Poetry & Nature

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To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, 
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.
Emily Dickinson
flourish

NEW NATURE SEMINAR: Poetry & Nature

Interested in learning more about haikus? What about idylls?* What about a deeper appreciation of classic American poets such as Wordsworth, Dickinson, Frost or Sandburg? Brushwood Center is delighted to offer a new seminar on Poetry & Nature.  Taught by Glenn Adelson, chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Lake Forest College, this course explores the long history of poetry and its relationship to the natural world, from its roots in Classical Asian and European poetry to its postmodern manifestations. Understanding the natural processes that served as inspiration and subject matter of nature poetry will enrich your understanding of the poem as work of literature and also the poetry-writing process.  Hope you will join us!

​WHEN:    Tuesdays, January 21 to February 11 (Four sessions), 6:30 – 8:45 p.m.

WHERE:  Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods, 21850 N. Riverwoods Rd., Riverwoods, IL                   60015

COST:    $250 ($225 Brushwood Center members)

Registration required. Click here to register, or for member discount call 847.968.3321.

* a short poem, descriptive of rustic life, written in the style of Theocritus’ short pastoral poems, the Idylls, according to Wikipedia.
*  *  *

Magical Evening at Ryerson Woods

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Model Allison Saum wears an original dress designed by Friends of Ryerson Woods Administrative Coordinator Julia Kemerer.
(Photo credit: Adriana McClintock)

Ryerson Woods is a magical, natural wonderland in the spring – full of native flowers covering the forest bed, trees as far as the eye can see and a host of beautiful creatures living inside. This past Saturday at the 30th annual Smith Nature Symposium, a new and delightful figure appeared in the woods. “Bird Girl” welcomed guests to the symposium in a dress made of moss, hand-painted birds, butterflies and flowers.

Celebrating 30 years is a special occasion and we knew we needed something equally special to dazzle our guests. I thought about a garden dress I came across some time ago. Cascading rows of planters made up an elaborate and dramatic piece of art and nature, the very intersection we cross with our mission at Friends. Many of the events I have done in the past have had a performance artist or some artistic feature to wow guests so I approached our group to see if we could do something similar.

With a passion for design, the project sparked the interest of Friends of Ryerson Woods administrative coordinator and multi-media artist Julia Kemerer. She quickly came up with a concept and got to work.

The hardest part was manipulating chicken wire to form the lower half of the dress and covering it with natural materials, such as Spanish moss, green mountain moss and Black Lichen. Poor Julia was covered in cuts and scratches, as well as the materials and glue. It was a labor of love, though, because it ignited her creative spirit and she was able to focus her energy into a project close to her heart.

Guests were tickled to see the finished product and enjoyed taking pictures with “Bird Girl” throughout the night. Her hat, adorned in hand-painted eggs atop a gorgeous nest, balanced delicately on her head as she made her way through the party interacting with guests. She then rallied the crowd to raise their paddles for fundraising.

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Photo Credit: Adriana McClintock

It was an incredible evening, made possible by so many great moments and helping hands. Kenn Kaufman delivered an informative and funny keynote address. Sophie Twichell, executive director at Friends, lovingly honored longtime friend and former colleague Doug Stotz, the 2013 conservation award winner. Last, and certainly not least, the Lake County Forest Preserve District worked tirelessly to take care of setting up, providing staff and volunteers, chauffeuring guests to the front door and so much more. We couldn’t do it without you!

Thank you to all involved to help make this a memorable year!

Adriana McClintock
Director of Development and Communications

5 Tips for Planning Your Spring Garden

What are you planting in your garden this year? Whether you are growing herbs, flowers, vegetables or fruit, here are five tips to help you with your green thumb this spring.

