The Legend of Spanish Moss

spanish moss

In Winter Park



The boardwalk at Blue Spring State Park (where you can see manatees)

One of the things that always strikes us whenever we visit Florida is the Spanish Moss on many of the trees as it’s a very familiar part of Florida’s environment. The trees and general vegetation are so different to what we have in Illinois, and seem rather ”exotic”. Despite its name, Spanish moss is not a moss at all.

Spanish Moss is actually an epiphytic plant related to the pineapple, as it is also a bromeliad (who would ever have imagined?!). That seems pretty exotic to me. It is not a parasite, but gets its food and water from the air.

It forms hair-like tufts of gray-green strands that can be up to 25 feet long, on the trunks and branches of many trees in the southern USA, Central America, and West Indies. The tufts can be long and thick, short in dense clumps, or sparse whiskers. In all cases they do look a little like a vegetative beard, which makes the legend very apt.



The Spanish Moss appears to grow on any type of tree, at least in Florida, as we see it dripping from tall oaks and smaller bushes and shrubs. There is even some on the magnolia tree in our son’s yard. It seems to do particularly well in places close to water.


Blue Spring State Park (the water really is that gorgeous turquoise color)


dripping3It’s also interesting that there is a special legend linked to Spanish Moss. The legend goes like this: A bearded brute, Gorez Goz, bought a beautiful Indian girl for a bar of soap and a yard of braid. She was so frightened by the sight of this Spanish man that when he arrived to claim her she ran away. He chased after her and she climbed up a tree. As Goz climbed up the same tree toward her, she dived into the water below and escaped. His gray beard became entangled in the branches of the tree and he soon died. To this day we can still see his gray beard as the Spanish Moss dangling from the trees.wpark2

A fun story, and a good example of how legends, folk tales, and fairy tales try to explain natural phenomena and human behavior.



Lovely fall colors


Setting for The Bean


In spite of frigid temperatures, crowds still pose at The Bean

“The Bean” is a popular destination, no matter the weather

Frigid weather at the beginning of November wasn’t enough to keep people away from Millennium Park in Chicago and especially around the enormously popular Cloud Gate Sculpture, more commonly known as “The Bean”.

The fall colors were still very pretty but the temperature was really cold when we were there. However, we decided to go look at the Bean anyway, as did hundreds, maybe thousands of others. Just bundle up and do it!




Entering the “omphalos”

The Beanwas designed by talented Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor. It soon became one of the most popular photo ops in the city, due to its unique reflective properties. Supposedly Kapoor was inspired by liquid mercury, and the resultant surface reflects and distorts the city’s skyline. Youcan get great photos, not only of the Cloud Gateand all the amazing reflections of the city’s buildings on it, but also of the actual skyline framed beyond the sculpture.

Most visitors walk around the outside first, and then go underneath the 12-foot high arch of Cloud Gate. On the underside is the “omphalos” (Greek for “navel”), a concave chamber that warps and multiplies reflections.Kids (of all ages) enjoy the fun-house mirror effect that this creates—including me and my family. We hear amazed gasps and astonished comments, as people try to get pictures of their multiple selves. Some of the reflections are smaller or larger than you’d expect and at some angles it’s a little like playing “Where’s Waldo?” trying to find yourself or a friend.


Looking upwards


Even the little kids are fascinated

Here are a few fun photos. In the next post, I’ll talk about the Bean in more detail.

A Funky Junky Horse



from front

headAnother Horse

A Funky Junky Horse, called “Horse”

While in Chicago on our last trip, we came across another horse, this one in the Chicago Children’s Museum. We’ve never been into this museum before, but this time it was a perfect place to take our young granddaughter, and she had a ball. I’ll write about the museum in a later post, but here is the horse.

It’s on the third floor, next to the vending machine opposite the Dinosaur Expedition.

You can’t help noticing the colorful horse as it’s very unusual—made up of old/recycled backbellyobjects—many kinds of objects of many different colors. The plaque tells us that Leo Sewell (born 1945) made this artistic horse. For children, the plaque says, “What do you see? Find the hairdryer, license plates, green belt and show laces.”

