Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Paddling away

Last weekend, a friend of mine invited me to go canoeing on a nearby river.  I have only gone canoeing a couple times, and not in years and years, but I associate canoeing with frustration.  I think it is a combination of not being very good at paddling a canoe and the communication and coordination required with another person to propel and steer a canoe.  I am generally cooperative and personable, but something about canoeing just hasn’t worked for me.  Perhaps I should have been a big girl and given it another try, but I decided to go with kayaking instead.  I love kayaking, so that seemed like a much more pleasant way to explore the river.

kicking back on  the kayak

My friends, A, J, and M, piled into a canoe, and we headed off down the river.


I should note that the canoers didn’t seem to have any trouble or conflict the whole trip, so if you may have been inclined to try out canoeing, don’t let my aversion sway you!

We were in the Concord area and started on the Sudbury River, which flows into the Concord River. The Concord River is spanned by the Old North Bridge, site of one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War.

Old North Bridge

Unfortunately, I may also now remember it as the site where I accidentally dunked myself in the river. We had stopped briefly at the historic park that surrounds the bridge, and when we returned to our boats, I lost my footing while trying to get back in the kayak. Oops! Luckily, it was a warm day, so I wasn’t too uncomfortable while we made our way back to the boathouse.

Despite the dunking, our afternoon on the river was lovely. The banks were lush and green, with patches of brilliantly red salvia.


layers of color

We saw a grey heron, a deep yellow, fuzzy caterpillar that wanted to join our picnic lunch, and so many turtles.

basking turtles

It was a lovely, relaxing way to spend a Saturday with friends. And we topped it off by going out for ice cream after.

As a parting gift, I will share a blurry photo that I actually like!



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I had an idyllic day today. From start to finish, it was fun and relaxing, full of moments that made me smile.

As I often do on a weekend morning, I started the day with coffee and a pastry at my favorite local bakery. Then I took a walk and grabbed some bargains at a couple yard sales.

Next I headed to the Esplanade to meet my friend, S, who had agreed to take me sailing. It was a hot, sunny day, so it was comfortable and beautiful out on the water. We chatted as we sailed over the sparkling water and past landmarks. Such a nice way to spend a summer afternoon.

our sail

great day for sailing

skyline from the water

rudders in a row

sail storage

After our sail, I headed over to Beacon Hill and did some browsing, and a little actual shopping. I stopped for a late lunch at The Paramount, then wandered in the Public Garden a bit. Check out the swan and its eggs in the nest!

swan nest with eggs!

At that point, I had a hankering for ice cream, and I lucked out. A Mr. Frosty soft-serve truck was parked right by the bus stop, so I grabbed a cone before heading home. Since then, I’ve been puttering online, doing laundry, and watching the baseball game.  Hooray for summer!


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I got to visit my parents in St. Louis after my conference trip to Chicago.  The timing was good, as my dad had just had surgery, so I was able to visit him, while my mom worked.  Most of the visit was spent just hanging out with my parents, but Mom and I did take some time to check out the Missouri Botanical Garden, one of Mom’s favorite places. I generally get out to visit my folks in the winter, so it was nice to be there at a time when the garden was in full bloom.  It really is an impressive place, with lots of different styles of garden, beautifully executed.  It is free for residents of St. Louis county and very reasonably priced for the rest of us.  Honestly, they must do a lot of fund-raising, because the quality is way above what one would expect for the admission price, especially once you see the number of Chihuly pieces the Garden acquired permanently after the exhibition of his work there several years ago.  Those glass installations are not cheap.

Mom and I started in the Climatron, a domed glass greenhouse filled with an amazing variety of stunning tropical plants.

I wish I had taken the photo above with Mom in it, because those plants are enormous!  The blooms were over her head.

See?  More Chihuly.  Mom and I liked the flamingo-like shapes of these, and they really glowed in their pool of sunlight.

And it wasn’t only the colorful things that caught our eyes.

I am guessing this plant is either carnivorous, and catches insects in these hanging pods or that they are for capturing water, with the prickly bits to keep critters from stealing the liquid.

Isn’t it amazing how much variety is in our world?  I love that there are always so many new things to see and wonder about! Anyway, after the Climatron, we wandered to Tower Grove House, which was originally the country home of the Garden’s creator, Henry Shaw.  It’s odd to think of it as a country house, when today the Botanical Garden is surrounded by city neighborhoods.

Of course, it’s easy to forget the city in the immediate surroundings of the house, such as the lovely formal garden, based on Shaw’s original design.

