Of course, I could see and understand the problem, but how could I attract an audience to come to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center on a Saturday morning to hear me?
As I was getting out of bed, the trash collecting truck was driving down the road with a bunch of 50-gallon metal barrels. Rain barrels! This would be my hook! I persuaded some of the Milwaukee artists to decorate them for an auction at the nature center. (Schomer Lichtner, Betty Greaves, Tula Erskine and Ruth Grotenrath painted two cans. One sold for $400.00.) Harry cut open the tops for screens and added a faucet on the bottom of each one. The morning was such a success that it touched off a spate of rain barrels much as Wild Ones members make Leopold benches today. However, we were more than surprised to discover how quickly 50 gallons can come off of the roof during a short shower. And wriggling the hoses around was a bit of a nuisance especially at night.
Next I tried terraces and swales where it was wonderful to watch birds bathe after summer cloudbursts. Then, less than 30 years ago I installed turfstone into my sloping driveway. This catches the first load of pollutants from cars which rain once rushed directly down into the ravine. Those hundreds of little squares make such a charming design especially after a light snowstorm.
Then, finally, I began constructing rain gardens, the loveliest idea of all. There is one at the end of each of my downspouts plus a surprise pool which catches water from the ditch along Lake Drive. Its a surprise because the water was expected to seep away within five days but because of the fine soil under it, the pool has remained for six years! Reeds. Rushes. Sedges. I sit on my Leopold bench, peek through the Queen-of-the Prairie on the border and marvel at the shadows. However, all is not well there. Nothing ever moves in the water. I thought that I might bring back the toads, frogs, or salamanders of years past, but there is no food in that little pond; not even mosquito larvae! Lawn-care services treat the properties around me, and their insecticides rain-wash into the ditch. It troubles me to watch the migrating warblers as they bathe in the reflections of my water-plantain, arrowheads, and bur-reeds.
As I write I look out on the downspout plantings: bottle gentians, iris, Joe Pyes, and marsh milkweeds. On the other side there are marsh marigolds, boneset, and glade mallow which provides shade for the Jack in the pulpits. These gardens which are so enchanting not only satisfy my aesthetic hunger but it so pleases me to be a good citizen, a good steward and be truly patriotic. A flag on my mail box is not enough!
Lorrie Otto, upon whose philosophy Wild Ones was founded in 1977, continues to be active in Wild Ones and maintains her membership with the Milwaukee-North Chapter.
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Updated: Jun 12, 2005.