Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Farmers' Market began its 2009 season this morning without rain, which held off till later

2009 Season of the Dane County Farmers' Market Opened Today
It might be more logical to call the first one of the 2009 season the "Dane County Gardening Market," with starter plants just about outnumbering food products. The Dane County Farmers' Market is the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country. All items are produced locally by the vendor behind the table. No resale is allowed. The Farmers' Market will be held on the Capitol Square every Saturday from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., rain or shine, through November 7th. And on Wednesdays, there's the Wednesday Market on the 200 block of MLK Blvd.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Yesterday seems to have been my day for spotting urban turkeys all over Madison

Yesterday: My Urban Turkey Day
First there was the one in Owen Park, but at least it was doing something I had seen turkeys do before -- walking in that ungainly, but surprisingly rapid, way they have. Sometimes I've seen them fly, but they were always low altitude short hops, almost as if they were performing running jumps while beating their wings, rather than flying. But this was different. No turkey could jump this high.

T and I were walking in the UW Arboretum's Curtis Prairie, when we decided to walk northeast through the woods toward Teal Pond. We were enjoying our walk through the gathering twilight, some distant trees still painted red by the setting sun, when I heard a rustle of wings from a large bird at treetop level, followed by a scrabbling sound as it tried to navigate its way through a forest of twigs and branches to a safe landing on a larger limb. It must have been sixty or seventy feet above the ground.

I did not have a clear view. I just saw a large, blurred shape in my peripheral vision, disappearing behind some branches and tree trunks. But I could see where it must be. I knew it wasn't a hawk. I thought it might be an owl. We approached silently and carefully so as not to spook the creature. As we rounded a tree that had been blocking the view, we got a clear view. And I saw the first turkey I've ever seen roosting near the top of a towering oak. I wondered what had spooked it so that it felt it had to elevate to such a height -- or whether it just flew up there for the fun of it.

As we walked away, I turned back and it still seemed to be standing there, immobile. It seemed to wonder how the heck it was going to get out of there, through that prickly obstacle course of small, closely-spaced small. But I suppose he managed in the end.

Glenn Wolff's evocative sculpture welcomes visitors to the Arboretum's Curtis Prairie

"Prairie Tapestry No. 1: Crane Clangor" by Glenn Wolff
The fading daylight casts Michigan artist Glenn Wolff's work of public art in the UW Arboretum into revealing silhouette. It's an evocation of the prairie environment and its history that was developed by the artist in collaboration with participants at a prairie conference.
... the large metal sculpture that is prominent at the approach to Curtis Prairie. Called “Prairie Tapestry No. 1: Crane Clangor,” it was created by Michigan sculptor Glenn Wolff in collaboration with participants at a conference about North American prairies. It’s one of those works that the longer you look at it, the more you will see and associate. Various elements of prairie life, from sandhill cranes to coneflowers to fire, are depicted. I particularly like the two human hands shown at the bottom corners. I've never asked the artist about them, but to me they symbolize the continuing and evolving relationship between people and the prairie.
I especially like the crane figure's sweep and power, that perfect red patch glowing in the twilight, the only spot of color in the work. (View photo large by clicking through to Flickr and clicking on All Sizes.) I also like the small figure of a buffalo at the bottom in the middle and, yes, the hands in the corners.

I was curious about the artist but it took a while to find any information on Google. If you don't know the title of a work of art and don't know the artist's name, searching for information is a hit-and-miss sort of thing that quickly reveals the shortcomings of words. But eventually I found what I was looking for. Turns out Wolff is a native of Traverse City, MI. He studied art there and in Minneapolis, moved to New York and started working as an illustrator (his work has appeared in the New York Times, the Village Voice and other publications -- as well as several books). He returned to northern Michigan in 1987 and continued illustrating books and working on fine art.
Of all the artists in the Grand Traverse area, perhaps the most visible is Glenn Wolff. Not for a flashy lifestyle or five digit price tags on his work, but rather for the frequency with which he lends his talents and work to aid various organizations and causes.from The Bird in the Waterfall He has become, among other things, the (nearly) official illustrator for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, his drawings blending water and wood and wildlife to form symbolic representations of the habitats they are working to preserve.
You can see examples of the range of this artist's work at his website.

Smoke got in my eyes at Madison's Owen Park while I was being led on a wild turkey chase

Spring Burn at Owen Park
They've doing some burning at Owen Park. The last couple of days, they've burned some of the underbrush in the oak grove. I enjoyed prowling the periphery, since I love the smell of burning brush. When I asked whether they would burn the prairie this year, they said they didn't know -- it depends on the weather.

Wild Turkey Checks Out the AshesWild turkeys have made themselves at home in Owen Park in recent years, occasionally terrorizing the neighbors during mating season. It seemed to be a bit early for that today. This was the only one I saw. It seemed to be checking out the ashes from the spring burn.

