana with her minister husband.
Nicky told me he was going to law school in Cleveland, Ohio but had transferred to Wayne State University Law School in Detroit to attend classes there while taking care of his dad. He had hoped to do a clerking internship that Summer to help get (and perhaps guarantee) a job with a firm after graduation, but when he moved in with his dad, he realized that was not going to be doable, so he’d just see what was available after he graduated from law school and passed the bar exam. He concluded by saying “family always has to come first – Dad has no one else and my sister has to be there with her husband.”
So, that was the first of many over-the-fence talks Nicky and I enjoyed that Summer. We also argued in a friendly way, as we debated the fate of Lawrence DeLisle, a local father who drove off the pier at Bishop Park, Wyandotte in August 1989, taking his wife and four little children with him. Lawrence DeLisle’s “story” was his gas pedal stuck and thus the car plunged into the Detroit River. The four children drowned, but his now ex-wife, survived. Lawrence DeLisle’s trial was in June of 1990. There was friendly banter across the fence for the duration of the trial, as Nicky, the third year law student and Linda, the litigation legal secretary with a decade of trial support experience already under her belt, debated – each of us had our own opinion. It was a lively nightly discussion as we watered and weeded our gardens. In the end, just as I predicted, DeLisle was found guilty and is still in jail thirty years later. The sordid and sad story can be found by clicking here.
Oh yes, by the way did I say gardens … plural?
Gardens and flowers at Nick’s house? Nick, that mystery man, who hated flowers? Yes, indeed. In the Spring as I gently uncovered my perennials’ tender shoots and removed the yard debris, Nicky said he had had been admiring my perimeter gardens since moving in. He told me he decided he would do the same in their yard to cheer up his ill father. Gulp! Dare I tell him about Nick’s disgruntled comment about flowers or keep that to myself? I decided on the latter. I said “oh, that will be nice Nicky – he’ll appreciate that.”
[A little white lie never hurt anyone.]
So, Nicky worked his butt off to create similar perimeter gardens as mine. He spaded away the grass, lugged home bags of topsoil and packets of seeds. Lots of packets of seeds. He decided on Cosmos flowers because they were fast growing and colorful. Nicky had method in his madness … he aimed to have those Cosmos up to the top of the cyclone fence as quickly as possible. He told me he wanted to surround the yard in color to cheer his dad up.
The seeds were planted and tended by Nicky with TLC and lots of Miracle-Gro. Secretly, I hoped the bunnies would not seize the opportunity to eat those tiny shoots as Nicky was hell bent on creating this garden for his dad to enjoy in the time remaining as cancer ravaged his body.
I caught glimpses of Nick in early Summer – he was a slight man before, but now he was gaunt, bent over, barely walking and one day he shuffled to the chair in the yard, prompted by Nicky to see the flowers. I was pulling weeds and glimpsed this out of the corner of my eye. Nick clung to Nicky’s arm, then lowered himself slowly into the chair. Nicky pushed a table close to him, then said he’d be back in a minute with a cool drink. While Nicky was gone, Nick rested his forearms on the table, then laid his head down and wept, long racking sobs that I was sorry to have heard and witnessed. He did not see me there, so this time it was my turn to scurry back into the house to give him some privacy. I burst into tears once inside the house … the scene really stirred my emotions.
Despite Nick’s initial attitude toward Mom and me, things changed that Summer.
My mom had surgery that Summer. It was a hip revision, a complicated procedure wherein the original hip prosthesis was removed and a new prosthesis put in. In my mom’s case, the stem of the prosthesis had come loose. It required a long operation and a ten-day hospital stay. Every night after work I’d go up to the hospital. On the weekend, I’d spend the day there. On several occasions, I’d come home and Nick was sitting on the porch and in a wavery voice asked: “how’s your mother doing today Linda?” I’d give a brief report and then as an afterthought he’d ask “how are you doing?” I was touched and a few times my eyes welled up from the stress and worry and answered in as calm and steady of a voice as I could and said “I’ll tell her you asked for her Nick.” I had never called him by name before, but yes … it was time to do so. And no, I could not bring myself to ask how he was doing … besides, I got a daily report from Nicky.
When Mom came home from the hospital, I took a leave of absence from work, using personal time and vacation time to stay home with her for three weeks. Nicky took it upon himself to make dinner for us every night. He’d come over near the kitchen window and yell out what he’d cooked that day and ask me to put on my oven mitts and meet him at the door in a few minutes. He was an excellent cook, having spent each of his college Summer vacations working at a resort. He quipped that he was afraid my cooking might send Mom back to the hospital.
Meanwhile it was late July and Cosmos filled the perimeter of the yard.
The Cosmos grew taller by the day and soon they were grazing the top of the cyclone fence. The blooms were a riot of hues in pink and purple, bobbing their delicate heads in the breeze. I told Nicky one night, as we watered our gardens and chatted companionably over the fence, that his sad mission was accomplished. He nodded, unable to say anything and tears filled his eyes. My eyes misted up seeing him.
Nick passed away a few days later.
The estate was wrapped up quickly. Nicky, a weight lifted from his shoulders, awaited taking the bar exam, but not for Michigan, but Florida. His heart was not there for studying for the exam, but he had to move on, without the advantage of having clerked at a firm in conjunction with school. He was able to get into the Prosecutor’s office in Miami and left for Florida a few weeks later. On moving day, he came in the house to say goodbye and hugs were exchanged and tears flowed freely.
I pass by the Cosmos you see in the pictures above every time I walk to the Park. I snapped these photos, not really thinking about Nick or Nicky and that Summer of 1990. But oddly enough, just a few days after I took these pictures of pink Cosmos in the ‘hood, fellow blogger Sandra posted her pink Cosmos photos and it was while gazing at those flowers, the memories came flooding back. I told Sandra how her post had triggered those sad memories and she urged me to write this post. Thank you if you’ve read to the very end.
Postscript – I finished proofreading this very long post and switched on the radio to hear the news – Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away from the same type of cancer as Nick. I have always admired her. She was a fighter in many ways. May we please find a cure for this horrible disease sooner rather than later.