It was quite a start to the week, that included a Halloween, a Day of the Dead, and an Election Day all in a row.  I suppose that only time will tell which of these days will strike fear into out hearts, but Halloween Sunday was a lovely day.   It made for a nice end to an October that I will remember as being a spectacular and colorful  month.

In honor of the holiday season I walked over to Thatcher Woods to see what was left of the fall color.  Signs of the season – other than pumpkins and giant purple lawn spiders – abound.  Out on Oak Park Avenue a few dozen starlings had taken over the high treetops at high noon. This time of year there are many of these birds flocking up, and I guess I was surprised to see them in the middle of town. 

And maybe because it was a Sunday I walked the local labyrinth. I can’t always say why I do it, or how it will make me feel.  I’m not an especially meditative soul, so I guess it’s a ritual I don’t really think about too much.   But the gravelly spirals seemed to give me a little boost and I was reminded of why spacecraft launch in an easterly direction – to get the momentum of the spinning Earth in their favor.          

So off to the river I went.  Handsome clouds floated out on the southern horizon just over the el tracks.  They were white and puffy, but they had a touch of that slate-gray cast of winter about them.  In the bright blue sky the contrast made them look like they meant business  – someday, but not today.  

The colors now are more subdued.  Pots of faded annual flowers and vines with half of their maroon leaves still clinging caught my eye.  In the sunlight it was hard to feel too spooky about anything – even death – when I found the stump of a recently removed favorite old butternut tree by the graveyard.         

The water level Des Plaines is quite low.  According to the USDA we’re not yet in a drought, but the steep grey banks were very exposed.  Walking along the river in such a dry season isn’t all bad.  I was able to wander into low areas that were usually off-limits to hiking.  I got up close to some beaver-damaged Silver maples, and poked around in an area where a Sandhill crane was hiding just a couple weeks back.      

The vast floodplains south of the tracks were bone dry and it was a chance to explore an area that is quite barren save for the large maples and cottonwoods that tower above.  And it was amazing to me that so few people were out on the paths that afternoon, but I’m not about to complain when the robins seemingly outnumber the humans 20 to 1.   Favorable odds indeed.   

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Dave Coulter

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...

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