I had quite the full day today. Weeks ago, Lauren and I discovered our mutual interest in farmers' markets, and we made plans to go to the Green City Market, the favored destination of Chicago-area foodies and locavores, held twice a week in Lincoln Park. I'd been wanting to go for ages, but somehow never managed to wake up in time, and once I started working in the park, my lack of desire to travel up there on my day off further diminished my resolve. But, with plans to keep, I was newly motivated, and I met Lauren several hours into the market.
Unfortunately, I hadn't really contemplated the fact that none of the fruits and vegetables that I enjoy are in season yet. I found some rhubarb to freeze and save for Grandma Betsy, but other than a package of squeak-ily delicious cheese curds and some baby French shallots (supposedly, a substitute for ramps, whose season passed by while I was sleeping in), there was not much to tempt me in terms of produce. Instead, the highlight proved to be a stand selling zeppole -- bite-sized Italian doughnuts. The dough was fried to order, and the results were hot, crisp, and perfectly seasoned with the organic apple cider in the dough, and the cinnamon sugar coating on the outside. I had read a review of them in the Tribune the week before, and they were well-deserving of the hype.
After hitting the market, we decided to check out the Notebaert Nature Museum, which we thought was in close proximity to the History Museum, where we'd stopped briefly to deposit our haul in a staff refrigerator. We headed north, assuming we'd run into it eventually, and after a great distance, we came upon the Lincoln Park Conservatory instead. Since it was free, we decided to stop in, and check out the flora.
It was hot as the dickens in there, but it was worth it to check out the lush tropical foliage. I spotted this bromeliad, which I was somehow able to remember from my second grade lesson on the rain-forest. As you can see, bromeliads are able to store water in the "vase" formed by their leaves.
The best part of the conservatory was the orchid room, which was full of exotically beautiful flowers.
Almost all the other visitors were there for the photography opportunities, and I felt no small amount of inadequacy with my humble point-and-shoot, in the company of so many ten and twelve inch macro lenses and tri- and mono-pods. Still, I lucked into some fairly decent shots.
Next, we continued our northward trek, in search of the elusive Notebaert, which we finally found, more than a mile away from the History Museum. We probably could have taken the bus, but if we hadn't walked, we would have missed the Conservatory. Luckily, I was able to use my employee ID card to get us both in for free at the Notebaert. It's always nice to cash in on the perks that come with your job, especially when you can do it on a three-day weekend!
The main attraction at the Notebaert is the Butterfly Haven, a glassed-in structure that houses some 75 different species of butterflies. Much like the Green City Market, I had always wanted to stop by to check out the butterflies, but I'd never gotten around to it.
It was definitely an unusual experience. You enter through a air blower (an effort to keep the butterflies from flying out of their sanctuary), and immediately there are hundreds of butterflies flitting through the air. It's actually a little bit unnerving to have that many things flying around your head, but once you get over your fear of being dive-bombed, there is something magical about it. You can get really close to the butterflies, and they won't fly away. You can watch them as they bask in the sun, collect nectar, and engage in their hectic mating dances. My only regret was that I didn't have one of those high-power SLR's I'd spotted at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, because my little Nikon just didn't have the speed to catch the butterflies when they had their wings open. All I was able to get were shots of the insects with their wings folded up. As we learned from a stunningly vibrant blue butterfly we saw flying around, which we had thought was a species of moth when it was folded up, with butterflies, as with many things in life, true beauty is on the inside.
The Notebaert also offers up a host of family friendly edu-tainment opportunities, such as interactive water play stations that demonstrate the functions of dams, locks, and Chicago's own Deep Tunnel system; live turtles, fish, and reptiles; a green home geared to teaching families how to implement more environmentall-friendly practices in their own lives; and an exhibit on the natural flora and fauna of the Illinois prairie. Lauren and I decided to avail ourselves of a free guided walk around Lincoln Park's North Pond, where the museum staff pointed out families of baby Mallard and Wood ducks, an abandoned beaver lodge, and a pair of very aggressive red-winged black birds who were attempting to attract some females with some rather ear-piercing mating calls.
We ended the afternoon with our very own Animal Planet moment, as we bore witness to a tragic instance of duck rape. An unsuspecting duck was minding her brood of ducklings while the father drake floated nearby. Out of nowhere, another drake paddled over, and attempted to mount the duck, despite her protesting flailing and squawking, and in full view of her children. Her mate quickly intervened, and the two drakes got into a full-blown battle royal, which culminated in the rapist paddling away in shame.
This is precisely why I don't watch nature documentaries. Call me a Pollyanna, but I prefer to enjoy the beauty of nature without having to think about its harsh realities. I'd much rather spend the afternoon taking in some lovely flowers and butterflies than contemplating the violent tendencies of the food chain, and for the most part, I managed to do just that.