Posts Tagged ‘Fullersburg Woods’

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder


 It is a often a chore to embrace beauty in winter, especially when it is bitterly cold with a shameless wind that bites through layers of fleece and wool and even  our mere determination to get where we must go.

I remind myself, on these outings, that this winter is nowhere near the challenge of our past two winters. The mud, the patches of snow, the ice – all are mild compared to three feet of  snow to push through or the days upon days of freezing temperatures that the last two winters brought.

On Wednesday, I went out in the early morn to 1 degrees (F) temperatures. On Friday, my day started at 40 degrees.

Here on the Cutoff, we get “lake effect” snow as well as “snow fog”, magnificent sunsets and white-out conditions – sometimes all in the same day. It is what it is, for we ARE in a cold climate, near a large and deep lake, but, there IS beauty to find.

Salt Creek is flowing right now, although there are many sheets of ice. It was frozen the other day. Have you ever seen water frozen on its descent over a dam? It is pretty magnificent. It was from this creek that ice was harvested years upon years past. I’ve always found this an intriguing concept; harvesting ice. We take our ice for granted. Open the door, push a lever, tada! Ice cubes. Open the door, pull out eggs, milk, produce, anything and everything whenever we want. Refrigeration keeps products cold and safe for us to eat. We do not need to go out to the ice/spring house, to the frozen creek, to find get our food, we just have to open the refrigerator, where a magic light goes on.


I was thinking about his as I drove past Fullersburg Woods. It was too cold and I wasn’t properly dressed for a trek in the woods, but, with no cars behind me, I opened the window and took a few cell phone shots of the old footbridge, which is pictured above. Two hawks were soaring overhead, dancing their primal dance, and a gaggle of the ever-present geese goggled about who knows what?

Later, finally able to navigate the muck and the mud of our own worn acreage, I slogged the distance with a bowl of kitchen peelings, eggs shells and coffee grounds to the haphazard compost pile. There were eyes (and not potato eyes) watching me. This doe was a few yards away. I did not zoom in with the camera. The rest of the clan was rummaging for nourishment in the ravaged lot next door.


Bowl in hand (I guess I thought it would give me leverage) I made my way further back.

We have a “kill zone” on our property; a spot where we sometimes come upon nature’s leavings. Feathers and bones and remnants of lost life appear. Birds, smaller animals, feathers and such things that were once life here on the Cutoff.

 Earlier, before Christmas, there was a massacre. Tom came across what ended up being two doe. He suggested I not go back there. I could see the amount of blood on the then white snow from the windows, and I heeded his suggestion. Since then, nature has taken its course, and so I wandered back. It was not a pretty sight. It must have been coyote who took these two resting deer and along with other scavenging prey, they pretty much picked the bones clean.

I thought a little prayer and trudged back to the house, retracing my steps in the snow and the mud. As I walked, I silently counted the resident herd, all doe and yearlings, enjoying their late afternoon snacks. I counted. 17. A buck had been strutting about. This fellow is most often seen, the crowned head of the kingdom, though there are at least two more boys who wander these woods. They really are magnificent to watch.


The trees, the creek, the carnage and the beauty; the endurance of Rachel Carson’s words. Something to contemplate here on the Cutoff.

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Chances are, if you live in the United States, or have visited here, and do any hiking, walking, running, or canoeing in local, state, or national forests, you have probably passed by or sought protection from the elements in structures similar to these.

IMG_3699Built during the Depression years, shelters and bridges were erected from stone and wood, perhaps made of adobe or other locally harvested and hauled materials. The structures pictured here are found in Fullersburg Woods. The stones were hauled in the ’30s from Waterfall Glen. The structures were built during the tenure of one of the most successful programs ever instituted by the government between 1933 and 1941 – the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC.