Next we headed to the expansive Japanese Garden.  While I tend to love showy, colorful landscapes, I was struck by the serene and ordered layout in this section.  It was absolutely gorgeous.

There were some flowers, of course, including irises, a favorite of mine.

And we got to feed lots of koi, whose colors and patterns were nearly as beautiful as the plants and flowers (though the photos don’t do them justice, due to the jostling for food.)

It was a hot day, so Mom and I were flagging by that point.  But on our way back to the Garden entrance we wandered through one of the rose gardens and the Orangerie, and enjoyed yet another Chihuly installation.

Really we only saw a portion of what the Garden has to offer.  There were several sections we didn’t see, so you could probably spend the better part of a day here.  Yet another jewel in St. Louis’s cultural crown.

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I am noticing one upside to the long and snowy winter we had in Boston.  I am appreciating spring even more this year than I usually do.  Maybe it is just the contrast to those long months of white and gray that is making the season seem so vibrant, but I could swear everything seems to be blooming at once this year.

Since the weather was sunny and relatively warm this weekend, I went for a long ramble in the Arnold Arboretum.  I live within walking distance of the place, and it is shameful that I don’t visit it more often, but I always manage to make at least one trip each spring.  This visit was spectacular.  I have never seen so many different kinds of flowers there all in bloom.  There were hyacinths and daffodils here and there, carpets of violets in white and blue, rhododendrons and azaleas and forsythia, all kinds of blooming trees, and even a few early lilacs.

It felt so good to get out in the fresh air and surround myself with green and other colors.  And I know my body needed the exercise.  I have been extremely sedentary lately.  But every time I go to the arboretum I wish I knew more about identifying trees.  Maybe one of these days I will actually take one of the classes they offer and learn a little botany.

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As you’ve probably all figured out by now, I love nature. The “I wonder” part of iwonderandiwander has as much to do with my frequent awe of the world around me as it does with the questions that run through my head.  When I travel, I really enjoy visiting parks, gardens, and natural landscapes and marveling at the beauty and variety of the natural world.  In Phoenix, I got to hike in the Sonoran Desert Preserve, which was a short walk from our rental house, go geocaching in an undeveloped area neighboring the subdivision, and visit the spectacular Desert Botanical Garden, so I really got to experience the desert flora. (The desert fauna made appearances, too – in addition to the javelinas I mentioned in my restaurant post, we saw rabbits, lizards, ground squirrels, and lots of quail.)

The Desert Botanical Garden was gorgeous, fun, and informative.  There are, of course, scads of cacti, in every imaginable shape and size, and some we never could have envisioned.  Fishhook cactus, strawberry hedgehog cactus, enormous saguaros, teddy bear chollas, prickly pear, cacti that undulated across the ground like tentacles, cacti in bloom.  I even managed to pick up a barbed cactus spine in my leg.  It was tenacious, but thankfully painless.  My friend, M, and I also learned that cacti have wood inside.  I suppose I always assumed that cacti were fleshy all the way through, until we saw the woody remains of dead cacti at the garden.  The wood of some cacti even has a beautiful honeycombed look.

There was plenty to see beyond cacti, though.  The garden has thousands of other plants, too, mostly succulents like agave and aloe.  We were amazed by the wide variety of agave plants.  Some had flower stems up to 26 feet tall that looked like something from a Dr. Seuss book.  We also really liked the type with delicate, white, spiraling tendrils among the spiky leaves, and a variety called Queen Victoria’s agave, which had striking, almost geometric, white veining on the dark green leaves.

We seemed to be catching the tail end of the desert spring, so there were some cacti and other succulents blooming, and the garden has a number of other types of flowering plants, too.  The creosote bushes had pretty yellow flowers and fuzzy, white globes of seeds.  I was quite surprised to find lupins growing in the desert, since I associate them with Maine (though it turns out there are species of lupins all over, and they are the state flower of Texas.)   The garden also had a tiny, gorgeous variety of iris that I had never seen before. We kept seeing signs for a mimosa-like flower with the adorable name baja fairy duster, so we were excited when we finally found one with the unique magenta blossoms.

Beyond plants, we checked out the ethnobotany section of the garden, where there are traditional Native American structures and interactive exhibits on how those early desert residents used the native plants.  We got to pound mesquite seeds and see fencing made of spiky ocotillo branches.  We also visited the butterfly pavilion, which was pretty much chock full of colorful beauties in both insect and flower form.

M and I both took tons of photos during our visit, and you can see the best of mine in the slideshow below.  The garden is more beautiful in person, though, so visit it if you are ever in the Phoenix area.

