We put off our hike until the rain quit. Thatcher Woods is near the Des Plaines River and there is always a certain damp quality to it that rain will only, well, dampen. We stalled over coffee and tea, and finally the rain stopped. We parked near Washington Street and traipsed into the woods without much of an exploration agenda. These small journeys, after all, can be propelled by assorted fuels. In my case I often hope to see a certain plant or animal. (I once rode my bike across town to see if spiders were building webs on the bridge over the river). I think we just wanted to stretch our legs and see what was what. On second thought, we did try to find some butternut saplings but that notion came later.

The woods were lovely, damp, and deep. The grey sky did nothing to give contrast to the morning gloom. This is the thin season for wildflowers here, and there were just a few scattered goldenrods that vainly tried to brighten our path. I pointed out a low swamp covered in green duckweed as a good potential home for Prothonotary Warblers. For the past two or three years I have been trying to will them to appear here – with no success. But not far from that very point I saw a Scarlet Tanager last spring, so I know the real estate there has some appeal to sophisticated tastes.

 Acorns in varying states of crushed-ness dotted the trail. It has to be squirrel heaven back here, and we did see a couple grey squirrels spiraling around tree trunks, playing and giving chase. As we came up on a gentle rise in the terrain we spooked maybe a half dozen whitetail deer. One lone buck held back from the herd. He walked carefully past us, and we all got a real good look at each other as he eventually caught up to his tribe, now a hundred yards away and already fading into the cottonwoods out in the flood plain.

Turning back towards the south we looked hopefully for butternuts and green dragons. O for two on that count, but on the way back we just caught the ghost of a glimpse of a Sandhill Crane poking around in the mud between the river and another stagnant pond. Cranes don’t seem to tolerate humans – even at a distance – and this one quietly eased back into the scrub as soon as he spotted us. This was my first Sandhill Crane sighting in Thatcher Woods. Perhaps this was one of the many migrants that had flown the Des Plaines flyway and he was checking out the mucky real estate for himself. I may as well hope he gets the word gets out to those warblers. I’m not getting any younger and my powers of bending the universe to my will can’t last forever.


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I have been a horticulturist for thirty years working in the Chicago area and beyond. I have lived in Oak Park for over thirteen years. My writing has recently appeared in the journal Ecological Restoration...