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sproutrobot

  1. Timing is everything. Plug your zip code into Sprout Robot to make sure you are planting the right thing at the right time. This easy to use website gives you step-by-step instructions with illustrations to help you get started.
  2. Use native plants and flowers when you can. Attend our free Midwestern Native Garden workshop in partnership with the Lake County Forest Preserves to find out how you can makeover your garden with native plants on Thursday, April 18 from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. in the Welcome Center at Ryerson Woods.
  3. Be creative! You can recycle almost anything to use as a planter. Subscribe to our Pinterest gardening page to get inspired by tips and ideas. Garden Pins1
  4. Protect your plants and trees. Mulching helps to maintain soil moisture, control weeds and improve soil fertility. Take a look at many organic options available at The Mulch Center in Deerfield, a Friends of Ryerson Woods sponsor.
  5.  Enjoy the outdoors with children. Nurture your garden and pass along your knowledge to a young person to help them appreciate nature. Show them how to collect vegetables from the garden or watch flowers grow. Use the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights from Chicago Wilderness’ Leave No Child Inside initiative as a guide.

Adriana McClintock
Director of Development and Communications

Drawn to Nature II

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Bull thistle illustration (Cirsium vulgare) by Derek Norman

Drawn to Nature II
by Dr. Gregory M. Mueller

Re-posted with author’s permission from the Chicago Botanic Garden website.

Recently, I helped kick off an exhibition of artwork focusing on wildflowers and other plants found in Midwestern woodlands and prairies. This amazing show, at Ryerson Woods in (Deerfield), Illinois, features works by members of the Reed-Turner Artists’ Circle, some of whom teach in the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden. This exhibition and activities related to it provide a terrific example of what a “citizen artist” program can accomplish, helping to protect our native plants and the benefits they provide humankind by documenting their beauty and engaging the public.

The Artists’ Circle works to further the interests of botanical art, conservation science, botany, and horticulture at the local level. To highlight the beauty and importance of plants in our lives, the Artists’ Circle promotes and exhibits members’ work in collaboration with local and regional institutions.

In my opening remarks, I spoke briefly about how all life depends on plants, which is one of the basic tenets of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Plants provide us with food, shelter, oxygen, and medicine; they also provide vital services such as climate regulation, air and water quality improvement, and flood control. Yet we are in the midst of a well-documented plant biodiversity crisis, and some experts estimate that up to one-third of the world’s plant species may become extinct within the next 50 years. Unfortunately, far too little is being done to address this crisis. In fact, much of society suffers from “plant blindness,”an inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment.

Members of the Artists’ Circle, thankfully, are acutely tuned in to the environment, viewing plants and their role in the world with a unique clarity of vision. Not only are they producing beautiful works of art, they are thinking about developing a “citizen artist” program, and some members have been brainstorming about this idea with me. This program would parallel and enhance the important work that citizen scientists are performing throughout the region and beyond, through Garden involvement in such programs as Project BudBurst and Plants of Concern.

The Drawn to Nature II exhibition, which runs through April 30, highlights the important contributions of botanical artists. It is impossible to be unimpressed by the beauty and complexity of plants when viewing the outstanding drawings and paintings here, created by members of the Artists’ Circle. The subtlety of the art prompts the viewer to see these objects of nature in a new light, eliciting a powerful, emotional response. By provoking such a visceral response, botanical art becomes an effective tool in fighting plant blindness.

Dr. Gregory M. Mueller serves as vice president of Science at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Before joining the Garden, Dr. Mueller worked for 23 years at The Field Museum as curator of mycology in the Department of Botany. He was chair of the Field Museum’s Department of Botany from 1996 to 2005. Dr. Mueller received his B.A. and M.S. from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee. He is also a member of the Friends of Ryerson Woods Advisory Board. 

The Hidden World of Wolves and Coyotes

Did you know that coyotes live in almost every green space of any size in the Chicago metropolitan area? Did you know that their cousins, the wolves, are also thriving across the state line in Wisconsin? Explore the hidden world of these fascinating predators and what their presence in our region means for people. Join us for an intimate look at these animals.

The Hidden Word of Wolves and Coyotes 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Greenbelt Cultural Center

Adrian Wydeven and Stan Gehrt, two of the country’s leading experts, will lead this discussion. Wydeven studies wolves for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Gehrt is the leading researcher of urban coyotes in the Chicago region. This program is presented in partnership with Conserve Lake County, Lake Forest Open Lands, Wildlife Discovery Center and the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

Tickets are $15 ($10 for members of Friends of Ryerson Woods, Conserve Lake County, Lake Forest Open Lands or Wild Ones). Register here.

