Category Archives: Great Outdoors

One small step for … wait a minute.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon / NASA Photo

Did you believe it when you heard the news that man—two men, actually—had walked on the moon?

On Sunday, July 20, 1969, 45 years ago Sunday, we watched the flickering TV images of the moon landing. CBS was providing live audio coverage, with simulated pictures of the historic moon landing. You remember, when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lander and declared:

“That’s one small step for a* man, one       giant leap for mankind.”

I was a reporter living in Evansville, Indiana, then. The moon landing was exciting news, the dawn of a new space frontier and the fulfillment of John F. Kennedy’s promise that we would put a “man” on the moon. It would quash the green cheese myth forever and redeem my lackluster submission to seventh-grade science.

Yet when I returned to my room at the YWCA, brimming with wonder and pride, the reaction of my fellow housemates, girls up from Kentucky to find work, was flat.

“It didn’t happen. That was all a simulation. They never put a man on the moon,” one girl said plainly as she made supper in the common kitchen. The others agreed.
The parking garage attendant across the street wasn’t impressed either, though he didn’t exactly doubt the miracle.

“I’d say if God wanted a man to go to the moon, he’d have put him there,” he drawled matter-of-factly.

The US went to the moon five more times and after 1972 stopped going. That was probably enough for a non-believer. But those were days full of promise for those of us who saw and believed, and felt that if it were really possible to land on the moon, anything was possible. “If we can put a man on the moon, we can____________.”

You fill in the blanks.

*Historical reports often drop the “a” but Armstrong said he said it, and many researchers of Ohio-ese support him.


20140718-123254-45174598.jpgBottle trees are often found growing in backyard gardens in this area. Their colorful leaves, while rigid in structure, pick up the sunlight at various times of the day, sending sparkles of color through the atmosphere.

The species originated in ancient times after the invention of glass bottles. People heard eerie sounds rising from the bottle’s opening whenever the wind blew across it. These sounds were identified as evil spirits who became trapped in the bottle. Today, bottle trees help protect homes by trapping the spirits inside their colorful glass and keeping them from entering the home.

Bottle trees grow in almost any soil and are hardy in any climate. They need little if any water. And they are lovely.

We watch as fledglings leave the nest

IMG_4212We had been watching the nest for weeks, ever since I nearly chopped it from its moorings at the end of our privet hedge. I cut the power to my trimmer and parted the branches of a little maple that had invaded the old hedge. There, four feet above the ground, was a robin’s nest, stitched with brown mud, twigs and string and inside, a fuzzy head with its beak wide open begging for food. Papa Robin flapped in circles overhead warning, “Get away! Get away!”
I retreated and watched as the robin flew into the bushes to his baby. There may have been even two nestlings in that rough shell.

We’d have to be vigilant now. There’s a bird-stalking cat in the neighborhood. More than once, we’d seen the black-and-white meanie with moist feathers hanging out of his mouth.

IMG_4227 Bird on window sillWe watched the birds in the days ahead, taking a minute here and there to check on them. We saw the mother bird sitting on the nest. We’d see the red-orange breasted dad reeling in wiggly worms from the front yard. We peered in the nest and saw little feathers sprouting among the fuzz. Both parents kept watch and provided food, dive-bombing potential predators as needed.

On Saturday, July 5, the nest was empty. But a mini flurry of activity sounded in the
back yard. The fledgling, in his junior feathers, was hopping about, testing ground-level rain gutters, window wells and railroad ties for launching pads. He wobbled and teetered as he tried to fly, now and then catching air a few inches from earth. Papa robin was constantly nearby, circling overhead or perched on a post, chirruping encouragement, nature’s original “helicopter parent.”

A little robin will be able to sustain flight about two weeks IMG_4228 - Version 2after he has fledged–acquired the kind of feathers that will allow him to fly. He’ll have to watch out for cats, hawks, cars and lawn mowers on his own and forage for his own worms and berries.

Oh no! Now the little guy was hopping into the street, faster now, with dad right overhead. He made it across, hop-flying into the neighbor’s bushes and from there they both disappeared.

The robins still sing constantly in our yard midsummer but our little family is not among them, for all I know. The nest is empty. More robins will build new nests and settle them with pale blue eggs, beginning the cycle all over again.

Who's looking back at you?

This morning’s interlude staring out my kitchen window in a fit of distraction I saw a huge, rugged face staring back at me. So many years I looked at that tree, yet I had never seen it. Nature’s personality — it’s out there. Say Hi!