Sewell is known as a “found object artist’ or a junk sculptor. He grew up near a dump and enjoyed tinkering with the stuff that he found. He continues to cull the refuse of Philadelphia (where he has lived since 1974) to assemble pieces of all sizes, but will also use objects from a person’s past if they commission a piece from him. He sculpts with objects made of plastic, metal and wood, choosing items based on color, shape, texture, durability and “look”, and then assembles them using nails, bolts and screws. His outdoor pieces are made from stainless steel, brass or aluminium found objects, which are then welded together. His work is in museums all over the world.


Gift Horse


horseskylineChicago’s Art Institute has another first: Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse (2014).

Whenever we are in Chicago we go into the Art Institute, as we are members there and can take in visitors too. They usually have some new art works and it’s fun to try and track those down. We’d read about the horse statue and wanted to see it, but were too early when we visited in September.

The horse had been in London but was installed in October on the terrace of the Terzo Piano, which looks out over Millennium Park. It’s the first time the horse could be seen in North America. (Note that the outdoor restaurant seating is now closed for the winter season). The backdrop for the horse is great—part of Chicago’s lovely skyline. But, it’s really quite cold out on the terrace, as the sculpture is outdoors, so I imagine that in the winter it might be hard to stay out there very long! The horse was designed to be outdoors though, so the Art Institute has honored that.


According to the board, it’s “bronze with black patina and wax finish, stainless steel fasteners, stainless steel armature, polycarbonate face.” And it’s huge.


Me standing there shows how big the horse is


You can see the bow quite clearly

What’s the story of this monumental bronze horse sculpture? Hans Haacke was born in Germany in 1936 and since 1965 has been living in New York. He’s always been interested in the connections between art, power, money, politics and business. Gift Horse has a large bow, similar to a gift ribbon, on its raised right foreleg. LED lights embedded in the bow continuously display the market prices of the USA’s leading stock exchange, thus linking art and finance. On Trafalgar Square it had the ticker of the London Stock Exchange.

Haacke’s bronze horse skeleton sculpture was commissioned for London’s Fourth Plinth project: this invites contemporary artists to temporarily fill the vacant spot in Trafalgar Square that was originally designed for an equestrian monument to William III (1765-1837), but sat empty since 1841.

It’s an interesting sculpture, largely because of the symbolism. We did wonder why Haacke chose to use a skeleton format. Any ideas?

Dogs On Parade


Outside the Hilton Hotel—note too that at that time the Hotel Workers were on strike


Hilton Hotel sponsored dog


Relish Chicago Hot Dogs, plaza near Art Institute

K9s For Cops

Public art installation brightens the streets of Chicago and raises money for a good cause

Over the years, in various cities at different times, we’ve had a lot of fun tracking down colorful and fanciful animals on parade—- we’ve seen Cows on Parade, Horses on Parade, Buffalo on Parade. Although it’s not always animals: in 2014, St Louis had 250 Cakes dotted around the city in celebration of the 250-year history of the city.





Outside the Blackstone. Sponsored by American Knights Motorcycle Club, for Officer Caspar Lauer, artist Jennifer Jacobucci

We were in Chicago in September and discovered Police Dogs in front of some buildings and hotels. Turns out they were part of a new public art installation. Chicago had “Cows on Parade” in 1999, a cow art phenomenon that spread to more than 50 countries around the world. Then in 2014 and 2015 the horses of honor “Horses on Parade” featured 60 or so hand-painted horses, honoring police officers killed in the line of duty. Now, there are dogs.

This “Dogs on Parade” was put on by the K9s Cops, and the Magnificent Mile Association. What a clever name, K9=canine!

Around 100 hand-painted fiber-glass German Shepherd dogs were standing guard along Michigan Ave until Sept 30, 2018, to honor the 65 canines in the Chicago Police department K9 Unit. After Sept 30 they were auctioned off online, the proceeds supporting families of first responders killed in the line of duty.


Outside the Blackstone


Sponsored by Guardian Security Service, K9 Cosmo, Artist Erika Vazzana


Security dog sign


Security Dog, outside Eataly

The 54-inch-tall fiberglass dog statues are part of the K9s for Cops campaign to pay tribute to the canine unit, honor fallen Chicago police officers, provide financial assistance to families of those wounded or killed in the line of duty, and raise money to support the Spay and Neuter program offered by PAWS Chicago.

