Category: Nature

November 14, 2017 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

 

For the last few months we’ve been housing monarch caterpillars inside our home. We find them in our small butterfly garden out front – where the milkweed wildly blooms. We watch them grow and transform over time (two to three weeks), until a butterfly finally emerges from its chrysalis, unfolding it’s wings, drying them out until it’s ready to re-join nature.

The California Natives

Torrance, California, California Poppies, Butterfly Garden
California poppies, grown from seed.

After removing the front lawn, we planted several California natives: A Western Redbud tree (cercis occidentalis), yellow and orange Kangaroo paws (anigozanthos), Sea Lavender (limonium), Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima), Lion’s Tail (leonotis), sunflowers, California Poppies (from seed) and several milkweeds (asclepias curassavica) in scarlet, silky gold and “balloon”. Because we also wanted it to be a functional garden, there is lavender, parsley, oregano, basil, purple basil, fennel, te de  burro, lemon verbena, mint, rosemary, thyme, lemon balm, a few hot peppers.

Within a few days, the butterflies began visiting.

Seeing monarchs swirl around was beautiful. A friend showed us how to find the eggs and caterpillars and how to care for them indoors. It was a fun project to share with my 5yr-old son (who also loves observing and releasing them), but over time, it’s been me who has become fascinated with their movements, patterns, and extreme body changes, following the development of each and every one (unfortunately not all make it, for different natural reasons.)

Butterfly garden in Torrance, CA
Our little butterfly garden in Torrance, CA

As I work on my next book project, I find myself relocating to the living room table everyday, close to the tall backyard window where we keep their little habitat. It’s become a source of mindful entertainment, relaxing, ever changing, and allowing me to gather my thoughts when looking at the dialogue on the screen gets tiresome.

Who knows what more will come of this experience, but so far, it’s incredibly rewarding.

 

Plant the natives, and they will come.

Monarch caterpillars in different sizes at home
Monarch caterpillars in different sizes
September 29, 2017 Linda Ruggeri 1 comment

Green Lake, Wisconsin

Green Lake, a small city in rural Wisconsin
Ed and Sherry’s house

Late in the Fall of 2014, Ed was out on one of his daily walks, while I was working in the garden. The setting: Rural Wisconsin. I was probably weeding with my then 2 year old in tow, who was (most likely) eating tomatoes off the vines. When I saw Ed heading back, I met him halfway between our yard and the street to say Hello.

Our properties were the last two of a very quiet little cul-de-sac, in the immediate outskirts of downtown Green Lake. We each had an acre lot, and Ed’s garden was always immaculate and beautiful. There were seasonal flowers, a manicured green lawn, and a tall pole in the middle of the yard with flags that changed according to national holidays.

wildlife in rural Wisconsin
Nicolas follows a snapping turtle down the street

I was an avid gardener too, with a native Wisconsin landscape in our front yard and a fruitful 15’ x 20’ vegetable plot on the south side. Ed and I would often admire each other’s garden work, talk about new tools, yard problems/solutions, and about our endless encounter with backyard wildlife (deer, woodchucks, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, wild turkeys, migrating birds and the occasional snapping turtle passing through, on its way to the lake.)

wild turkeys in Green Lake, rural Wisconsin
Wild turkeys visit the backyard deck in their daily afternoon stroll

Ed Writes a Book for His Wisconsin Family

Ed was born and raised in Ripon, Wisconsin and now lived in Green Lake with his wife, Sherri. Both recently retired, they enjoyed life, traveled locally and took excellent care of their home. What surprised me about Ed was that at 76 (when we met) he drove a very stylish 2012 BMW 135i convertible (which he later changed to a decked out black Camaro), while Sherry drove a two-door Jeep Wrangler. Pretty hip retirees!

We, instead, were California and Italian transplants, having moved to rural Wisconsin because of C’s work. I found a job as director of the Green Lake Country Visitors Bureau, and Nicolas had just turned one. The three of us lived in our quiet rural community, surrounded by the freedom of nature and the wonder that only a country landscape can give (for Nicolas, who spent years 1 through 4 here, this was a truly priceless experience).

In one of our weekly talks Ed mentioned he had written a book for his family, and offered me a copy. Being an avid reader (and freelance editor and writer myself), I was very curios to read it. The booklet had lots of photos, personal recounts, and a lot of technical land transactions. In going through the chapters and looking at some of the photos, many more questions came up for me. Questions that likely required research, but that were answerable. Facts and information that a college-educated, west-coast, city-raised person like me, knew absolutely nothing about.

 

The Annotations Begin

manuscript about Rural Wisconsin life
The original manuscript

Though the story was not a novel, or had a solid plot, I related to many of its themes: His great grandparent’s immigrant story from Prussia to the Midwest (mine emigrated from Italy to Argentina, then my parents emigrated from Argentina to the U.S.); the fond memories of visiting our grandparents, Grandma’s home cooked meals (always memorable), the strange tools and artifacts we’d found at our grandfather’s workshops, etc. What’s more, the farm life Ed’s grandparents had (to sustain themselves financially and to produce enough meat and vegetables to feed their family) was in line with my own passion of having a sustainable vegetable garden that could nourish my own family.

At every turn of the page there was always more information I needed. I specifically remember reading a line that referenced the size of the land his grandparents lived on as insufficient: “…assuming the area taken up by the buildings was approximately ¾ of an acre (home, barn, tool shed, stalls) that left only four acres of tillable land, hardly enough to grow crops and provide grazing land to support the amount of income producing cattle a family this size (7) would have needed.” What? What did he mean four acres of tillable land were not enough to support a family?

 

The Proposal

Rural Wisconsin NewspapersI nudged Ed to turn this into a longer, more thorough book, and open it up to a larger audience. If we both continued with the research that was needed to fill in the gaps, I could help co-write it. I wanted to learn more about that time period, and Ed’s simple family story was the gateway, making those lives tangible, real. I was also certain there were people like me, who would be curious and receptive to this historical past, if only we had a chance to read something interesting without having to follow ten different Wikipedia links to get information, or dig up a four-hundred-page tome at the library and sift through the interesting parts (which honestly, would never happen).

Rural Wisconsin Newspapers
One of my favorite project days was reading newspapers from 1914-1917 at the Ripon Commonwealth Press

Ed’s grandparents could be both the main characters and the medium through which we could see the world and learn about a period of time that was long gone.

 

Valuable Rural Sources

By that point (because of my job at the visitor’s bureau), I was facilitating monthly meetings with twelve local historical societies (to promote Heritage Tourism, a valuable niche group within the tourism industry.) The more I got to know each Historical Society, and visit their museums and exhibits, the more I discovered about their areas, their people, their pasts and learned to appreciate their efforts to preserve each towns history (most historical societies in rural Wisconsin are run by very hard working volunteers).

vintage hats in rural Wisconsin
Markesan Historical Society Hat Collection

I came across hand-made dresses, beautiful hats, shoes, photographs, kitchen utensils, entertainment items and toys used during the 1800s. Each single piece, effortlessly transporting me back to that time period. Seeing these items (and touching them where allowed) let me visualize myself walking those streets, meeting those people, being part of that reality. Side note: the Green Lake Country area is rich with Native American artifacts too, beautiful and sad  memories of the Mascoutin, Winnebago, Ho-Chunk tribes that once lived there (just to name a few) along with the fur traders who visited their areas (fascinating characters.) We needed to share this information and the discoveries we were making along the way.

A New Book about Wisconsin Life

In what to Ed must have seemed like a never-ending journey (how long can you research your own family history without getting tired?) at some point we finally had a two-hundred page, solid manuscript that we liked, telling the story of Grandpa Charly through a series of vignettes, making sure that each piece had a historical context to be placed in and reliable sources we could depend on.

Book about small town charm
Stepping Into Rural Wisconsin – released October 2017

After many reviews, we sent it out to a few history buff friends who offered their time, uncensored insights and comments (thank you Genevieve, Bobbie and Gayle!) . The manuscript was well received and motivated us to keep going forward and finally put it in the magical hands of Amazon’s CreateSpace team. There is nothing more rewarding when after 3 years of hard work, you can articulate your concept to a stranger (like our book cover designer and our interior layout designer at CreateSpace) and see all those efforts come to life into something tangible.

This coming October, Stepping into Rural Wisconsin: Grandpa Charly’s Life Vignettes from Prussia to the Midwest will be available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle and local print on demand (for other countries).  We were lucky enough to have rural historian Jerry Apps (author of “Every Farm Tells a Story” and “Cold As Thunder”) positively review our book, allowing us to use his words on the back cover. The notion that Ed and I could collaborate and make it possible for one rural Wisconsin family from the 1800s come back to life, is an incredible, rewarding feeling. I hope Charly and Hulda (and Agnes – for whom I have developed a very fond memory) are somewhere up there, happy with what we’ve written and smiling right back at us.

Celebrating Christmas on the farm
Ed’s Aunt Agnes and Grandpa Charly.

 

January 17, 2017 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

Last year I took a walk down this amazing man made path in a little “secret area” called Mitchell’s Glen in Green Lake County, WI. This glen was a place local Native Americans would visit in the summer (back in the 1800s and earlier), to reach a beautiful spring and plants that only grow in the unique micro-climate that establishes itself here.

Picture of a wooden path through the luscious green glen
Wooden Path at MG

On that morning walk, we came across the trunk of this large white oak that had fallen, probably days before, right across the boardwalk. I got to know the person who built this boardwalk really well (and consider him a true and treasured friend.) I’ve learned the care he brings to his work, and his respect for all things living or dead, so that others can walk along this path and experience the creek, the glen and this little sacred space in nature.

But that fallen tree trunk, that log in our path that very vivid spring day, seemed to symbolize so much more… like…

 

  • The strength in Nature
  • The cycle of life
  • The obstacles in our (life) paths
  • That maybe removing the large obstacles in our way can take more than 1 person
  • That we never know when it’s our time to fall/go – nature will have its way
  • That sometimes we can just walk right over some obstacles to get to our destination, but the obstacle will still be there when we look back
  • That nature can be incredible, forceful, beautiful, sad, and destructive all at once
  • That we should take pause in our own glen and take it all in, seeing both obstacles and beauty at once, for what they are and for what they may not be.

That log in our path turned out to be anything but a log.

 

December 20, 2016 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

These amazing colors were on display last week at the botanical gardens in Palos Verdes. Looking at that space (located within the Rose garden) I felt the only thing missing was me, my Argentine mate (con yerba mate) and a May Sarton book. #everythingisbetterinnature #solitude #solitudine #botanicalgardensrule #botanicalgardens #parraotoño

December 3, 2016 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

In 2013, we found ourselves living in Green Lake, WI (for three years). It was an incredibly exciting opportunity and one that allowed us to truly experience nature and the seasons like no where else we had been before. First (true) winters are always exhilarating because the world opens up to you in ways you never knew existed. Your first sled ride down the hill, the first time you snow-shoe or cross-country ski, midnight walks on the frozen lake under a full moon, or seeing the winter architecture in the trees, all so very beautiful.

But winters can be harsh and long too, and in places like the northern states, by February you are longing for the green leaves to come back and you wonder how you’re going to keep it together during those short very cold days when by 4pm darkness has set in, and you still have the long evening ahead of you.

I learned a lot from our winters in Wisconsin, and keep those memories safe in a tiny place in my heart.   I wrote the following piece hoping to convey at least a little bit of sense of what it was like (for me) to be there.

 

 

WINTER’S HOPE

img_6716The hope is, we make it through this winter.

Away from loved ones and friends,

from the warm beaches of your Mediterranean Sea

and the wide sandy esplanades of my California Coast,

holding on to this small family of three we’ve created.

 

The hope is, we have enough white oak and black locust

to make it through this Green Lake winter,

that root vegetables stay dry in our cellar

and there are wool blankets a plenty.

That underneath the vast winter quilt outside,

our lifeless garden renews itself in silence,

preparing to become fertile again.

 

The hope is, we find each other once more,

with long, good conversations, like the ones we used to have,

and the comfort of knowing

if we’re together, we have everything we need.

 

The hope is, that amidst our snow covered souls

the sun will continue to shine every morning,

reminding us that spring is but a few months away.

December 1, 2016 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

Today I revisited a poem I wrote for a college poetry class, with Professor Gail Wronsky back in 1998 – that resonated more with my life in late 2006. It had been a while since I had explored the theme of nature/love/abandonment. After revising some terms, I feel it flows better now.

great-plaines
Great Plains image courtesy of World Wildlife Fund

 

You Said Wait 

You told me to wait for you,

until you came back from catching grasshoppers.

I gathered twigs, grasses, water and dirt,

and with mud

built our home.

And I waited.

 

You told me to wait for you,

until you came back from scaring off the crows.

I gathered sticks, wild cotton and boughs of pine,

and with love and thought

made our bed.

And I waited.

 

You told me to wait for you,

until you came back from fighting away the bears.

I gathered wild berries, fresh water, honey,

and the early spring morels you like so much,

and stocked our reserves.

And I waited again.

 

But you never came.

And the food spoiled,

and the bed stayed empty,

and our home collapsed.

Life passed by me,

and I grew old.

 

May 10, 2011 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

Salerno, Italy

The morning was going to be a mellow one. It was nice to have a morning off (I’d been longing for one), not having to rush through breakfast, makeup and deciding what to wear. Before the husband left at daybreak, I asked him pull up the persiana[1] covering the large glass window-wall across from our bed. He rolled it up just high enough so I could have a straight look at the bird feeders on the terrace. The sun was already with us on this April morning in Salerno.

I stayed in bed, ruminating in my brain, trying to understand the anxiety left inside from a night of waking up and falling back asleep, and waking up again. Over the years, I’ve discovered that the true issues that keep me up at night are (usually) financial ones.

 

I need to earn more. How am I going to do that? Should I continue to ask for that promised raise? Can we afford the move back to LA? Should we dip into our savings? Would it be right to do so? On one hand, we could label it “an investment into our future”. But is it? Was this the right time to make this decision? Should we wait? Wait for what? My parents aren’t getting any younger, and my mom’s Alzheimer’s isn’t going to slow down and wait for me to make resolutions. It was one thought after another, after another. A roller-coaster of constant thinking. We didn’t have any problems right now, but I sensed they could come sooner than we expected.

 

After C. left, I got up (to seize the day?). Made myself a bowl of cereal with a cup of Italian cottage cheese called fiochi di latte[2].  An passive attempt of loosing weight and continuing to eat healthy (why do all diets have cottage cheese in them?). Although I always found it distasteful, with age, I’ve gotten to like cottage cheese more and more.  With a spoonful of honey, corn flakes and a tablespoon of wheat germ, now I had myself a psychologically satisfying breakfast (the wheat germ is in honor of my father who, since I was a child, insisted I always add it to my cereal.)

 

Before sorting through my desk and tackling the day’s tasks, I picked up my binoculars and Birds of Europe guide in case any of the “usuals” decided to pay an early morning visit. While I checked email, the first to show was a Great Tit – or a Blue Tit – and his partner or close friend. You would think I’d know the difference, but I’m not that attentive of a birdwatcher yet. My family and friends think I know much about birds, but I really don’t (I know more than them perhaps, and I’ve been interested in the topic for a long time now, but that doesn’t really get you anywhere when you belong to an Audubon society.)

 

As of today, I’m a member of four clubs: two in the US (L.A. Audubon and Santa Monica Audubon) and 2 in Italy (Birdwatching-Gaiola and EBN Italia), and even so, I’m still an amateur birder. However, see me with my binos hanging from my neck, my bird guide under my arm and my camera, and I exude birding experience. As the fabulous Eddie Izzard said, 70 percent is how you look, 20 percent how you say it, and 10 percent is what you say.[3] 

 

Back to the Great Tit (Parus major) that visits us. It’s hard distinguishing the female from the male, but they are both quite beautiful. They have this sort of black mask that begins at the top of their heads (officially called the “crown”) to right under the eye line, down their face to their beak, then chin, becoming narrow down their throat, forming a black line that descends down onto its chest.

One of our spring visitors, the Great tit

I observed them for a while, and all my admiration for their beauty went away in a second when I saw how the male (it must have been a male) would push the seeds away with his beak until he found the one he wanted. This meant that quite a bit of good seeds fell straight to the ground, explaining the mess I find each afternoon on the terrace when I come home (he goes for the black sunflower seeds – as the book said he would – probably because they are the most fatty). But why be so picky…? Ungrateful behavior can be found anywhere these days… even within the avian community.

 

There is quite a lot of work that goes into eating a seed for them. With strong resolve, GT (my nickname for him) chooses the seed he wants, then turns around, holds it between his feet and the edge of the bird-feeder, banging it relentlessly until the shell comes off and he is left with just the seed. I timed it and it took the little guy about 15 seconds to do it.