It is also likely that your outdoor adventures take place under the canopy of trees; trees planted by the men of the CCC. These crews were often referred to as the tree army. For the men who enlisted in the CCC, it was a meaningful, useful way to work in a time where no work was to be found. They learned a marketable skill or trade, regained a sense of pride in putting in a good day’s work – and sent much-needed money home to their families. They were fed, clothed, sheltered and paid $30, 25 dollars of which was sent home to family.


The CCC was also a massive conservation initiative. The nation’s farmland was devastated by over-cropping and unsustainable farming practices. Much of the country was a “dust bowl”, with land ravaged by soil that nature never intended for farming. Farms were devastated, as were the people on them. With no trees to hold soil in place and no trees to buffer the wind, dust storms turned the skies, then homes and lungs dark with dust, President Franklin Roosevelt led the charge to put men to work building bridges, roads and shelters – as well as planting trees.

On Tuesday morning a small group of us walked through a popular forest preserve in the area, Fullersburg Woods. While I knew that the CCC had a presence in Fullersburg during the 1930’s, I thought of it in terms of what is now the Nature Center. I did not realize, nor, if truth-be-told, even think of trees, assuming they were always part of the landscape. It was a revelation to discover that this forest had been primarily prairie. The trees were planted by the CCC, as they likely were in most of the preserves in Du Page and in Cook County.

Our guide was Chris Gingrich of the Forest Preserve District of Du Page County. He was also the speaker at our garden club meeting last week. He was as engaging and informative a guide as he was a speaker and walked us up hill and down dale through these amazing woods, showing us quite a number of shelters and sites that I had no idea existed here – or just failed to notice.

It is amazing, is it not, what we see in our lives and what we miss?

This is a sitting shelter. Salt Creek wanders behind it. It is open on all sides, with benches on two and a series of logs in between. A sturdy structure, it is well placed and made for resting during a long hike.


IMG_3718We walked up slight inclines, down others, one of which seems vaguely familiar to me. AHA! I think it might have been where I landed in a cup of tomato soup while trying to cross-country ski one winter. We passed a reclaimed prairie where once stood the CCC camp, where men slept and ate, read books, and played Monopoly, a popular board game of the time. Did you ever play Monopoly?


It was a brisk morning; one of the first of true fall-like weather. It warmed a bit as we walked and talked and listened and learned. As we came to the end of the trail, we finished our tour at what it now known as the Nature Center. Chris talked about the stones that were used to build the shelter, originally a boat house. It wasn’t hard to imagine the river frozen in winter with ice skaters gliding across, coming to the boat house to warm up at the massive outdoor fireplace. It is just as easy to admire the building now with windows and doors, for, it still stands and is used, a testament to a corp of civilians who built it – and thousands of other shelters, roads, fought forest fires and helped heal the land.IMG_3388



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Some nights are so perfectly sweet that the only music one needs is the melodious flow of a meandering creek and a simple supper at waters’ edge.

DSCN5469So it was on Friday night. We were perched on director’s chairs at a coveted outcropping of rock near the old gristmill at Fullersburg Woods.  We dined al fresco on a simple dinner of turkey, brie and apple sandwiches, rounded out with a fresh fruit salad.

Two children frolicked around us, under the watchful eyes of their grandparents, as they climbed the rocks and fallen logs.

A wedding party was gathered behind us, the bride in a sari and crown of the most brilliant of colors, mimicking the seasonal jewelweed that bloomed along the forest path, her attendant standing nearby in a striking red gown.

As we ate, under the canopy of ancient maples and oaks, a Black Crowned Night Heron emerged from the stream below. He posed for a time on a branch at the waterfall, perhaps DSCN5463looking for a meal of his own before swooping majestically across the creek to a podium he claimed his own.

A simple supper.

The setting sun.

A perfectly sweet night all our own.





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DSCN4010Snowing.  Again. More frigid cold to follow.

Winter has deftly cast its long shadow upon much of North America.

