Tuesday, September 27, 2011

We are still parked in Missouri

Originally I had written that we would only spend three weeks in Missouri. As it turned out, that was not to be. John had heart issues which required emergency placement of stents and a brief hospitalization. He is better now and very anxious to hit the road again! However, we do need to stay another week for him to visit his doctor one last time. Thanks be to God that John is on the mend and that we happened to be near our doctors, family and friends when this all occurred last week! Another blessing came our way Saturday when  daughter Melissa called and announced her engagement to Spencer. We are thankful that he is joining our family! Their wedding will happen about a year from now. We also had another surprise last week when our son Daniel flew in to visit us after he had received the news of John's illness. I was thankful to have his support, especially now that John needs encouragement to take on a new life style after his heart attack.  A low-fat diet is now very important!  On Monday we all decided to venture out and drive to the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Illinois. In the sanctuary we mainly saw herons, egrets and many swallows swooping and diving over the waters. We had hoped see either eagles or pelicans, unfortunately it is too early in the season for them.  From the wetlands we drove over to Confluence Point State Park, one of the most significant places in our nation. It is where two of our greatest rivers, the Mississippi and the Missouri, flow together. They both were essential in the western expansion of the United States.
Most of our day was spent driving along the "green corridor" of conserved open spaces along the Mississippi River from St.Charles to Alton. We also stopped at one heritage location where there is a reproduction of the winter camp of Lewis and Clark (1804). Our day ended at the Chain of Rocks Canal. Many barges come through this canal but none could be seen while we were there.
As John and I always discover, it does not take much touring around to kill a day. By late afternoon we needed to head toward the airport for Daniel to catch his flight back to Washington D.C.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

370 Lakeside Park, St.Peters

This is the area where we are currently located. It is Mississippi River bottom land which was farm land until the flood of 1993. A few soybean plants, lying in orderly rows, can be still seen struggling to survive along the lake's edge. High levees surround this park; soil was dug up from the farm land to create the levees, and consequently a 140-acre lake was formed. It has been newly stocked with fish. In this park is also many acres of protected wetland, as shown in the picture above. While biking around Lakeside Park I have seen egrets and herons sitting in the water, also deer in the forests. Canadian geese and killdeer are in an abundance here. During my morning bike rides I have made the acquaintance of another biker, Ed Prouhet (he is the youngest son of the Prouhet farm family from Bridgeton). He starts biking earlier than I do and consequently has wildlife sightings to report to me, as raccoons and bald eagles. We had more of a citified life when we came to St.Louis in previous trips here and stayed at the recreational vehicle park in St.Charles. I must say that I do not miss having easy access to stores as much as I thought I would!  Below is a picture of one of the metal sculptures found through out the park. It has been fun exploring the many trails which wind around the lake and wetlands.
The only unfortunate part with living so far from St.Louis is that we do have a distance to go to attend events in the city. One trip which we made into the city was to hear the St.Louis Symphony kick off their season with a concert on Art Hill in Forest Park.  Fireworks after the concert made it a perfect evening. Sunday we had only to drive as far as St.Charles to hear the Mahnken Brass Quintet. Susan Slaughter, past principal trumpet for the St.Louis Symphony, was part of that ensemble and it was a joy to hear her again. She also played the trumpet for some of the songs performed by the Community Gospel Choir. It all was first rate entertainment, and only for the price of a donation to the BackStoppers. The BackStoppers are a local  organization which provides needed support and financial assistance to the families of local and county firefighters, and police officers who have lost their lives while in the line of duty. It has been great to be back in St.Louis again; not only is it wonderful to be in a city where we know our way around, but it is also a place where there is plenty of things to do. We have also been quite fortunate in the past week to meet up with friends from both Beautiful Savior and Holy Cross Lutheran churches at various social functions. Our plan is to stay here another two weeks and then head west to California.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Japanese Festival, St.Louis, Missouri

