Category Archives: Geneva, Ill.

Moving, part one

Fill cardboard box. Tape up cardboard box. Label cardboard box. Stack in corner. Fill next cardboard box….

I hate packing up all our belongings. I haven’t done any packing for three days, but this afternoon I got up my courage again and started in.

The actual packing, the boxes and the tape, isn’t so bad. Handling things we own, one by one, is more complicated. I pick up this photograph and hear that conversation we were having. I pack up those odd-shaped rocks and hear the ocean. I find the box still mostly packed from our last move, and hear our late-night conversations with our housemates.

Packing books is easier. When I pick up a handful to put in a box, all I hear are snippets of what each book has to say.

Maybe I’ll go pack some books.

Summer rhythms

The herons and egrets have been back for about a month now. Breeding season is over, and they have moved away from their rookeries. Last evening, I saw a Black-Crowned Night Heron at the edge of the water near Island Park. It still wore one of the long wispy white breeding plumes trailing back over its black head.

Island Park isn’t an island any more. In spite of the rain we had yesterday, the Fox River remains low. The water is so low, Island Park is connected by dry land under both the north bridge and the south bridge, leaving a long pool of water on the eastern side which is no longer connected to the main river.

A fair number of fish must be trapped in that long pool of water. Night before last, I stood on the north bridge to Island Park and watched a Great Egret fishing, a big showy white bird completely intent on the small fish darting about in the water at his or her feet — and completely oblivious to all the people sitting fifty feet away on the deck of the Mill Race Inn.

The fishing appears to be good on the main river, too. One afternoon, I saw five people spread out across the river, wading in water up to their knees, and fishing. A Great Blue Heron waded the river a little downstream from them, and it was fishing, too. Some human beings have the conceit that we are different from animals, but I don’t see it. Like every species, we have our peculiar adaptations that help us survive, but the capacity to manufacture tools like graphite fishing rods does not make us unique, any more than the Black Crowned Night Heron’s breeding plume makes it unique. It’s summer, and all the plants and animals are responding to the ongoing rhythm of the year in their various ways. It’s enough to say that.

Getting ready to move

My last official day as the interim minister of religious education of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva (what a mouthful) was yesterday. I cleaned up some paperwork, and went out to lunch with Lindsay Bates, the senior minister, for our last meeting. As of today, I’m on vacation.

But it won’t be a relaxing vacation. I still have to pack, and get ready to move. The packing is the worst part, because of the books. I admit it, I have way too many books. I’m still packing away the books in my office at the church, and haven’t even begun to pack up all the books in our apartment. Books, books, books. Red books, green books, books with feathers on the cover. Maybe I’m taking this idea of “a learned ministry” too far.

The move itself should be relatively simple, once the books are taken care of. We had a bad experience with a regular moving company last time, so it looks like we are going to rent one of those “Pods,” where you load up this big metal boxy container, put your own lock on it, and the truck comes and takes it all away and drops it at your new house. Should be simple, because we don’t own much of anything.

Except books.

Cold front

You could see the thin clouds moving into the clear blue sky from the west at seven. By seven thirty, the sky was covered except for a blue band in the east. The wind idly shifted and blew gently from the south. My joints hurt slightly, I had to catch my breath suddenly. A general sense of discomfort. By eight fifteen, the sky in the west had cleared. The sun lit the tops of the trees and set. A moment of clarity. Not the drama of last night’s cold front, thunder and lightning and brief sudden rain squalls that brought only a trace of rain. Just a moment of discomfort, and I could breath again.

You were probably wondering…

Metra, the commuter rail service for the Chicago suburbs, names all its locomotives after the cities and municipalities it serves: “Village of Oak Park,” City of Elgin,” and so on.

In case you were wondering, engine #136, the “City of Geneva,” is at the engine maintenance facility on the Union Pacific West line.

You were wondering, weren’t you?

Midsummer’s evening

The meeting at church ended just after 9:00 p.m. It was a mild evening, with a breeze just strong enough to get your blood moving. I took a long walk.

I wandered around downtown Geneva, and got to the depot as the 9:46 from Chicago was just in. Not many people on the train. I headed back home along Second Street, and stopped to listen to a large bird squawking way up in a tree. (I have no idea what it was.) By the time I got to the Lutheran church, it was 9:55, and it looked like some meeting had just gotten out. It’s always good to know that another church’s meetings go longer than those at one’s own church.

Got across State Street in a break in the traffic. The Old Towne Pub there on the corner was mostly full. As I passed the back of the pub, a car went slowly by headed towards State Street, and someone said, “Hi!” I turned to look, but they were talking to a woman who came out the back of the pub just then. “Jesus!” she replied, in one of those Spanish accents that has a slight lisp.

No lights were on in the Methodist church on Second Street. (Maybe they got out even earlier than we did. Or maybe we’re a more active church than they. I’ll pretend it’s the latter. Not that I’m competitive or anything.)