The first Earth Day had its asterisks


Every April 22 reminds me of that very first Earth Day celebrated in 1970. It started as a nationwide Environmental Teach-In, championed by Wisconsin’s own US senator, Gaylord Nelson. The Teach-In echoed the “ins” of that generation, like the Love-In and the Be-In, and many of its advocates wore bell-bottom pants and their hair as nature intended, long or “fro.” A newsletter reported “Earth Day observers in Milwaukee nominated the toad, the praying mantis and the ladybug as substitutes for DDT.”

I was part of a big group of students who gathered in Milwaukee that day on the banks of the polluted Milwaukee River near the performing arts center to hear speeches, a rock band and street performers with a common message: that we need to keep the Earth, our home, free of pollution, litter and other things harmful to children and animals. Music pulsed through the the air while a banner fluttered over a bridge proclaiming “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

It was an exciting day, full of hope, the camaraderie of fellow college students and the heady belief that we were part of something important, something smart leaders were willing to lead. We believed we ourselves could make changes happen by not polluting our fragile environment in any way.

So, fired up and hungry after the rally, I was happy when my boyfriend John suggested we go down to the lakefront to grab some burgers from a stand. We sat in the car talking and eating and just before John started up the engine he did something shocking. He took the paper sack from the burgers, crumbled it up in his fist, and tossed it out the open window in the parking lot.

“What did you just do!” I gasped.

For G—d’s sake, it was Earth Day! (And this was my future husband!) One simply does not litter on Earth Day.

So my memory of Earth Day always had this little asterisk after it. The next day, on the news, we learned that the National Mall was filled with litter after its first Earth Day rally. We all had a lot to learn, and still do.


Waiting for spring in Wisconsin

Sometimes, the mind’s eye takes a snapshot that captures a mood, an event or even the weather. This winter, and  it still feels like winter,  has been way too cold too long, even for Wisconsin.

Driving home through an older neighborhood last weekend, I saw a family gathered in front of their home. The air was damp and chilly, and the sky hung like a permanent grey tarp above their heads. The family stood in the semi-shelter of the wide porch that fronted their two-story house, a narrow strip of grass in front of it. In the instant I drove by, they looked like statues without expression, a portrait of flannel shirts, hats and jackets. One or two had a can of beer in their hands as they stared ahead. A pink plastic trike sat untouched on the sidewalk. And there on the grass was the focus of the family’s stoney attention. A small black Weber grill sat on its tripod in cold insolence. There would be not brats today. No burgers. No happy children playing barefoot under a sunny sky. No T-shirts and shorts and laughter spilling off the porch. This was Wisconsin and they’d have to wait like the rest of us for spring.


Remember these?


No business like snow business

ImageIt was 8:26 on a snowy Saturday evening when the doorbell startled me. I had just sat down after a busy but satisfying day, so I was tired but in a good mood when I opened the door to see two snow-suited boys, each with a snow shovel held upright at their sides. The boys faces beamed up at mine while I quickly surveyed their attire, and gave their parents credit for properly outfitting them in warm knit hats, gloves and boots.

“Can we shovel your driveway?” they chimed.

My husband sat in his easy chair across the room, shaking his head back and forth, indicating he’d get to the task later on. The powdery snowfall was only an inch or two deep, a piece of cake compared with the foot-deep monster falls he had tackled all winter.

“How much do you charge?” I asked.

“Oh, whatever you want to pay us.”

“That sounds good. Will you do the driveway and the sidewalk too?”

“Oh, yes.” they said enthusiastically. “We’ll do it all.”

“Well, OK. Just come back in a few minutes when you are done and I’ll pay you.”

The pair ran off toward the driveway, shovels in hand, to begin their work.

On the TV, the movie “The Social Network” was playing. In it, a brainy but insecure Harvard student creates a social networking site that would become known as Facebook and make a gazillion dollars. True story.

My little entrepreneurs were outside working their hearts out in ten degree weather. Who knew what their future would hold?

At 8:35 the doorbell rang again.

“We’re done!” the two boys announced.

“Oh, that was quick,” I said as my generous mind overcompensated the extreme lightness of the snow versus the rapid-fire shoveling energy of not one, but two, boys around our corner lot.

I handed each one a nice crisp five dollar bill.

“Thanks!” they exclaimed, eyes wide.

“You are by far our best customer yet!” one of the boys said.

Before I could mentally translate my gift into hourly pay or eyeball the sidewalks they had been assigned to, the boys were off, perhaps to their next, less-generous customer, or off to today’s equivalent of the candy shop with their cash.

I closed the door with a smile on my face. Nice boys, warmly dressed, polite, ambitious, working outdoors, away from TV and trouble. What more could one want from eight minutes and $10?

My husband was putting his coat on to go outside and check their work. The snow was mostly gone from the driveway and front walk, but on the east side the walk was untouched.

I didn’t care. Two little smiling faces stayed in my mind. I was their best customer ever.