Little Green Boxes

Heading out the driveway and down the road the other day I noticed something hanging in a tree at the corner of the property:

Little green box

I didn’t have time at the moment, but a little later I had a chance to look at it more closely. It’s cardboard, three-sided, and open on the sides. And I was unaware that it had been put in my tree (it’s in the portion of the tree that hangs over the ditch).

And then I began to see them elsewhere. In other trees (sometimes you have to look closely)...

Another box in a tree

And another box in a tree

...and on fenceposts:

box on a post

Closer inspection finds that these are gypsy moth traps. Apparently the Illinois Department of Agriculture places traps every year to monitor the population and make decisions about where and whether to treat for them. I don’t know if they’ve done that in our area before and I just haven’t noticed, or if this is new for us.

I’ve heard of gypsy moths before, but I didn’t really know anything about them. There’s info on the Department of Agriculture Page linked above and, of course, on Wikipedia, but the gist, from Wikipedia, is that this is an introduced invasive species. It first appeared in the northeast Atlantic States - beginning with Massachusetts - in 1869, and has been diligently working its way westward ever since. It now appears in eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois, and it is problematic because its larvae will "consume the leaves of over 500 species of trees, shrubs, and plants". According to Wikipedia this moth is "one of the most destructive pests of hardwood trees in the eastern United States". Among other things, the eggs hang out on firewood, which is at least part of the reason you’ll see materials asking that you only use local firewood at campsites.

This is one of those cases where an enterprising soul thought he’d be doing a solid by bringing the moths over from Europe - in this case to try and breed them with silk moths to get a version of a silk moth that wasn’t such a fussy eater. Turns out that Étienne Léopold Trouvelot’s skills as an astronomer may not have translated well to his amateur interest in entomology - the two species cannot interbreed. But what gypsy moths can do however, apparently, is get away from you and escape into the woods around your home. Which, it would seem, is how you can have craters named for you on both the moon and Mars, but still have "introducing the gypsy moth to North America" be the only thing listed in the "known for" section on your Wikipedia page.

All of this makes one curious as to what might be in those traps, but they should not be disturbed, so I’ll just continue to wonder. But at least now I no longer have to wonder what those little green boxes I keep seeing are for...

Historical Detritus

Our Homestead is old, but it is not now, and has never been, a museum. Throughout the course of its existence it has either served as a home, or sat empty, unused. This applies to the house itself, as well as to the property and it’s outbuildings.

The old barn on the property is nearly as old as the house itself, and it appears to have originally been built as an animal barn, with stalls for horses that include feeding troughs and the like. As time has gone on, the need for this type of structure has waned, and it has been put to other purposes - grain storage, general storage, and, apparently, raccoon sanctuary.

In these transitions, however, no one has bothered to remove or relocate the remnants of the prior usages. Hanging in the barn have been old bits of horse tack - various leather strappings and mechanisms designed for hitching horses up to wagons and similar devices.

I’d like to say that I know this because I’ve seen such items hanging in the barn and, to a certain degree this is true. However, it turns out that we have another, far more eager group of historical archeologists living on the property:

Our dogs.



Over the years that we have lived here they have pulled out of the barn more bits of animal tack than I can ever recall seeing in there myself - the experience of finding yet another such item laying in the yard is a little like watching a slow motion clown car performance.

While I’d like to think that they are interested in sharing these historical discoveries with the rest of the family, I should note that most of these items have leather strapping attached to them, and I suspect it is this which actually gains the interest of our canine contingent. Still, they also have buckles and other metal components as well, which inevitably show up elsewhere in the yard (a delightful thing to encounter with a lawn mower, let me tell you).

The supply of these items surely must end at some point, and then we will no longer have these educational encounters with history. Until then, it does lend a reminder of the fact that it really hasn’t been that long since people used animals, rather than tractors, to plow the fields and get their product to market.



As the summer winds towards a close the landscape begins to change a bit. The first hints of drying of the leaves of the corn and soybeans begin to show, and the chicory begins to bloom along the roadsides. The picture here was taken a few miles from home on one of my Sunday rides.

Many years ago, when I first started driving through the countryside to commute to work, I became fascinated with learning what the variety of things I was seeing growing in the ditches were. In this quest I came across the UofI Weed Identification Site - which is honestly the sort of thing that one wouldn't even consider would possibly exist unless one were looking specifically for it.

I've learned a lot about what is around us by using that reference, but discovering that the multitudinous pretty blue flowers coloring the roadsides in the late summer were, in fact, chicory, was one of the most surprising. In most cases my searches would simply involve looking through the pictures and seeing that the items I was pulling had a name - "Oh - so you are lambsquarter. Nice to meet you - now get the hell out of my garden..."

But chicory is different. Here was a discovery that a thing I'd heard the name of for years was actually a thing right nearby, indeed, perhaps under foot. Anyone who is a fan of westerns, or civil war-era fiction, will have heard of chicory. Soldiers or traveling cowboys will be found to be brewing and sharing it while they camp by the roadside. It's one of those tiny references to historical fiction that gives the era being described a different feel and helps put one in the place of the story.

In those stories chicory is being brewed like, and in the place of, coffee. The implication, often, is that the characters in the story are living rough, and so chicory is what they have to work with. This has apparently been a common usage, as the Wikipedia entry illustrates, using chicory in place of coffee, or at least blending it in with coffee to make it go further, in times of scarcity. The Wikipedia entry on the plant illustrates this quite nicely.

