Turkey Trot

turkey

The wild turkey shown in the photo above was caught on the cell phone camera of one of my neighbors, trotting through a Long Grove backyard in June of 2015. Today we had Turkey Trotters of a different sort in town, as thousands of fitness enthusiasts (and those just wanting to burn off a few calories in advance) got their steps in under our covered bridge in the annual 8K/5K event. Our historic downtown benefited from the many post-race revelers toasting the holiday with a beverage of choice, be it craft beer or coffee from one of our new local gathering spots. I myself was trotting this morning down the aisles of Sunset Foods, gathering supplies for the family feast we are hosting tomorrow. I was pleasantly surprised at how many racers I encountered in the store, fueling up or picking up those last minute items for the turkey dinner ahead. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Pictured (L to R) are my husband Aaron, father-in-law Joe, and son Alex at the 2013 Turkey Trot.

Pictured (L to R) are my husband Aaron, father-in-law Joe, and son Alex at the 2013 Turkey Trot.

Monarch Mommas

Long Grove-Kildeer Garden Club Members Paula Van Singel (L) and Kathy Michas serve as foster mothers to Monarch caterpillars in an effort to boost their dwindling numbers.

Long Grove-Kildeer Garden Club Members Paula Van Singel (L) and Kathy Michas are two of many local ladies who serve as foster mothers to Monarch caterpillars in an effort to boost their dwindling numbers.

My first summer job as a youngster was “walking beans,” which involved getting up at the crack of dawn and going up and down the rows of soybean fields near my central Illinois hometown, pulling out noxious weeds by hand. One of those undesirables was milkweed, and it wasn’t until I moved to Long Grove many years later that I learned of this native plant’s importance in our ecosystem. Yes, times have certainly changed, because this year I found myself actually planting milkweed in my garden on purpose–to attract the Monarchs.

At the Long Grove-Kildeer Garden Club’s September meeting this past week, members Paula Van Singel and Kathy Michas gave a fascinating program on the plight of the Monarchs, and their efforts to help more of the species to survive here in Long Grove. Milkweed serves as the primary food source for Monarch butterflies, and they lay their eggs on the undersides of the plant’s leaves. Only 1 to 5% of the eggs laid in nature will survive, so Paula, Kathy, and fellow “Monarch Mommas” bring the eggs and milkweed plants indoors once they are discovered, to foster the development of the eggs into caterpillars. They are cared for in a special habitat and fed milkweed until a chrysalis is formed, and in about two weeks the butterfly will emerge and be released.

Why do they do this? Recent studies have indicated that we have lost 90-93% of our Monarch population in North America in the last 20 years. According to Paula, her passion was sparked when she retired and started volunteering in the “Butterflies and Blooms” exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Besides helping the species boost their declining numbers, Paula says she is further inspired because, “every time a chrysalis opens, my faith is renewed.” Every year at this time the Monarchs from Illinois migrate south to winter in Michoacán, Mexico, where they are losing their natural habitat. The forest in which they hibernate has dwindled from 45 acres in 1995 to 1.7 acres today. Their food source of milkweed has become more scarce due to the use of pesticides, and changing weather may also be playing a role.

Did you know that the Monarch is our Illinois state insect? We can help the species to survive in Long Grove by planting more milkweed in our gardens and open spaces, and by being careful (or eliminating) the use of pesticides and insecticides on our property. Or if you really have a passion, you can follow the lead of ladies like Paula and Kathy and make an even bigger difference by fostering some “cats” next summer. You will have a front row seat to one of nature’s miracles!

What to Keep

One of our wilder neighbors, caught hunting in our backyard conservancy area, in April of this year.

One of our wilder neighbors, caught hunting in our backyard conservancy area in April of this year.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of simplifying. It all started this spring, when I retired from the Village Board and found myself cleaning out six years worth of job related clutter–physical, mental, and the electronic variety. I’ve moved on now to closets, and in a five-bedroom house we have more than a few. With three children now grown and living on their own, I’m pretty sure we can live without the Middle School fashion statements and treasures hauled home from numerous college apartments. Fat clothes? If I haven’t worn them in five years, why in God’s name am I hanging on to them? Yes, the charity pickup trucks have been welcome at my doorstep this summer.

All this purging has gotten me thinking about scaling back my life in other ways. I am volunteering a little bit less these days, while still focusing my leadership efforts on causes and groups that I’m most passionate about. As empty nesters, my husband and I regularly discuss the pros and cons of downsizing our properties now that it’s just the two of us at the dinner table. But as we talk about what to get rid of, it always leads us back to what we want to keep.

We do have an affection for our house where we have raised our family, but the happy memories from the last nineteen years are what we will cherish. Houses come and go. Yet, it is the intangible part of Long Grove that has gotten hold of our hearts and keeps us rooted to this land and this community. Our neighbors have been a blessing, and although I know they too are having similar downsizing thoughts, collectively we love and have been loved by too many individuals in this community to be able to give that up anytime soon. Even though it is part of a larger suburban area, Long Grove has the soul of a small town, and my husband and I feel a very part of that fiber.

Besides our human ties, the other tether holding us to this particular spot on the globe is the beautiful nature that we are fortunate to be a part of on a daily basis. We are the lucky recipients and stewards of the majestic open spaces strewn throughout our Village, set aside by prior neighbors so that native flora and fauna could co-exist with us for years to come. Sightings of coyotes, fawns, monarchs and prairie orchid bring peacefulness and serenity, when we really take the time to notice it. As our future days unfold, this is the richness that we want to remain.

The opportunity to be up close with nature, coupled with small town charm and neighborly kindness is what drew us to Long Grove in the first place. It’s what we choose to keep.