No more thoughts of church the rest of the way home. No real thoughts at all Just: –It’s a beautiful evening.

Summer time

Ryan T. came into church last night for Game Night, and announced it is mulberry season. Ryan is enthusiastic about such things, not just because he’s five years old, but because that’s the kind of person he is. I share his enthusiasm for mulberries.

I first knew it was mulberry season three days ago because of a sidewalk near our house: I saw a bird dropping that was strangely purple. I puzzled over this for a while, suddenly realizing that it’s mid-June and time for mulberries to be ripe.

I kept watching the sidewalks on my evening walks around downtown Geneva. Within a day, I came across a short stretch of sidewalk covered with little purple squished fruits, and here and there a purple bird dropping. A mulberry tree! I picked a handful (all I could reach) and ate them. They were sweet and good.

Since then, I’ve discovered two more mulberry trees, and Ryan told me about yet a third less than a block from the church on Second Street. Ryan is fortunate enough to have a mulberry tree growing over his driveway, and he was gracious enough to bring me a small bag of his mulberries this morning when he came to church.

Mulberries are a little eldery-tasting, and usually you can’t reach the really ripe ones because they’re too high, or too clearly over someone’s yard. But most years they’re the first fresh local fruit I eat each year — for about a week each year, they are my favorite fruit.

Midwestern savannah

Oak savannah, up until 150 years ago one of the dominant ecosystems around here in the Tri-Cities, has fascinated me ever since I first saw restored oak savannah over at Nelson Lake Marsh natural preserve. Contrary to the stereotypes I’d been fed, the prairie was not the only major ecosystem in Illinois.

The earliest settlers found almost half the State in forest, with the prairie running in great fingers between the creeks and other waterways, its surface lush with waist-high grasses and liberally bedecked with wild flowers. Here occurred the transition from the wooded lands of the East to the treeless plains of the West…. The pioneers admired the grasslands, but clung to the wooded waterways…. The waterways furnished timber for fuel and building, a convenient water supply, and protection for the settlers’ jerry-built cabins from prairie fires and windstorms. Fires invariably swept the grasslands in the late summer, when the Indians burned off the prairie to drive out game….” Illinois Descriptive and Historical Guide: Compiled and Written by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration of the State of Illinois, 1939.

Where did the woodlands go?

Lumbering activities and the pioneer’s early preference for the woodland reduced the forests from their original extent, 42 per cent, to little more than 5 per cent. What is now commonly thought of as prairie is often the increment gained from the clearing of the woodlands. –Ibid.

The oak savannah is neither prairie nor forest, but a separate natural community, a transitional zone between forest and prairie. According to one definition, oak savannah has more than one tree per acre, but less than 50 per cent coverage (some authorities allow up to 80 per cent canopy coverage). The widely-spaced oaks rise out of the grassy undergrowth, giving a park-like appearance. This makes for a beautiful landscape, which feels open yet protected by trees.

How much of Illinois was savannah? According to a 1994 North American Conference on Savannas and Barrens, “No estimate of the presettlement extent of oak savanna has been developed for Illinois.” Since even modern definitions of oak savannah vary, it’s not surprising that no such estimate exists. Yet the reports of early settlers talk glowingly about the park-like settings of early Illinois, so we can be sure they knew and enjoyed oak savannah.

Funnily, the suburban landscape of downtown Geneva superficially resembles oak savannah, with its widely spaced trees and the grassy lawns. But the community of plants and animals is quite different in the suburbs than in true oak savannah, and it is a transitional zone between shopping mall and housing development, rather than a transitional zone between forest and prairie. Some early accounts say the Indians kept the oak savannah open by burning away undergrowth periodically; to shape today’s suburban savannah, humankind uses power lawnmowers and tree services.

You can see a contemporary image of oak savannah at photographer Miles Lowry’s Web site. Link The top two images are of a restored oak savannah about three miles due east of Geneva. Or if you want a technical discussion of oak savannah as an ecosystem, you can find it at the EPA’s interesting Web site on Great Lakes ecosystems. Link

Summer time

On Memorial Day weekend, we still had the comforter out. A week and a half ago, we were sleeping under blankets. Not any more. Summer is here. Other signs of summer:

  • Robins are molting. Robins are spring breeders who don’t start their molt until their young have fledged (raising young and molting at the same time would be just too stressful). Yesterday, I saw a Robin who had molted the first two tail feathers.
  • Chiggers are out. On Sunday, one bit me. Fortunately, only one managed to bite me.
  • The humidity is back.
  • We leave the ceiling fans going pretty much all day and all night. (We’re too cheap to turn on the A/C.)
  • The people who live to the northwest of us have opened up their pool. We know this because sometimes they leave their very loud pool pump going night and day for days at a time.

But the real sign of summer for me is days that go on forever, and short nights that bring memories of past midsummers, memories which stretch back before I can remember. The world pauses for a moment at this apex of the year, and I find that I can’t sleep deeply, or for long.