2021 Big Snow

Well, the biggest snowfall so far, as weather reports say more is coming. I walked on the plowed streets. Then I walked in the back yard. Each step I took I had to lift my feet high, and then deep into snow that went halfway to my calves. The snow made gorgeous shapes and textures as it filled and covered everything. The late afternoon sun cast shadows on that textured landscape.

Hoar Frost

Much of northern Illinois was covered with heavy frost at the first of the year. Some was Rime Ice, a very thick ice that forms when a fog is present during winter weather. Some was Hoar Frost, ice crystals that form when the temperature is well below freezing and the moisture creates ice crystal growths that resemble thorns or hairs. It was a very cold walk that day when I ventured out to capture images. Eye glass wearers always struggle on those very cold days to keep their glasses clear. But add a mask for COVID and fogging up just won’t stop. As a result, quite a few images captured were not in focus. That didn’t stop me from trying, however! Every branch and twig was covered with Hoar Frost. It was amazing to explore and get up close to see the ice crystals. The weather conditions have to be just right for this phenomenon to appear. And within hours the sun had melted all the crystals. It was a special time to be outside and look at all the ways the ice crystals grew.

Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter December 2020

Astral phenomena are not my speciality, nor do I have equipment to get those really great images. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to capture them, however. The weather in Chicagoland is almost always cloudy on nights of importance. So it was December 20, 2020 for the Winter Solstice and the “Bethlehem Star” as the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter was called. However, on December 21, while there were clouds, there was clear sky. It was very cold, but me, my camera and tripod and my husband ventured out to find a viewing spot. We ended up at Settler’s Hill in Geneva. I climbed up to the top of the hill (a landfill) and set up my tripod. What would come first — the conjunction visible or the cloud front moving in. I knew from an app on my iPad about where to look, but there are so many “lights” in the sky that are not stars or planets! Planes to O’Hare populate the skies. So we watched, and waited. I thought there was a bright light in about the right spot, but it would appear and disappear. Clouds! I finally spotted what I think was the conjunction, at first above the cloud bank, and then a bit later, below the cloud bank. The detail is not good. This is more about effort and challenge. A longer lens, you might see the rings of Saturn like some have captured. In my images, it is more about the ambiance, the sunset color and the relative placement of the conjunction to the horizon. By the end, my fingers were frozen (forgot gloves) and my husband had to light the path down the hill. But I did have fun, up high in the cold, watching a sunset and trying to spot the conjunction.

The Life of a Puffball

Every Fall we have one or two Puffballs in our yard. This year we have seven! They grow into volleyball sized rounds almost overnight, but it takes several weeks for them to “puff” spreading trillions of spores into the air. Puffballs are fungi, specifically Calvatia gigantea. They are edible and quite tasty — if you know the right time to harvest them. Puffball Steaks, thick, found slices, can be sautéed with herbs and are a meal all by themselves.

I photographed the seven Puffballs yesterday, and surprisingly they were each in different life stages. Starting with the pure white globes and moving through the transition from white to speckled to spots to brown, and finally the dark brown, collapsed puffball which has loosed its spores into the air.

Bottlebrush Buckeye

This lovely native bush is in full bloom in early July. The blooms look like the brushes for baby bottles, hence the name. But this species is native to Illinois and its full name is Bottlebrush Buckeye. It spreads out and fills the shaded area. Some branches are low to the ground.

December Sunset

The sky was like a watercolor painting, with soft hues and colors. The clouds were sparse, but lovely. They looked a bit like popcorn in places. As the bright orange sun set, the colors and drama deepened. These were taken at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve.