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Cornell Plantations in the Rain

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Last week, I traveled to Ithaca, which is a solid nine hours from southeast Ohio. I haven't been home very much lately; seems like I'm always loading the car for the next thing. My last two trips were so close together I just kept the car loaded. Writing now from a hotel room in Columbus. Missing my bed and my boys and the time just to be with a hot cup of tea.

I had two talks to give, one on Monday night at the Lab of Ornithology, hosted by the Cayuga Bird Club. The auditorium, one end of which is wood paneled and decorated with oil paintings by Louis Fuertes, one of my favorite-ever bird painters, was full. So was my heart. I'd made the trip up two years ago, only to have Superstorm Sandy cut the turnout to about 15. This made up for that! I'm pretty sure the talk I gave was unlike any other given at the lab--a personal view of how birds inform and inhabit my spirituality. 

On Wednesday, I was to present "Personal Habitat" for the Elizabeth E. Rowley Lecture at Cornell Plantations. 
Part of my speaker's welcome was a tour of the Plantations gardens by Betty Rowley herself! 

The heavens opened on us as our tour began, but Betty was slickered and umbrellaed. I was wearing a brand new, untested Eddie Bauer ultralight windbreaker/slicker. Best to find out how it would perform in actual field conditions. 

These white pines were planted in 1912, the year my DOD was born. I couldn't believe a hurricane hadn't brought them down, and just as I was thinking that Betty said that these are all that remain of a much larger plantation, hurricanes having brought the rest down. 

Part of the fun of an arboretum or plantation is seeing plants and trees from all over the world. These are Japanese katsura trees, with their small round leaves like gold coins. 

I think I was most impressed with the "Bioswale," a water-purifying streambed designed and planted to take water runoff from the parking lot and sidewalks, purify it with roots and gravel, and send it into a nearby stream which feeds into Cayuga Lake. 

The young sugar maples were at peak color, and they just took my breath away with the golden katsura trees, asters and grasses interplanted.

I love the notion of putting plants' root systems to work in purifying runoff water. And they chose such gloriously colorful plants. I couldn't imagine the Bioswale being any more beautiful than it was at this moment, in this hard rain, and I was thankful to be there to behold these landscape architects' handiwork.

This plant is from Texas and it has "blue" in its name. How embarrassing. But I couldn't pull my little notebook out to write. It was raining too hard. 

I knew this one: castor bean. It was in a medicinal plant garden. Mmm. Love those leaves. Every placard had something about the plant's use or connection to literature. I could have strolled and read for hours.

A large and lovely catalpa tree dominated the decorative plant garden, which was adjacent to the herb/medicinal garden. 

A spectacular Viburnum in blazing fruit. 

It was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into creating a landscape that would change interest and color with the seasons. 

The Tropical garden still had banana trees out, but it was clear the landscape there would change radically with the first frost. These red coleus, for  instance, would liquefy...I was glad to see them before that happened. 

And still the rain came down. I spotted several Plantations employees, weeding and deadheading and cleaning the gardens even in the rain. With their hoods up, they looked like wraiths popping in and out of the vegetation. It reminded me that no garden stays this beautiful without constant maintenance.

I discovered rather quickly that my nice lightweight slicker had two seams in the armpits that admitted a steady trickle of cold water on either side. Said water ran down my flanks to my stomach, where it pooled above my belt and soaked me from armpit to waist. Meanwhile, the water was running off the hip-length slicker and onto my trousers, which were saturated by the end of the tour. I was every bit as soaked under my slicker as outside it. Altogether a highly unsatisfactory performance for outdoor gear. Which I bought at a factory outlet. The phrase "You get what you pay for" probably applies. To be fair, what tags were on it made no claims for water resistance. Not sure what it's good for--windbreaker? Who gets wind without rain?

This is going to sound a little strange, but one of the things I enjoyed most was the pavement beneath the trees in the parking lot. As the leaves fell, their tannins interacted with the concrete, creating dark


Under each katsura tree was a great dark print of hundreds of fallen leaves. The leaves had been raked away, but their round ganged imprints were still on the concrete.  I found it so beautiful, this unbidden art made by trees. I couldn't do it justice in photos. It was all the more beautiful because no one could have anticipated it would happen. Sonja, who took wonderful care of me throughout my stay, agreed. It was nice to find that others noticed and appreciated the tree art.

A drip on the chin of the Yarb Lady, much like the one hanging off mine. I spent the rest of the afternoon slowly drying out.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Building. Hmm. My friend Tim said it looked like it might rise up and stomp on cars. I agree. Kind of a lurky Transformer vibe to it.  Cornell's campus is a melting pot of architectural styles, that's for sure. Something like this arises, cheek to jowl with something like this.

Pretty sure this was a redtail, hangin' out on some ironwork high above Cayuga Lake.

I know for a fact this is a redtail nest stuffed in a light fixture, because Sonja told me it was featured on a Lab of O Webcam. The female's name is Big Red, the male is Ezra, if I remember correctly.

Oh look. It's starting to rain.

Hmm. Wonder how this slicker will do? I left my heavy-duty one home...

In the photo below, that's scaffolding on a cupola under repair, transforming it into a magic, temporary pagoda against the sky. A lovely sunset, just the Lord's way of saying sorry about the wet pants.


Lovely. Love to the wet one with the sharp eyes.xom.

Posted by Anonymous October 22, 2014 at 4:41 AM

I would love to have been at the talk; it sounds right up my alley. Is there any sort of online link to it? I ask only because I know of so many people who record their talks for YouTube, and perhaps this one was recorded by someone?

Posted by Anonymous October 22, 2014 at 5:47 AM

What a great read to end my rather dull day! Thanks Julie

Posted by Anonymous October 22, 2014 at 6:09 PM

Cool tour of the Ithaca area and the gardens. The plant - Bluestar Liatrus??

So cool that you saw either Ezra, Big Red during your visit. The web cam is worth a peek next May and June.

Eddie Bauer "Girl-On-the-Go" rain coat or parka- dumb name, but it is really waterproof in disastrous weather.... it is not packable and looks like a real coat and I would not recommend it for, say, back packing, but it will keep you dry...also has good pockets and a useful hood.

I love leaf prints on sidewalks, but the powers that be call them "stains" and either cut trees to avoid them or bleach them out.

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