Yesterday morning I was hoping to find some early green shoots while walking in Thatcher Woods. I was pretty certain that these noticeably longer days would spur some spring color other than the patches of lawn gradually greening in odd corners of town.   True to form- be it hiking, birding or fishing –  the expected quarry is missing but something equal or better appears, saves the day,  and makes the journey worthwhile.

In this instance I pretty well got skunked looking for green, but the earth, ice and water I encountered made me forget about the absence.   At first glance the trail and the river were the same as ever.  It took me a little while to realize that the thin layers of ice here and there were the most charismatic sights to be seen.  

Thanks to snowmelt the Des Plaines is out of her ditch, spread out over the floodplains, the waters closer to the trail than usual.   Along some of the banks the ice had frozen into the most beautiful contours.  I can only surmise that as the distant river slowly swelled and receded the ice formed overnight into discrete levels.  The most mundane features in the shallows, sticks and leaves, were now surround by icy cobwebs and lattices now in the process of melting with the rising sun.

Even the clay path itself was a display of nature in transition.  Frozen footprints were now on the thaw.  Acorns, leaves, dog and deer tracks were all impregnated in the trail. Here and there deeper human boot prints held miniature ice sheets, now also turning back to water.   At one sloped segment of trail the icy water was move slightly down the grade, toward the river itself. 

The tiny new rivulets pulled a cocoa-beige silt along, flowing over the tops of acorn caps and old dark damp leaves impressed in the gravelly soil.  This is the material that gives the Des Plaines it’s murky translucence,  that the Silver maples will soak up as it winds its way to join the Kankakee to form the Illinois.  With the toe of my boot I pressed down a couple of the frozen ridges mid-trail,  to hasten the flow of the new snow water downstream. 

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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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