This photo was taken,  just last week, on a bridge over the very frozen Salt Creek in Fullersburg Woods. I love how the shadows fell, on a rare sunny afternoon.  Just below the steps to the frozen creek, where paw prints can be seen; a dog, perhaps, enjoyed a romp across the frozen mass. The banner, above, is Him and Herself, on the same bridge, waving to all of you.

Below, the frozen limbs of oaks and maples, dashing like ink marks across the creek.DSCN4008

It will take a long thaw before we have breakfast again in Penny’s Arbor House.


I took a trudge through the snow, just two days ago, up to my knees, past the vacant blue bird house, to the mighty pine tree that anchors our little acreage at its furthest point, then, with freezing fingers, turned back to look at our house, the mounds of plowed snow in the drive, the deer paths I crossed, and clicked a few more photos,


then trudged on back to warmth of home, passing the newer prairie section, where this determined lass, still frolicking, descends deeper and deeper into the white abyss. Today, only her head is showing. You will need to take my word on this, friend, for today I am settled indoors, leaving the snow trudging to the deer and the squirrels and the field fairies.

Fairy with more snow

Fairy with snow

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DSCN1495“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 
I am haunted by waters.”                Norman Maclean

On Monday, I passed by Salt Creek at Fullersburg Woods on my way home. The water was running swiftly, the sun was brilliant, warming the April air, and swales of daffodils and Siberian squill blanketed the earth around the Graue Mill. My undisciplined self could not help but to turn off of the road I was on, park the car, pull out my camera, and wander a bit in the luxury of Spring’s emerging carpet. Little did I know, at that same moment, what horrors were occurring in Boston, nor how the small town of West in Texas would become so explosively devastated a few days later, or how these very same waters I crossed would soon rise, bringing their own destruction and revealing their own dark secrets as more than six inches of rain pummeled the area.

This was a haunting week that tried our souls, brought out the measure of many, the evil of some, and both the beauty and the brutality of nature and of man. A week most of us will not soon forget. A week that reminds us to hang on tight to our roots and to all things that are good, to hold our loved ones close and live our fullest in each and every moment we are given.


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I  love the romance of a gristmill, though I know they were (and sometimes still are) purposed for hard work: the grinding of wheat and corn. They just always seem so quaint to me, though they are sturdy wheels of labor that have survived centuries of toil. They are full of stories and secrets in amongst the harvests of grain. That they are largely built along streams and rivers only adds to my idealized notions.

I pass a pre-Civil War gristmill several times a week. It always beckons, though I rarely succumb to the lure. The Graue Mill is in Hinsdale, a mere 10 minutes or so from our life on the Cutoff. I wrote about it one winter’s day here. It sits close to the road and the woods around it hold plenty of paths to walk. The Graue Mill and its environs is a popular place for school field trips and wedding portraits.

Friday was such a glorious Autumn day with the sun illuminating the foliage to its best advantage. As I drove past the mill, it looked so inviting that I turned my car around, parked, and took a quick spin around the gristmill.

The mill was working on Friday; the massive wheel turning as the Salt Creek pushed through.

The Graue Mill provides fresh stone ground meal for purchase in season. There are also homespun goods, jams and jellies, books and cards for sale. I’m not overly fond of the meal for cornbread, but, some jelly caught my fancy.

The Graue Mill was a station in the Underground Railroad in the mid-1800’s, providing safe harbor to runaway slaves. Inside the mill are display cases and artifacts of this time in our country’s history and the part this site played in it.

The lull of the water turning the wheel on such a crisp and brilliant day had me imagining life in the 1850’s when this area was first settled. I am grateful for the visionaries who refurbished the mill and have kept it going all of these years.

As I entered the mill, I could hear the wheel working and feel its vibrations on the sturdy wood floors. Inside, one can climb several flights up to view artifacts from the 1800’s; children’s playthings, tools, merchandise, spinners and weavers. In the basement are the inner workings of the gristmill, and the whisperings in the walls of the Americans who sought shelter and freedom. Sobering moments to experience.