That practice of mixing it into coffee still stands, though now by choice and for flavor, something we learned when friends from Louisiana shared coffee with us a few years ago.

Café Du Monde

The can, sadly, is empty now, but it made for a delightful change of pace, and felt a little like drinking history with each cup.


A couple of years back we made the first foray towards planting what we hope will become a small orchard. This first group of three included a pear, cherry, and cold-hardy peach tree.

I was, I will admit, somewhat skeptical at the prospect of planting the peach tree. I think of peaches as being a southern fruit - Georgia Peaches, anyone? - and so the idea of them working out here, weathering through a winter on the open prairie, seemed dubious. Still, it's been two years, and not only has the tree survived, its faring far better in the war against Japanese Beetles than my cherry tree.

I check the trees periodically for the beginnings of fruit throughout the spring. This year, for most of the spring I saw almost nothing. The cherry tree seemed uninterested in offering anything at all, and the pear tree made an early attempt at a couple of fruits, which then later simply vanished (though I'm sure our local wildlife had something to do with the vanishing...). And in all of this the peach tree, for the second year in a row, turned its woody nose up and refused to display even the beginnings of anything fruit-like, as near as I could tell.

As near as I could tell indeed, because I was walking towards the tree on my way to the shed last Sunday afternoon and I saw something... Honestly I wasn't sure what I was looking at from a distance, because I really had no expectation of finding that the tree was bearing anything.

But sure enough, it was:

Peach One

Peach Two

a pair of peaches

There are only just the two of them on the tree - it's still very young - but they are absolutely there and look very healthy. I can't imagine they were quite ripe yet, but I'll be checking them periodically. And I've gone from skeptical to cautiously optimistic. Given that it does look like the tree will yield fruit, even here on the periodically frozen northern prairie, it may be worth it to plant another of the same variety to allow for better pollination.

And - of course - the real bonus is that, in the near future, I'm gonna get to eat a peach!

Update: Somehow, when I was discovering the two peaches on our peach tree, I missed a third. It was apparently hiding, lower in the tree.

Hidden Peach

I've looked over the rest of the tree pretty closely, and I don't believe there are any others - three appears to be the limit. Of course, I thought I had looked over the entire tree before, and it's really not that big...


One of the more striking things about rural Illinois is the number of abandoned buildings. This includes buildings on properties that are otherwise clearly in active use - the old, empty barns tumbling down alongside newer, occupied machine sheds and similar types of buildings, to be sure. But also included in that list of unoccupied and unloved structures in the scenery are more personal places, like old schoolhouses and homes.

In some cases a place may just be clearly empty, but otherwise in good repair. It may be a home that you drive by regularly, across multiple times of day and night, and simply never see a vehicle in the drive, never a light on in the window, perhaps the care of the grounds isn't routinely attended to. These places seem to simply be waiting, hoping for new occupants to arrive and reinvigorate them.

In other cases, you will find former homes in various stages of tumbledown, sometimes at its earliest stage, where an enterprising homeowner might have the opportunity to pull it back from the abyss. Other times it's clear the building is beyond all hope.





In many ways these abandoned places simply reflect changes in the way people live, and in the way we move about. Fewer people live in rural areas now than they used to, and our small towns used to be part of the major thoroughfares for travel. Highways used to wend their way through rural towns, often directly through the downtown business district. The interstates have usurped that role, and often now people from other places recognize a small town by name only if it appears on a highway exit sign. Even then, what they know of the town itself may be limited to the gas stations, restaurants, and hotels that appear around the exit.

But while these decaying structures often just sit and embrace entropy, there are cases where property owners reclaim the space for other things. It might be hard to believe, but this lot, not terribly far from home, used to hold a small house and a couple of outbuildings:


I remember the house well from growing up out here - the bus went past it every day. It was nothing special - painted white, a story and a half, and perhaps 1000 square feet of floorplan. It was no architectural treasure, and likely no one will mourn its loss, myself included. Since taking the picture the piles of earth have been smoothed out, and the space is indistinguishable from the farmland that used to surround it. It will likely soon host a crop of corn or beans.

Ultimately, it seems likely that this is what will continue to occur out in these parts - this very rural area will become much more so, with homes themselves ever further and fewer between.

What's He Growing Out There?

Something... different is happening around us this year.

We are surrounded on all sides by farmland, and three of those four sides are owned by my cousin. Most years he plants corn, but sometimes soybeans or a mixture of the two. We never know which until we see things start to sprout, and that's a bit of the adventure of living out here.

Yes, we could probably ask, but one of the joys of country living for this introvert is that I'm not routinely interacting with my neighbors. I suspect most of the people living around me have a similar perspective - it's part of why one chooses to live out here.

At any rate, this year is different.

What's coming up around us looks like clover (and I've learned something new today: apparently there is a dating app called Clover, and it occupies the first four hits on Google). It looks like this up close:


And looking across the field:

But really... clover?

A Google image search doesn't help much, since much of it seems to focus on either idealized images or a couple of specific types of clover.

The Wikipedia page on clover suggests good reasons why it might be planted around us - apparently the plant is related to peas, and fixes nitrogen in a similar fashion, refreshing the soil. Its also an important component of hay, which is my cousin's primary crop.

Eventually I'll probably get around to asking him. But for the moment I'm rather enjoying the mystery. What's he growing out there? What the hell is he growing out there...