Open space in Long Grove this time of year features many wildflowers and native prairie plants.

Our backyard view in Long Grove this time of year features many wildflowers and native prairie plants.

 

The Full Moon Effect

Photo of the September 27th, 2015 "Orange Moon" Lunar Eclipse taken in Long Grove by Aaron Underwood

Photo of the September 27th, 2015 “Orange Moon” Lunar Eclipse taken in Long Grove by Aaron Underwood

Tonight I am fortunate to be sitting outside on my patio in Arizona, basking in the glow of a brightly illuminated full moon and listening to the coyotes howl. According to my husband’s quick google search, coyotes are more active during a full moon because it provides better hunting conditions, so more activity leads to more howling. I have often wondered if the full moon also causes changes in human behavior? According to our Village Staff, they think there is a correlation.

Psychology Today reports that in a University of New Orleans study, 81% of mental health professionals believe that lunar cycles affect human behavior. In his 1978 best seller, “How the Moon Affects You,” psychiatrist Arnold Lieber argued that because our human bodies are 65% water, the moon has an effect on us similar to its pull on the ocean’s tides. Everything from increases in violent crime and psychotic behavior to stock market fluctuations has been blamed on the fully illuminated moon. And while these superstitions are widely held by the general population and some professionals, scientists who have investigated the connection have come up empty handed. University of Sydney researchers have found no link to the moon’s cycle in two separate studies, and a University of Saskatchewan review of over 100 studies of lunar cycles and behavior found nothing to suggest that humans are affected by the Earth’s moon.

No doubt our ancestors used the moon for both a calendar and a night-light. A bright moon has been shown to disrupt sleep, and this can lead to more irritability. Could this be why our Village staff report getting more complaints during a full moon? Many of the more numerous complaints this time of year deal with animals:  raccoons nesting and having babies in attics, neighbors feeding the raccoons, skunks acting “crazy” and possibly rabid, dead deer on private property mysteriously moving themselves into the right of way overnight, deer breaking their legs because of leaping over untrimmed tree stumps. These are but a few of the actual phone calls received at Village Hall during a recent full moon. I know for certain that the coyotes are acting up tonight in Tucson. Maybe the wildlife in Long Grove is feeling a bit “luney” tonight as well?

 

Where the Wild Things Are

Photo of a wild turkey taken this spring in a Long Grove backyard.

Photo of a wild turkey taken this spring in a Long Grove backyard.

Having lived in Long Grove for 17 years now, I’ve had many different types of strange and exciting wildlife encounters. One creature that I have not seen yet, however, is a wild turkey.  Recently, fellow resident and friend Jodi Smith posted a picture on facebook of a just such a bird, strutting across her back yard, near the forest preserve. So cool, and certainly something that we don’t see every day!

I used to sometimes see red foxes cutting through our neighborhood, and I have also spotted the occasional weasel. Living close to a creek means that I’ve encountered a number of snapping turtles over the years, and some of them have been as large as a dinner plate. One spring, a momma snapper crawled up the creek bed into my next-door neighbor’s yard and laid her eggs in a nest that she dug overnight. It just happened to be near the bus stop for Country Meadows, so the kids and moms alike were entertained watching her industrious labor. Later in September, the eggs hatched and we were again treated to the bus stop spectacle of many, many tiny baby turtles emerging from a hole in the ground to march, one by one, back down to the creek. How did they instinctively know the way? Another one of nature’s mysteries, I guess.

Deer and coyotes are common visitors to many of our Long Grove properties, and sometimes they co-exist peacefully, sometimes not. About ten years ago, I looked out my family room window to discover a newborn fawn, curled up under a tree in our back yard. It was Memorial Day weekend, and we watched and worried over that baby from a distance, as it seemed like the mother was never around and had possibly abandoned him. I have since learned that this is a common behavior for the doe to forage and leave the newborn fawn alone for long time periods. Eventually momma deer did shown up, and off they went into the woods. But it was not so happily-ever-after. Because of the warm weekend we slept with the windows open, only to be awakened at dawn the following day by the most blood-curdling braying sounds coming from the tree line next to our yard. A large coyote had the fawn by the neck and was carrying it off across our back yard! I screamed and the coyote dropped the fawn right next to our patio. In retrospect, maybe the coyote was a mother too, just trying to rustle up some breakfast for her children, but at the time I was more concerned with my young children waking up and having to see a dead fawn outside the kitchen window. Then something miraculous happened. As my husband was getting ready to relocate the carcass, the fawn seemingly rose from the dead, shook his head, and stumbled off into the woods to live another day. All that summer, we saw the same fawn and his mother hanging around our yard, and we enjoyed watching him grow. We named them Jesus and Mary. Jesus graciously thanked me for saving his life by eating my hostas, roses, and daylilies!

Sometimes our wildlife gets a little too close for comfort, as we discovered one spring when a raccoon decided that our attic would be the perfect spot to set up her nursery. Telltale sounds in the night led my husband to set up video cameras to survey the nocturnal goings-on. Yes, the joyous sight of a mother raccoon and her babies was captured on film for us to enjoy. I will never forget the fun of being in Arizona with the family for Spring Break, and watching footage of momma raccoon wiggle and shimmy her furry backside into a tiny hole in our shake shingle roof in Long Grove. The wildlife “experts” that we hired to relocate the varmints conveniently left their ladder against our roof for easy overnight critter access. Party at the Underwood’s while they are out of town! We even posted a video of it on youtube—raccoons are REALLY good at climbing a ladder.

Despite the occasional crazy mishap with our local creatures, I really do love being where the wild things are. One of the joys of living in our Village is having the opportunity to observe nature up close and personal. Wildlife can be unpredictable, but also endlessly fascinating.