This picture is blurry, but, it gives you an idea of what a gristmill’s mechanisms are like. It is good to recall the history of an area and the Graue Mill does just that. I was glad I stopped in for a short visit.

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Andy Warhol

An inch or so of snow always seems to bring on a bowl Campbell’s tomato soup in this neck of woods. Aisle 4 at the local grocer becomes low on the red and white canned provision. Local radio talk shows get giddy with callers expounding on how they prepare their tomato soup. Do they add water or milk, or, perhaps, prefer rice? A dollop of sour cream or a sprinkle of cheddar cheese as garnish? A grilled cheese sandwich or bologna on white on the side? How about Saltines or a round of oyster crackers? Bowl or mug?

Tomato soup has come up in the course of winter related conversation a few times this past week. First, it was in our fellowship hall after church services last Sunday, then, last night as we watched a local PBS show. Both involved winter activities; cross country skiing to be precise – and me!

The PBS show was a half hour feature on how to have fun and brave Chicago’s winters. It was an interesting show about hearty souls who bicycle to work, even in sleet and snow. How about surfing in Lake Michigan in winter. They don’t call this the Windy City for naught. The final segment was all about cross-country skiing.

Contrary to the mobster myths and rush hour madness that surround Chicagoland, there is a really a great deal of open land, with forest preserves and nature areas a-plenty. The weather doesn’t stop us here, though it often slows us down.

Our TV host took us to a forest preserve in Lemont and showed us cross-country skiers. gliding along wooded paths and sleeping prairies, and where to rent skies, how to put them on, how to navigate along in the snow, AND how to fall and get up.

He looked right at me, that Antler Man of mine. A twinkle in his eye and a curl to his lip, and I knew it was coming. It was the same look after church, when he should have been pious. Twice upon a week it was there, and he said “tomato soup!”.

It is an urban legend by now. Others know of it, recall it, and wonder at my skill. I wonder at my skill. It is unmatched.

We had decided to try cross-country skiing. We rented the skis from a television repair shop in town. A nice side business in the

Image from Du Page County Forest Preserve District

bygone days when folks hauled their Zenith TVs in the back of their cars for new tubes or whatever to make the screen light up again. A television repair shop often had other business interests as well. This one rented skis.

The instructions were swift as a line formed and off we went.The kids with a sitter, the day belonged to us. Our much younger forms were bundled up. Our expectations high. Off we went to Fullersburg Woods. We weren’t alone as we rolled our well-padded bodies out of the car and proceeded into the woods. I fell right away, of course, but, so did Tom. We laughed and kept trying out the skis and the poles. Now, remember, dear reader, that I am not a particularly agile or graceful person and athlete has never been part of my description. I was that girl in gym class who couldn’t get from the first traveling ring to the second. I was the one who fell off of the balance beam and forgot to turn when dismounting the parallel bars. I was the one whose gymsuit got caught in the hurdles.

Really, all I have going for me in the athletic department is a stubborn streak and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

We were finally gliding along, my 5’3″ frame, much sleeker then, working six glides to Tom’s 6’4″ two. Mutt and Jeff on sticks in snow. He was patient and skied behind me often to give me a chance to get my stride – and to help me up. It was one of those times; the last one that he skied behind me. A bridge. A bridge on the path. Now, why would someone put one just there? Okay, it was just a footbridge over a creek, and, by then, I was moving along pretty well. I had the rhythm and was getting my stride, actually, quite proud of myself. Still, a bridge! An incline!

At the foot of the footbridge sat a man and a woman, steam rising from a thermos. He looked at me and I at him and then it happened. I slid, lost my balance – and I landed, full-bottomed, spread eagle, with a bull’s eye aim – right onto the man’s cup of piping hot rosy red tomato soup!

That’s what Campbell’s soups are, mmm, mmm, good!


Google image

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