 

April is National Poetry Month

“A poem begins with a lump in the throat.”  Robert Frost

Were you aware that April is National Poetry Month, a month-long celebration designed to increase the visibility of poetry and poets in our culture?  As an organization that celebrates the intersection of art and nature, we wanted to offer a few ways for those interested to further explore nature poetry.

Orion is celebrating National Poetry Month a special curated selection of poems that will be updated daily.  Visit their website daily to see their selections, or get poems delivered to you by following Orion on Twitter or Tumblr.

From one of our favorite poets:

This is My Letter to the World

By Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.

Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

Emily Dickinson was an American poet who lived an introverted and reclusive life. Thought of as an eccentric, she was known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her room. Although a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime.

Friends of Ryerson Woods is increasingly interested in exploring how nature and culture are linked.  As such, we recommend Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry by Camille T. Dungy published by the University of Georgia Press in December 2009.  Black Nature is the first anthology to focus on nature writing by African American poets, a genre that until now has not commonly been counted as one in which African American poets have participated.   It features poets including the writers Harryette Mullen, Ed Roberson, Evie Shockley, Natasha Tretheway, Camille Dungy and Al Young.

Just as nature is too often defined as wilderness when, in fact, nature is everywhere we are, our nature poetry is too often defined by Anglo-American perspectives, even though poets of all backgrounds write about the living world. By creating an anthology of nature poetry by African American writers, poet and editor Dungy enlarges our understanding of the nexus between nature and culture, and introduces a “new way of thinking about nature writing and writing by black  Americans.”— BOOKLIST, starred review

You might enjoy viewing this video from the Black Nature: A Symposium on the First Anthology of Nature Writing by African-American Poets at The Berkeley Institute of the Environment in 2010.  They read from their work and participate in a discussion on the literary and environmental issues raised by the new anthology.

A closing poem in celebration of the trees that define our landscape here at Ryerson Woods.

TREES

By Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

I THINK that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

“Trees” was originally published in Trees and Other Poems. Joyce Kilmer. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1914.  Best known for this poem, Joyce Kilmer was killed in action during World War I while serving in France on July 30, 1918.  

Wolves + Moose in NYT

We invited our friend, Benjamin Goluboff, to submit a guest post to our blog about a recommended read.  We love his mind and we think you will too!  Ben has led our Ryerson Reads book discussion series for eight seasons and is a professor of English at Lake Forest College.

One of the many reasons to be an obsessive reader of the New York Times is the first-rate reporting on wildlife and wildlife conservation that the Times has offered over the years. Since 2010 theTimes has featured a section called Scientist at Work: Notes from the Field. This is a series of blog posts by researchers in various disciplines studying wildlife around the world. The Times calls the series a “modern version of a field journal, a place for reports on the daily progress of scientific expeditions — adventures, misadventures, discoveries. As with the experditions themselves, you never know what you will find.”

Featured scientists have included the Field Museum’s Doug Stotz conducting a biological inventory in Peru’s northern Amazon, and Stanford University’s Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell studying elephant societies in Namibia. A particularly fascinating blog appeared last year by Roland Kays of the New York State Museum who tracked radio-collared fishers in urban and wild settings around Albany New York. Do Fishers really prey on house cats? Do Fishers really scream? Read Kays and find out.

This winter I have been reading a series of blog posts (just concluded) by John Vucetich a wildlife ecologist from Michigan Tech who leads the wolf-moose Winter Study on Isle Royale National Park. Isle Royale is an island wilderness in Lake Superior. Roadless and accessible only by ferry, Isle Royale is a kayak and backpacker destination in the summer; in winter it is the site of the longest continuous study of predator-prey dynamics in the world. Since 1958 ecologists have monitored the shifting populations of wolves and moose on the island, deriving insights about the life-cycles of both species, and dispelling the myth that predator-prey interactions are governed by the “balance of nature.” Learn more about the Winter Study here: http://www.isleroyalewolf.org/overview/overview/at_a_glance.html

