At Letchworth State Park in New York

At Letchworth State Park in New York

Welcome to a blend of book reviews, dreams, photography, poems, reflections, and stories. Scroll, explore, ponder, and share if you like.

Sycamore leaves at Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland

Now that I know what they are, I’m finding sycamore leaves everywhere in parks and forest preserves. These beauties are from Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland, Illinois. Although they’re turning brittle, they look like shiny leather.

Sycamore leaves

Sycamore leaves at Sand Ridge Nature Center

Veterans Day: V-Mail from my dad, Ralph Schirf

A few years ago I did a search on my dad’s name and found this: An old auction for V-Mail (“Greetings from Britain”) from Private Ralph Schirf. I hadn’t known about the auction, long since over, in time to bid. Here are the clues that it’s from my dad:

  • Ralph Schirf is a unique name. Schirf is rare, and we’re all related. Ralph Schirf is one of a kind.
  • He was from the Altoona, Pennsylvania, area.
  • He served as a private in the Army Air Forces during WWII in England (artillery, I believe, although he didn’t talk about it). He was honorably discharged as a corporal.
  • That’s his block printing.
  • His beloved sister Marjorie married a Way (Ellis G. in the obituary of one of their children).
  • He once signed a birthday card to me “Father Ralph.” It’s not a stretch to imagine him signing “Brother Ralph” to his sister.

I would love if the buyer found this post and offered to sell me Dad’s V-Mail, but in lieu of the physical pieces I’ll have to be content with small digital photos.

Here’s more from the Postal Museum about V-Mail.

USPS PDF about the history and process of sending V-Mail.

My dad:


Dad in the Army Air Forces, year unknown. He served in Hawaii before the war, was honorably discharged, and re-enlisted after Pearl Harbor. His youngest sister, Marietta, also served.

And his grave in Bellwood, Pennsylvania, outside Altoona:

Dad’s marker at Logan Valley Cemetery

Book review: The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring

The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston. New York: Random House. 2007. 320 pages. In The Wild Trees, Richard Preston delves into the lives of giant trees, primarily coast redwoods, and some of the people … Continue reading →

Tree with moss cascade and forest vignette


I’d have spent more time on this photo if I’d known how it would turn out. I like the vignetted background visible through the tree’s crotch leading to the moss cascade.

Location: Lost Beach Trail, Sand Ridge Nature Center, South Holland, Illinois

Relics: A different mail chute

I updated the Relics: Mail chute post with slightly better photos and a new photo taken at the Garland Building in Chicago. I forgot to take a photo of the lobby box, but will. Someday. I wonder what is under the white paint, although I suspect hallway mail slots weren’t as fancy as the lobby boxes.

Cutler mail slot at the Garland Building

Cutler mail slot at the Garland Building

Meet the snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis), the garden fairy

Snowberry clearwing

Snowberry clearwing

While this snowberry clearwing was intent on seeking nectar, I was intent on photographing it. I couldn’t get crisp photos with an iPhone, but this is one of my favorites. It looks like it’s playing hide-and-seek with me, but I have no idea of how this little hovering moth perceives the world. Maybe I was just an annoying anomaly of movement, shadow, or strange colors. To me, they are like garden fairies. I haven’t seen one in a couple of weeks, and I miss them. So long to summer, and hope to see your progeny next year.