Sunday, October 12, 2008

Two kinds of autumn

What a glorious weekend—sunny and in the 60s and 70s. Late Saturday morning I made my usual trek to Bonjour to find the annual used book sale had broken out. There was no outdoor seating left, so I bypassed Bonjour and went to the hardware store and Treasure Island, but didn't have time to look at books. J. suggested that he pick me up at the shopping center later, so I arrived a few minutes early and hurriedly selected a couple of books—The World of the Victorians: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose ed. by E. D. H. Johnson and Memoirs of a Medieval Woman: The Life and Times of Margery Kempe by Louise Collis.

J. and I headed to the Chicago Botanic Garden at around 3:00 p.m. The trees are perhaps not quite at peak color, but I'm not sure that we can count on sunny, shirt-sleeve weather for much longer.

After visiting the gift shop (a must for J.), we found the orchid show and sale in the Regenstein Center. Brutally, I dissuaded J. from buying any orchids by telling him they require a special environment and care. I don't think they're easy to maintain, and I don't like to see him disappointed when his plants succumb. He settled for taking many photos of the show plants as well as a couple in front of the plants. One orchid in particular appealed to me—the bloom was a cream color with green stripes. J. was amazed by the diversity, but I'm not sure he understood why I said orchids can be very sexual in addition to showy. I chose to leave that a mystery.

We walked through the Krasberg Rose Garden, which is a sad shadow of what it had been two or three weeks ago. J. still found roses to admire among the survivors, and I spotted one or two bumble- and honeybees among the flowers—how different from a couple of months ago, when the flowers at the Morton Arboretum were loaded with pollen-laden bees.

Unusually for me, I miss summer already.

As we walked toward the Waterfall Garden (one of my favorite features), I noticed a man with a camera pointed toward an island and followed his gaze. A little blue heron was standing erect at the water's edge, senses focused on securing a fish or frog. To its left, a black bird was walking around, probably having just come out of the water. Something about it made me think of an anhinga—perhaps it looked unusually wet or waterlogged. I was thrilled when it hopped onto the rock, turned its back to the sun, and spread its wings. The only place I'd seen an anhinga was at our community in Lantana, Florida. Of course, in this area, it would be a species of cormorant, which I’d never seen.

While Canada geese flew over, trumpeter swans floated across the distant water, and J. happily drained his battery and filled his card with photos and videos, a man asked me what everyone was looking at. It's possible some people were simply enjoying the vista, one of the best at the garden and currently very colorful. I pointed out the two birds, explaining as much as I could recall of their habits (I was still thinking of an anhinga, although I was sure that was wrong). He chatted effortlessly for quite a while until, aware of time passing, I pushed J. toward the waterfall, and the man's own companion joined him. Again I found myself wondering why I could not attract such attention when I was young, when it could have increased my social circle and my now perpetually low confidence level.

We climbed to the top of the waterfall, whose roar found competition in the late afternoon air; the strains of "As Time Goes By" played on a piano wafted up from a wedding party in the English Walled Garden.

At the top, we saw a woman in a wheelchair, which made me curious; often I had wondered if there were disabled access to the waterfall. As we walked behind it, I saw a sign, which we followed to another garden I'd wanted to see—the Dwarf Conifer Garden. The disabled have access to the waterfall via a path up its slope.

In this garden, there are tiny conifers growing even between the stair steps. When I saw a larch, I couldn't help saying in significant tones, "The larch. The larch" (Monty Python). Just beyond was an incredible weeping Norway spruce. "Look," I said, "it's pining for the fjords." Did I really say that? Several times?

This took us to what I think is the English Oak Meadow, which was also on my wish list—it's on what passes for a "hillside" in this part of Illinois. While we were taking photos of each other and not understanding the temperamental vagaries of the cameras flash (now it does, now it doesn't), a couple came along, and the man offered to take a photo of us together. He snapped several and pointed out that they were off center "to add tension." I favor the more artistic approach, although I'm not sure I'd call it "tension." I've found that it can be difficult to get even people who should know better not to center either photography or art.

By now the sun was low, so after J. took a brief detour through a wedding party's reception area to get photos from the water's edge and I used their candlelit bathroom, we found the Buehler Enabling Garden that I had enjoyed so much last month. Alas, the goldfinches and hummingbirds are gone, and to my surprise the garden had been entirely replanted. I'm not sure that anything was left of the summer flora and foliage. The autumn twilight suited the new look.

Both of us loved the garden's mischievous fountains. Sometimes they bubble deceptively sedately; sometimes each of the outlets shoots up a jet of water in an offbeat rhythm of varying pattern. We pictured someone leaning over one of the fountains in its quietly bubbling phase only to be caught unawares as it changes mode and shoots a jet of water into the face. I was tempted to try it.

After a last look at the Heritage Garden, we left as darkness was settling in and, after a few detours, official and otherwise, found Blind Faith Café in Evanston, a vegetarian restaurant we both love for the food and ambiance. During the wait J. sniffed out merchandise (T-shirts), and I decided not to leave without a piece each of vegan chocolate cake, chocolate peanut butter cake, and pumpkin pie. J. couldn't resist some side dishes, quiche, and muffins, and the owner bestowed a sixth T-shirt on him.

At my place, I found the Antiques Roadshow on demand, which was guaranteed to keep J. happy. In this edition, taped in Salt Lake City, Utah, a man who had indulged in a blond wood Fender guitar for $300 in 1961 discovered it is valued now at $50,000 to $60,000. The real winner of the night, however, was a woman who brought in her great-grandfather's personal memorabilia. He'd been a Mormon blacksmith, wine merchant, and actor who had known and corresponded with Brigham Young. His archive of letters, photos, paintings, etc., was estimated to have a value of $150,000 to $200,000. The woman reeled at the revelation. I always wonder if the person will sell for the money or hold onto it for sentimental reasons or in the hopes that it will appreciate even more. I know I'd invest in a fireproof, climate-controlled safe and an insurance policy.

This morning, I sat inside Bonjour (someone in front of me took the last outdoor table, alas) and listened to a conversation among an elderly man and woman and a young man. They moved from talking about political gaffes and the media, going back to John Adams, to discussing Netflix and the switch to digital TV. A typical Sunday morning conversation in Hyde Park.

Today the books have been marked down, and I bought five hard covers (Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser; Masterpieces of Fantasy and Enchantment compiled by David G. Hartwell; H.M.S. Bounty: A True Account of the Famous Mutiny by Alexander Mckee; The World’s Best Poems ed. by Mark Van Doren and Garibaldi M. Lapolla, apparently printed in 1935 and with a faint old book odor; and Portrait of a Man with Red Hair: A Romantic Macabre by Hugh Walpole, apparently dating from 1925 and smelling strongly of mildew) for $3.75. They, and the rest of the formidable collection, should keep me occupied for several lifetimes. I suppose it is only when you have reached my age that you realize how short life is and how quickly it is getting shorter.


  1. You were spot-on about orchids! They are a LOT of work. In Minneapolis, there is a nursery that tends to rich people's orchids for them for the 90% of the time that they don't have blossoms.

  2. I felt bad when he lost his betta fish . . .

    I know a retired gentleman in Florida who has more than 200 orchids on his porch. I picture their care as almost a full-time job.

  3. Books, gardens, photography, snack treats -- sounds like the ideal weekend!