Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chicago North River Branch Trail... November...

On a cold, overcast November Sunday, I found myself with the need to clear my head. Having woken up early, I spent about an hour wandering through alleys north of my Chicago neighborhood. It wasn't quite doing the trick and I felt the need to really get out and ride. So I decided to ride the Chicago River North Branch Trail to the Chicago Botanical Gardens. A good destination, I could eat at the cafe once there, and then make a refreshed return trip.

There were not very many people out on the trail. I appreciated this isolation. As always, there were a lot of deer. Often we were quite close to each other.

What I enjoyed about the trail was that I was enveloped by the forest.  The trees weren't just in front of me, they were all around me. It helped to feel that the world was a lot bigger than the problems that had been floating around inside my brain.

Often times I could hear or even see the the highway. Typically, this would have bothered me but it actually didn't. I felt a smugness that for the time being I was an escapee, hiding out in the woods from the "fast paced life".

The Chicago Botanical Gardens is one of my favorite places in Chicagoland. We have a family/teacher membership and go regularly. Usually I want to see the vegetable gardens at the different times of year. However, I didn't want to today. By late November there's not much left except for some kale in cold frames. I am surprised that the Botanical Garden doesn't have a "hoop house" (a type of green house) as part of it's vegetable gardening program. They are an excellent way of extending the growing season.

I did get a chance to see the new rooftop garden on top of the Educational Resource Building. Because of their contribution to the heating/cooling efficiency of the building, it would be good to see more of them. Rooftop gardens with native plantings are also playing a key role in returning biodiversity to urban areas.

 If you're the camping type, you've heard about the Emerald Ash Borer over the last few years. Riding along the North Branch River Trail takes you through an extensive part of the Cook County Forest Preserve. Along the way I continued to notice bright orange-red "X's" on trees. Learning that this number of trees was being affected was shocking. 

The ride back was nice. The temperature was dropping but my body had warmed up. The Educational Resource Center at the Botanical Gardens had an engaging interactive exhibit about invasive plant species. The work required to restore and maintain native habitats is both detailed and intensive.

I thought of this as I rode along through the forest preserve and then the Miami Woods Prairie.  

As a child, I spent much time in nature around our house. We lived along an old railroad track, out in the country. This track was used twice daily and served as a "nature corridor" through a desert of corn and soybeans.

I really love the prairie. At the school where I teach I have been developing a school garden with the kids for the last two years. One of my dreams is to return a section our rubble filled lot to prairie.

This architectural artefact reminded me of  something from Popeye the Sailor Man. It was definitely antiquated, but, like many antiquated things in Chicago, still in use. This large tube stuck up out of the ground, the walkway about ten feet off the ground and extended from the road. Clearly it was used for water management, but the thought of going into it struck me as scary. The word "death trap" comes to mind...

Darkness soon fell and I stopped taking pictures. I felt much better when I arrived home and I look forward to riding the trail again. This winter will be a good time to return, perhaps a cold day when the sun is out and there is still now on the ground, contrasting with the dark bare trees...

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