Vucetich’s posts describe a winter spent flying transects over the island and snowshoeing across its interior following the Chippewa Harbor pack as it pursues moose in the island’s deep snows. Along the way we learn something of the personality of the pack, the craft and determination of the researchers, and the shifting emphasis of the long-term study. Vucetich writes: “During the first two decades that scientists observed the wolves on Isle Royale, the predators had a very strong influence on moose abundance. Then climate replaced the influence of wolves over the next two decades. Understanding nature and the lessons of long-term research may require adjusting our sense of what counts as normal.” The writing is crisp and the story is well told. A recommended read for Friends of Ryerson woods, Vucetich’s blog can be found at: http://scientistatwork.blogs.nytimes.com/author/john-vucetich/

Benjamin Goluboff

American Chestnut

A post by Sophie Twichell, FRW’s executive director:

Tonight our RYERSON READS book group will discuss Susan Freinkel’s American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree. I am looking forward to the group’s discussion of this book, led by Professor Ben Goluboff of Lake Forest College.  The group will explore this lost North American tree and the Chestnut blight that killed millions of trees in the first decade of the 20th century.  The blight (a type of fungus) gained entry to this country on an imported chestnut tree from Asia, which Americans began bringing into the US in the late 19th century.  The fungus could kill a mature tree in just 2-3 years.  By mid-century, it was estimated that the blight killed between 3-4 billion trees!  That’s enough trees to fill nine million acres . . . enough to fill Yellowstone eighteen hundred times over. The book also assesses the blight’s impact on forest ecology and human culture, as well as discussing the ongoing project to breed a disease-resistant Chestnut. Lots of good discussion material for tonight.

Although the book explains in detail the measures taken to try to stop the blight, to develop disease-resistant trees and more, while reading I focused on imagining a landscape filled with wild chestnuts.  You know how people ask, “if you could go back in time, who would you like to meet?”  For me, it has always been “what would I have liked to have seen.”  My answer is “skies darkened for days by migrating passenger pigeons” or “millions of acres of uninterruped prairie” or “the migration of millions of American bison.”  I look at the landscape around me and try to imagine what it would have been like to be a part of it 500 years ago.  This book added a new vision for me . . . witnessing wild chestnut trees filling the forests of Appalachia.

The dominion of the American Chestnut tree sprawled over more than 200 million acres, spreading the length of the Atlantic seaborad and west to Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Unlike other parts of the world where the chestnut was a cultivated tree (a family with a chestnut orchard would never go hungry), here this tree was never tamed — it remained a wild forest king.  According to Freinkel, “legend has it that a squirrel could travel the chestnut canopy from Georgia to Maine without every touching the ground. Along the way it would pass over at least 1,094 places with chestnut in their names.”  Appalachia was defined by the chestnut, where they could account for as many as one in every four trees. Trees there were giants — 12 feet wide and ten times as tall!

Although the tree wasn’t really ever formally cultivated for its nuts,  people certainly gathered the nuts, which were sweeter than other types of chestnuts but also smaller (little acorn-size kernels that were difficult to peel).  The trees produced nuts every year, and a single tree could bear as many as 6,000 nuts. Did you know that “nutting” parties were an annual autumn ritual in the cities and growing suburbs throughout the chestnut belt? “Not only country boys — all New York goes a-nutting,” observed Henry David Thoreau.  Believe it or not, there was even a specific term, “chestnutting,” for the collecting of the beautiful shiny, smooth nuts whose sweet flavor could be enjoyed raw, as well as boiled or roasted.  Thoreau also wrote, “I love to gather them, if only for the sense of bountifulness of Nature they give me.”

The Cherokee protected their chestnuts by burning competing trees. The tree was the source of many remedies, including: tea for heart trouble or to stop the bleeding after birth, leaves for sores and as cough syrup, and galls to make an infant’s navel recede.

The Iroquois celebrated the chestnut tree in their story, Hadadenon and the Chestnut Tree.  “Hadadenon lived alone with his uncle; the rest of the family had been killed by a group of seven evil witches. Their only food was a cache of dried chestnuts that was magically replenished at every meal. One day, Hadadenon foolishly destroyed the last of the magical nuts. His uncle cried that they would starve, so Hadadenon resolved to steal more chestnuts from a grove of trees jealously guarded by the seven witches. After many tries, he managed to get into the grove and take the nuts he needed, an act that broke the witches’ curse and restored his family to life. Hadadenon gave each of his relatives a chestnut and told them to plant the seeds everywhere.  The nuts, he declared, were a sacred food, to be shared forevermore with all who wanted them.”