We arrived in St.Louis last Friday, and plan to stay here for three weeks. It was hard to take the triple digit temperatures on Friday and Saturday, especially when we thought back to the cool temperatures we had up north in the past two months. Fortunately a cool front moved in Sunday. It was a great day to visit the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Japanese Festival. The festival was explained in Friday's Post Dispatch.  According to the article the organizer of the festival, Ed Shimamoto, started up the festival about 35 years ago. He and his family had been in an internment camp in 1944 in Arkansas. When the war ended he and his family and others traveled to St.Louis for work. Shimamoto is quoted in the article that the Japanese Festival was conceived "as our thanks to St.Louis for being so welcoming".  The festival is now one of the largest and oldest in the nation. It is a celebration of Japanese food, music, art, gardening, and martial arts. There is something for everyone to see and do over the three days it is held. Our visit started in the Ridgway Visitor Center where we toured displays of Bonsai and Ikebana. Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging, using flowers and other natural materials. Below is an example of Ikebana. Origami cranes decorate the wall next to the display. Bamboo  for the flower arrangement came from the garden.
From the visitor's center of the garden we headed over to the Japanese Garden to observe Bon Odori, which is the summer festival dancing. As we came into that area of the garden we saw the Koinobori, or koi windsock display. Japanese revere the carp for their endurance when swimming in strong currents.
The Buddhist festival of Odon celebrates the return of the spirits of the dead to Earth. This ritual has evolved into bon odori, a dance that marks the end of summer. The dancers wear colorful kimonos and sandals.
In the picture above the dancers are waving fans, which are a prop for the particular dance which they are performing. There is a taiko drum on the elevated stage above the dancers, it is used to set the beat. In the evening we were treated to a taiko concert. Years ago Japanese drums were beaten to fool invading armies into believing a formidable opposition was on the march. The sound is thus quite loud and the movement of the drummers as they beat the drums looks something akin to martial arts. Some of the songs, however, were less traditional with modern music and dance. A bamboo flute sometimes was also played with the drums. It was quite an unusual musical experience for John and I! There is much, much more to the Japanese festival which I have not covered here. We hope to come back another year and give ourselves more time to take everything in. It certainly is a total cultural immersion into everything Japanese.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

These gardens lie on the shores of Lake Monoma in Madison. On its 16 acres are numerous specialty gardens, the most recent of which is the Thai Pavilion and Garden. That garden is a gift from the Thai government and the alumni of the Thai Chapter of the University of  Wisconsin. It is the only one in the continental United States. The pavilion was built in Thailand and shipped in pieces to Madison. Artisans from Thailand flew in on Sept.11, 20001 to supervise its construction. They were on the last plane allowed to fly into Chicago on that fateful day. The pavilion is decorated in gold leaf and in its motif are three distinct features; a serpent, the lotus flower and the seal of the government of Thailand. A bridge connects the Thai Garden to the larger garden. The bridge and walkway represent the body of the snake. Symbols are prevalent in Thai culture and are woven into their belief of Buddhism.
 The pavilion is the only one outside of Thailand to have a garden surrounding it. The garden entrance has many large-leafed plants and bright-flowered plants hardy enough for the Midwest winters. A small pond with blooming lily pads also adds to the serene feeling of a Thai-styled garden. Water is important to Thailand because of its implications for good health and prosperity.
One of the specialty gardens featured carnivorous plants, as the pitcher plant. I have a close-up shot here of the pitchers which the plants uses to capture its meal. I found the plant quite fascinating!
 An interpretive sign nearby said that carnivorous plants grow in soil that is low in nitrogen. In order to make up for that deficiency they "eat" nitrogen-rich  insects. We ended our tour of the garden in the 50 story conservatory. It is a tropical ecosystem which reminded me a lot of the one at Shaw's Garden in St.Louis. However this one has free-flying birds as colorful canaries, doves, quail, and waxbills.  Apparently the birds serve a useful purpose in that they eat some of the "bad bugs" which attack the plants in the conservatory.  Our final stop of the day was at the Madison zoo. The zoo is only a couple of blocks from Adam and Kjerstin's home, they also have Lake Wingra on the other side of their home. I think they have a lot to look forward to in their new city, Madison seems like a wonderful town to us! Unfortunately we have to move on. Today we are driving further south toward our home town of St.Louis.