The statues are sponsored by local companies or individuals and designed by local volunteer artists—including three Chicago police officers. For Chicago police officers these animals are very special, more like people than animals in many ways. The statues represent the canine partners who have helped police officers for generations. Each statue takes on a different persona, so it was very interesting to try and find more of them. Each dog also has a plaque, telling the name of the sponsor, the name of the K9, and the artist. Unfortunately, in our couple of days in the city we only found a few, but it gave us an idea of what it was all about.


Sponsored by Cook County Crime Stoppers and Marriot downtown, K9 Tippy, Artist Ray Villanueva

white2Last year was the first year of the “Chicago’s K9s for Cops” campaign and it was so successful that they decided to repeat it this year.

The Chicago Police Memorial Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to honoring the lives of our fallen heroes. The Foundation provides support and assistance to the families of Chicago police officers who are killed or catastrophically injured in the line of duty.



Alumni Park, between Red Gym and the Memorial Union


Badger Pride Wall


Badger Pride Wall, night

Alumni Park is on campus, between the Memorial Union and the Red Gym. This spot was chosen for the park, as it’s the most popular entryway into campus.

The idea of a park-like promenade in this spot was included in the 1908 Campus masters plan, a dream that was finally realized in 2017. In 2009 Alumni Association president Paula Bonner decided to work on this idea again (it was then a parking lot) and worked very hard to get donations, find artists etc. I’m told that this is the first such Alumni Park in the USA.




harleyThis pretty spot tells stories of the university and its graduates and the ways they changed the world. It is just 1.3 acres but has many plants and shrubs, and on the edge is the 80-foot Badger Pride Wall, designed by Nate Koehler. It’s lovely by day, but really striking at night when it is specially lit up.

Alumni Way winding through the center of the park has various exhibit panels telling about ideas and achievements of UWM alumni, such as William Harley (1880-1943) of Harley-Davidson fame, who got a degree in mechanical engineering here in 1907. He and Arthur Davidson founded the company in 1903.


WellredOn the lake side of the park, a big Bucky sculpture welcomes visitors to the park. Called “Well Red”, this 8-foot-high glass and bronze sculpture was created by sculptor Douwe Blumberg, with glass artist Dan Neil Barnes. Clever name, as the idea of reading is the link to a university, and red to the main color of the university mascot, Bucky the Badger.



View from a pier


Lots of people having fun

vew up

Note the colorful chairs


Looking down to Lake Mendota from Union Terrace

Union Terrace

This summer we spent some time in Wisconsin, first in Madison for a conference (and some extra days) and then in Spring Green, mainly to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Talliesin.

It was my first visit to both cities and it was fun exploring and getting to know new places.

Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, has the University of Wisconsin-Madison, so it is a very dynamic city with a huge variety of eating places and things to do. It grew up on a spit of land between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona and then spread all around the lakes. The Capitol is on a slight rise in the center of the spit and dominates that part of the city (more later). The city is also well known for buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright. But, another dominant part of the city is the university campus.


We enjoyed a glass of wine


There are also a few big chairs, which people like to sit on for photos

Something that really impressed us is how accessible and welcoming to the general public some parts of campus are. Of particular note is the Memorial Union Terrace, next to the Alumni Park on the edge of campus close to State Street, which leads to the Capitol. It’s university property but open to the public, and the public sure does flock here.

The Terrace overlooks Lake Mendota and is a sprawling place on many levels. Signature circular metal tables and chairs, with sun-burst design in many bright colors, are dotted around and on a summer evening are really busy. So, it’s hard to find a table.

Old people, young students, families with children, people with dogs stroll around or sit and enjoy the lake view with a drink and snack. You can buy beer, wine, pizza, brats, icecream from different stalls outside on the terrace or from places inside the food court. Some kids feed the hopeful ducks on the lake, and many people hire some sort of water craft to take a spin out on the lake.



edgeAs the sun goes down, more people come and sit on the edge of the lake and a music group is likely to begin playing on the stage set up on the edge. If the weather is good, the sunset view is wonderful.

It’s bustling, lively and noisy but has a great vibe and each time we went there we were impressed again that the university permits such a place—because the U of I certainly doesn’t, and we suspect wouldn’t.




Leslie Nichole

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