The majesty of the chestnut was also captured in well-known poems, such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem published in 1841 The Village Blacksmith which begins “Under a spreading chestnut tree / the village smithy stands.”  Although not considered one of his major works, Robert Frost wrote a poem about the chestnut blight:

Evil Tendencies Cancel

Will the blight end the chestnut?

The farmers rather guess not.

It keeps smouldering at the roots

And sending up new shoots

Till another parasite

Shall come to end the blight.

Robert Frost (1936)

To learn the status of the chestnut tree today, I hope you’ll join our discussion tonight (7:30pm at Brushwood, $15 or $10 for FRW members) or read the book on your own.

The selection of books for next season of RYERSON READS (our 9th season!) will be announced next week.  Be sure to check our website at http://www.ryersonwoods.org/p/RyersonReads.html.

Guest Post: Nature in the Classics

After his wonderful presentation at our most recent Nature in the Classics concert with the Music Institute of Chicago Academy, we asked Jim Setapan if he would share a few more words about the relationship between nature and the great classical canon.  Jim is Director of the Academy and Conductor-in-Residence at the Music Institute of Chicago.  Don’t forget, our last Nature in the Classics concert is coming up on Sunday, March 18!  For more information, please see our Events listing. 

It is clear that love of nature was of paramount interest to many of the great composers. A brief list of some of those for whom a daily communication with nature was a necessity would include Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Elgar, Richard Strauss, Sibelius, and Mahler.

The list of works inspired by nature shows that many, many composers drew their inspiration from all matters outdoors.  A short group would include:

Vivaldi- The Four Seasons

Respighi – The Birds

Messiaen – many pieces inspired by bird calls

Prokofiev – A Summer Day

Joan Tower – Sequoia

Ferde Grofe – Grand Canyon Suite

Samuel Joners – Palo Duro Canyon Symphony

Frederick Delius – On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring

Borodin – In the Steppes of Central Asia

Many German Lieder (songs) speak of the beauty of nature

Beethoven – Symphony #6 (Pastorale)

A list of musical pieces inspired specifically by water would include:

Debussy – La Mer (The Sea)

Johann Strauss jr. – Thunder and Lightning Polka

Benjamin Britten – Four Sea Interludes from the Opera “Peter Grimes”

Wagner – Flying Dutchman Overture

Smetana – The Moldau (a river running through Prague)

Handel – The Water Music

Schumann – Symphony #3 (Rheinish)

The inspiration continues today; the Chicago Symphony’s 2012-13 season includes a section called Rivers, with music based on this feature of nature.

Nature informs not only the content of classical compositions, but their form as well.  Take for example the Golden Section – a sense of perfect proportion ( a division of a length so that the ration of the smaller part to the larger is the same as that of the larger part to the whole; approximately 0.618) which occurs widely in nature, and also in architecture, the visual arts…and music. Some composers used this perfect sense of proportion of form, pitch, rhythm, and tempo instinctively – Bach, Mozart, Brahms; and others, such as Bela Bartok, used it consciously.

A similar relationship has often been at work in the creation of a musical motive, such as the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: its development and growth throughout a piece of music parallels nature’s life cycle.

What a wonderful giftt nature has given us musicians!

Jim Setapen
Director of the Academy
Conductor-in-Residence
Music Institute of Chicago

Listen to Dale Bowman’s “Outside”

Listen to Dale Bowman’s “Outside”

Take a listen to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Dale Bowman share his passion for the natural world in his podcast “Outside” (via iTunes). This week Bowman interviewed Friends of Ryerson Woods Advisory Board member Doug Stotz, Ph.D. and senior conservation ecologist for the Field Museum.  He gives context to the eruption of snowy owls this winter, then discusses other topics, from Northerly Island to Dixon Waterfowl Refuge.