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Along with Casa Loma and, later, the Rogers Centre (where the Blue Jays play), there were a couple other major tourist attractions I visited in Toronto.  The first was St. Lawrence Market, which is actually a complex of several buildings, but I only explored the South Market.  The South Market building was Toronto’s first City Hall, but after major changes to expand it, because a market in 1901.

This, I suspect is a facade from the original City Hall building on the site, but it is now inside the market.

The South Market has two stories of vendors selling a huge variety of foods and goods.  The upper level has stalls specializing in meats, cheeses, produce, and fish.

That level also had a cooking supply vendor and several bakery stalls, including this one:

That’s the Carousel Bakery.  See that sign about a peameal bacon sandwich?  I had seen a placard outside a diner the previous day that had listed peameal bacon along with other breakfast options and had wondered what it could mean.  Honestly, I thought peameal must be some variation on oatmeal and that bacon was served alongside.  In fact, peameal bacon is the real Canadian bacon, as a handy dandy sign at the Carousel Bakery informed me.  It’s a brine-cured, unsmoked back bacon, originally coated in ground, dried peas, but now mostly made with cornmeal.  Apparently, the Carousel Bakery is the place to get a peameal bacon sandwich.  I know I risk alienating myself from my bacon loving friends by admitting this, but I did not sample the sandwich.

Anyway, the lower level of the market has more purveyors, including a little specialty salt shop, and a vendor specializing in an astonishing variety of rices, nuts, grains, and flours.

Most of the lower level consisted of food stalls, though, where I grabbed a tasty, albeit eclectic, lunch of Chinese dumplings and a cheery strudel. After lunch, I wandered down to Toronto’s waterfront and enjoyed the sunshine and sea lake breeze.  (Seriously, I couldn’t get used to the fact that a body of water that stretched as far as the eye could see was freshwater.)

The waterfront is lined with pathways, lawns, sculptures, and a little strip of sandy “beach”, where I rested for a bit in one of the Adirondack chairs, before continuing on.

It was a lovely walk, but I wasn’t meandering aimlessly; I had a destination in mind: the Music Garden.  The garden was designed by Yo-Yo Ma and Julie Moir Messervy, a landscape designer.  The concept was originally part of a film series Ma was working on, Inspired by Bach, and was supposed to be turned into an actual garden in Boston, my home, but since that plan fell through, Toronto stepped in to provide a site.

The garden is based on Bach’s first Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, and each part of the design represents a movement of the piece, including the Prelude,

and Courante.

The Sarabande section centers on a “poet’s corner”,

where this poem is posted:

And the Menuett area has a lovely metalwork pavilion that can be a stage for musical performances.

Enjoying the beautiful, peaceful Music Garden was a wonderful way to end my afternoon of exploring.  Aside from the lovely flowers and landscaping, it has a pretty spiffy view of the downtown Toronto skyline.

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The Palm House

One of the great places I visited in Toronto was a lucky find.  Allan Gardens was marked on one of the tourist maps I had, and it was really close to where we were staying, but it doesn’t appear to be a very well-known spot.  When I looked it up online, it seemed it is regarded as a bit of a hidden gem of the city, so I am very glad I found it.  It truly is a gem, especially, I imagine in the winter months.

The conservatory is set in the midst of a modest-sized park that features lots of grass, the seemingly ubiquitous black Toronto squirrels, and a nifty dog park, but the Palm House and attached greenhouse rooms steal the show.

such a tranquil, green spot in the city

The Toronto Horticultural Society has operated gardens here since the mid-19th century, but the Palm House has been in place for 100 years.  The Palm House has a classic, domed structure and, as the name implies, is filled with lush palms and other tropical plants.  Think how breathtaking it must be to enter it in the dead of a Toronto winter.

There are several greenhouse rooms attached on either side of the Palm House.  There are loads of flowering plants,



spidery lilies

variety of gerber daisy, I think

coral colored blossom

water features, including an iron water wheel, a waterfall, and a koi pond,

water wheel

koi pond and contrasting foliage

some really unusual plants,

twiggy spirals

I can't help but call it a pod plant

and an entire section of cacti and succulents.

serrated succulent

cactus room

barrel cacti

blooming succulent

Remind anyone else of Audrey Two?

bold color

Wandering among all the plants was a beautiful way to start a day in Toronto.  Allan Gardens is definitely worth a visit.

My next post will be a photo-filled one, too, since my next stop after Allan Gardens was Casa Loma, a stunning mansion on a hill above downtown Toronto.

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