The daily visitors snacking on black sunflower seeds.

The tits are usually never alone. While they’re up in the feeder eating, the house sparrows are down on the ground getting whatever scrap falls their way. These common house sparrows are considered “resident birds”. Resident birds are low on the “excitement scale” to me (right after rock pigeons, seagulls and crows). And I have a feeling they know this – where they stand on the list – because of the way they carry themselves in this brown matte shades of theirs, as if with humbleness, trying to blend in like undeserving creatures. As most unfortunate creatures too, they seem to eat what they can find, and are not picky of seeds, crumbs, insects… they appear to be simply grateful that there is always something to snack on.

House sparrow (female) one of the “residents”.

 

By late morning, the last visitors were the quite sympathetic robins, who stopped to get a drink at the water fountain. Even in Italy, we can tell Spring is here because the robins have arrived. Here we have a cute pair that comes and goes, and even though the robin is not a resident, it keeps house around here for most of the year. Their face is round, with a kind gaze that makes you all warm inside. Their way of hopping around with their very skinny legs, their great big orange chest and the lack of a neck, gives them a funny appearance. You cannot not like a robin. You just like it. The male resembles your chubby uncle Charles, or your neighbor Bob. But since these are European Robins they’re probably more like a Carlo or Roberto. In any event, when they come here they also seem to be mellow visitors, less demanding than some other birds their size. The Princeton Field Guide nails it when it writes about their character calling them “wary, but by no means shy”.

 

And as noon rolled around and I got back to writing, the few visitors I had took off, looking for a place to hide from the sun. That was my queue that my time was up, and that I too needed to get up and get moving. I didn’t have seeds to shell, or places to hop and fly to, but a part of me wished I did. I would love to hang out with other birds my size one day and meet up with them at the water-cooler. That wouldn’t be a bad life.


[1] Shutters that roll up, typical of European and Latin American countries. Aka “Persian Blinds”.

[2] Literally translates to “flakes of milk” (flakes as in snow flakes).

[3] “Dressed to Kill” – 1998 

March 5, 2011 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

 

It’s the end of the winter in Southern Italy, and the days are becoming longer with more and more glimpses of sun. Not at a fast enough pace for me though, I wish it was already summer. The rain seems to subside for a few days, and then it returns. At times with a major wind, strong enough to push down the plants on the terrace and knock the birdfeeders off their hooks. The fern has had enough of this weather, having spent most of the winter on its side. Not fun when you’re a tropical plant, and your gene-cousins are probably enjoying the slow paced life of the tropics. That must be nice. If only the fern and I could escape to Costa Rica right now.

The cold and rain does make life less eventful. There is less enthusiasm for leaving the house on excursions or travel. Why leave home to visit an agriturismo for the weekend, when you know you’re going to freeze you soul off, and only long to be the warmth and comfort of your own home? As an amateur birdwatcher, being outdoors, away from the city centers is always a recurring daydream I have while at work, sitting at my desk. But then the weekend arrives, as did last weekend, and the husband and I decide to go out and get some fresh air, somewhere new.

We had been wanting to visit a WWF Oasis in Persano (www.wwf.it/persano.nt), about an hour south of Salerno, where we live. This seemed like a good day to do so. We already visited a Lipu* Oasis in the Molise, in the summer of 2009, with very little luck. Not only did we not see one single interesting bird (other than your standard pigeon, field crow and sparrow), but we were bit in continuation by mosquitos (the infamous zanzara). It had taken us 2hs to get to this Oasis (a literal misnomer), spent about an hour inside the park with a very kind guide, and then drove back home, all the long way home, a tad bit frustrated. But Italy always has the secret quality of giving something back, no matter where you land that day. Be it in its landscapes, its people, it’s paese’s… there is always something that can get to you. For us, the high of the day was a nice one: a simple picnic on a golden hillside under a very large oak tree. Behind us, an old brick house from the 1800’s, and in our hands a slice of a deliciously home-made pizza di spinaci (a version of a spinach quiche) with a nice bottle of Morellino di Scansano.

This was our first picnic together.

*LIPU is the Italian League for the Protection of Birds http://www.lipu.it/)