Late last night a proper summer thunderstorm rolled through town. I woke early, expecting more rain. That Baltimore Oriole that was making all of the racket last week has apparently moved on, leaving the more reliable neighbors in and around the alley. I stretched out some morning errands and visited Thomas Jefferson Woods to see what the overnight rains shook loose.

Some of you readers may recall that I am fond of these backwaters of the Des Plaines. True, they can be smelly and muddy. Transitory, they come and go with the floods.  I keep returning to these spots because, folks, that’s where the action often is. On this visit the actors on stage included ducks, deer, and turtles, These are the reliable creatures that are pretty much always around.  

For several seasons now I have been visiting these waters searching for the unusual. For example, I keep hoping to summon a Prothonotary Warbler on such forays. Where birds are concerned this species – along with Indigo Bunting and Scarlet Tanager – is one of my Big Three.  It’s not a question of rarity. These just happen to be a few of the animals that trip my switches.  I feel the same way around certain trees, wildflowers, fish and reptiles. You can throw in the rings of Saturn and galaxies while you’re at it.  

I think it is critical for human happiness to have some of these touchstones to return to in nature. It doesn’t have to be some distant wilderness. In fact, I’d argue that it is better to have something that is close at hand that is easily returned to.  Which brings me back again to the muddy trail where I found myself this morning. 

Did I see what I came to see?  I could surely tick off a list of this or that for you, but part of me feels like that is a bit of showing off.  I’ll leave it like this: I saw the unexpected, the mundane, the amusing, the never-seen-one-of-those-here-before.  And…..I did see one of my personal Big Three. I hope you too get muddy toes and happy heart while May still lingers along the Des Plaines. 


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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...