Another Look at That Turkey in Owen ParkI tried to get closer to the turkey with my camera, because I wanted to get a photo that wasn't obstructed by branches. The turkey started to walk up the path that leads up and around the hill. It seemed to really like the path, and clearly wasn't about to yield it to a mere human. I walked more quickly. The turkey quickened its pace.

My First Butterfly of the SeasonIt was already starting to pull ahead of me when I was distracted by my first butterfly of the season -- a Mourning Cloak with a slightly damaged wing. Ever wonder why these beauties appear so early in the spring around here? They overwinter here, protected by a natural antifreeze they start to produce as it gets colder in the fall. By the time I had finished meditating on its life history while waiting for the butterfly to light on some leaves for a photo, the turkey was gone.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Le Rouge et le Noir

Le Rouge et le Noir
A shadowy work in progress by Trader Joe.

Badger eyes are everywhere, but apparently they have some blind spots

Badger Eyes Are Everywhere but Apparently Have Some Blind Spots
Big Bucky is watching, but he seems to be suffering from myopia. Note the bicycle in the background, which someone apparently trashed and left for dead in front of Grainger Hall. ("Badger Watch is the crime prevention program for the UW-Madison Campus. It’s a collaborative effort between over 700 volunteers and the UW Police Dept. to help make the community a safer place.")

It was a beautiful afternoon for sunbathing yesterday in Turtleworld

Early Spring in Turtleworld
Also known as Ho Nee Um Pond, a part of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum just off Arbor Drive and Monroe Street west of Wingra Park. It's a great place for birding and, if you're a turtle, sunning on an old log of an April afternoon.

The pond is connected to Lake Wingra, but is not part of it. It's an artificial pond, dredged in 1940.
This area was designed by landscape architect G. William Longenecker to be a park like place consisting of a series of oak opening plant groupings, lawn areas and paths through an area of numerous small streams. This area also contains a large pond that was designed to provide sanctuary and forage for waterfowl. It was dredged in 1940 using Wisconsin Emergency Relief Administration equipment and personnel and landscaped by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Today the Arboretum is an established part of Madison, one of the city's great attractions, but it really hasn't been around all that long. In some ways, the Great Depression helped make it possible. Low land values made it possible to purchase the fallow farmland on which it was created, and the Civilian Conservation Corps provided much of the labor to start reclaiming it. You can't help but wonder whether any of today's economic stimulus measures will have impacts as far-reaching and beneficial.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The dried grasses and prairie plants of Owen Conservation Park await the spring prairie burn

Fuel for the FlamesOwen Conservation Park has a haunted look this time of year. The dried husks -- the ghosts, if you will -- of last summer's profusion of grasses and prairie plants ripple across the hillside in flamelike abstract patterns. Soon they'll all go up in smoke in the annual spring prairie burn.

Fuel for the FlamesOwen Park is a treasure, an oasis of serenity hidden away in its own corner of a major metropolitan area, wedged between the the high-traffic arteries of University Avenue to the north and Mineral Point Road to the south -- 93 acres of woods and restored prairie and oak savanna on what once was farmland. There are 3.4 miles of trails, but they're never crowded. The park is used by the occasional walker, birdwatcher or photographer, but that's about it. Not much else to do here, and that's the way it should be.

Soon the annual prairie life cycle will begin anew, with the spring burn. The earth is briefly blackened, but optimistic green shoots immediately start to poke up through the soil. In a couple of weeks it will be green everywhere. In a couple of months, it will be hard to believe all that bounty started from this. More photos here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

We were taking our Easter walk in Owen Park when the Peeps flew in to celebrate in their own way

The Peeps Fly in to Owen Park for Easter
It was beautiful yesterday afternoon in Owen Park. The morning's sunny skies grayed over, and the muted afternoon light made a perfect background for the dried brown and russet prairie plants and grasses, soon to be burned to regenerate the oak savanna. It was peaceful and quiet, and we had the place to ourselves. Until suddenly, with a cacophony of cheeping and peeping, a flock of Peeps came flying in -- as if out of the blue, but they were the blue. Not sure I would have believed it, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

The Peeps Fly in to Owen Park for EasterIt was not hard to see why they would like to get away from people and celebrate by themselves on this day. They were probably tired of being hunted, stuffed in baskets and otherwise abused. A quiet day in the country must have seemed like just the ticket. Some seemed to enjoy just relaxing on the porch and watching the view.

The Peeps Fly in to Owen Park for EasterThe kids were more interested in active pursuits. One tried driving a "tractor." Tree climbing and rock climbing were popular activities. The more sedentary took seats in the home theater of the absurd. And when, rain threated later in the aftrnoon, some took shelter in a cave-like rock outcropping. And then, suddenly, they all were gone. We watched them fly away as suddenly as they arrived. They must have had miles to go before they slept. (Complete set of photos here.)