Thursday, January 26, 2012

Look, I'm a busy guy....

.....but not too busy to think outside the box on behalf of America!

New USDA Hardiness Map

The USDA just issued an updated hardiness zone map!

As these things go this is big news for those of us who fret over plants - of all sorts- here in America.  Here at the Mothership we find that we are firmly in the middle of Zone 6A. This is an exciting moment if only because now I can refer back to an old textbook or two to see how this map compares to the USDA map circa 1980.
Yes, the new map certainly has more detail, but here on the edge of the Great Lakes we're about as cold - or warm - as ever. So. If you're wanting to plant that Japanese Maple in Hyde Park - go for it.  But if you're in Galena.....maybe not so much.    

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Afield #15

Spring Creek Valley F.P. :: 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Life for Old Orchards?

A recent walk through an old pear orchard in northwest Cook County led me to this interesting initiative from the NPS Olmsted Center.  Perhaps these trees can bear fruit other than the edible kind?   

Crabtree Nature Center - Cook County, IL :: 2012

Monday, January 09, 2012

Stars and Bars

The silhouette of a captive Barred Owl back lit by the January sun:

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

For all you map geeks out there...

This story caught my eye yesterday. A handmade map that won what is essentially "best in show" from his fellow mapmakers.  You can purchase one of the maps here.  

The United States of America by David Imus

Yep, I'm a map geek. Are you one too?  I am guilty of having purchased maps (only a few, I promise) to destinations I hope to visit one day. I also have kept maps from earlier travels, and squirreled away maps that caught my eye from old National Geographics. I guess it is an eccentricity, but as these things go, not a bad one. 

In this digital age I wonder if map reading is becoming a lost art. I'm from the pre-GPS era (cue the sad curmudgeon music) so looking at road map was pretty much how you got around. I don't like GPS units. I don't like having another voice telling me when to turn when I should be able to sort that out for myself. I'm not a complete dinosaur - I do employ sites like Mapquest from time to time, mainly to optimize driving time and to help figure out how long a trip might take.  And map reading for outdoor pursuits is an essential skill. I don't know many tree huggers out there who don't also have a thing for maps.      

So digital navigation has it's role. But paper maps and atlases are a wonder.  Especially when they are works of art as well. It's heartening to see this art form still lives. Santa?  Are you listening?  Rats......late again!   

Chipping Away at Starved Rock

Wetlands adjacent and feeding into Starved Rock State Park are under threat of ruination due to a proposed mining project.  The Illinois Sierra Club and others have raised concerns about the potential impacts this mine will have on a state park that is much beloved and much visited. The LaSalle County Board is poised to vote on this permit in ten days.  I did take up the Sierra Club on their offer to contact the board on this issue, even though I am not a resident of their county.
The State of Illinois has very few remaining natural areas left. This dearth of prairies, wetlands and forests is the legacy of our collective history. Virtually all of our midwestern prairie soils were converted to farmland to feed a growing nation. The handful of prairies and wetlands that remain are here by fluke, accident, or good luck. For example, were it not for the economic calamity of the Great Depression Wolf Road and Gensburg Markham Prairies would have been subdivided and built up. Their value to society as natural areas came years later when it was recognized that The Prairie State had almost none.  I don't know the land use history for this wetland parcel that is now in the spotlight, but it is the state's natural lands inventory. I'll bet there are some amazing things living there - plants and animals that have been on the run since the end of the 18th century.
It might be better now, but for the longest time I felt Illinoisans knew more about the dangers to distant rainforests and oceans than to....Illinois. And it would be hard to blame them. What is left of our vast natural bounty has been reduced - in many ways - to outdoor museum exhibits. I'm not knocking what we have, mind you. We owe a great debt to those local 20th century naturalists that raised hell to save the scraps that we try to keep and maintain today. These scraps of land give us the last living glimpses of the beauty that this land once held, and what we have lost.  
I truly do not envy the LaSalle County Board. They have to again judge this age old debate of jobs vs. nature. Last fall, one of E's daughters and I rode our bikes through the Illinois River valley. We pedaled through Starved Rock and Buffalo Rock State Parks. We also toured many of the small towns along the way. I have no doubt jobs in this region are needed, and needed badly. They will try to balance the immediate needs of real people versus the loss of yet one more tiny strand holding together the Illinois landscape - a strand that probably seems anonymous to all but a few naturalists. Such anonymity is a tragedy, but it too is a part of our legacy. 
No, I am not a resident of LaSalle County and I can't predict how much impact an email from a non-constituent from Cook County would have. But I am a resident of the State, and I do care about the very few natural areas that remain. Can this - or any - county board predict how the loss of one more tiny strand will affect the bigger web of nature?  This is a decision I can only hope they consider very thoughtfully.