An Exploration of Life, Relationships, Movement, and Water
East Branch Trek 3:
Churchill Woods Forest Preserve ~> Glen Oak County Forest Preserve
In no way whatsoever are Andrew Van Gorp, Jason Phillip Halm, Sustain DuPage, or any accompanying affiliates, suggesting that you should walk along the path of the DuPage River. The walk along the river is largely UNSAFE.
Elena: According to Google maps, it was only about 2.4 miles, but I feel like I’ve been
on my own unexpected journey through a Tolkien-esque world, only better: this is
my home. We were less than 3 miles from the house I grew up in, and yet I’d never
been exactly where we walked.
Andrew: This stretch of the hydrain always makes me feel saudade. The sandy bottom hearkens back to an older DuPage River that hosted healthy food plants and food animals, a welcome reminder of what could be, for me. The East Branch riverbottom today is usually mud-caked from massive erosion events so that glacier-derived sandy stretches are a rare sight. Recently I’ve taken to meditating on the sediment I’m looking at, searching it for what it tells me. This photo is beautiful to me. The rocks are ancient remnants of DuPage glaciers. The shell, a human-brought species, most likely brought to this specific spot on the leg of a heron or the gill of a fish. The shard of green glass. The silent ripple of the river: a wind-tossed poem, inaudible, not earned of the name wave. The river is like a community elder, keeping old stories for us to learn, if only we take the time to visit her and ask with our eyes and ears and nose and mouth and feelings. Those stories are still there, in that place. They are echoes of a time not yet lost to us.
Andrew: The black walnut-dappled hillside rising behind us acted as a sound buffer, caving us into the river valley, away from the rip of car and truck engines. I was sad that the Kingfisher who usually hunts here wasn’t here for our trekkers- I was hoping we’d chancemeet. Kingfishers startle easily, so I think that’s why he likes to hunt here along this bend in the river. It makes me sad to think that the Kingfisher has to search for quiet places to hunt these days. And then, I pause and remember that we are subjected to all the same sound pollution that he is- so why should I feel sad for him? Hmmmm. I guess I don’t feel as bad for humans, because we kind of do it to ourselves and the rest of our ecosystem? The Kingfisher doesn’t have any choice in the matter and that doesn’t seem fair to me. I wonder how far away the Kingfisher would have to fly if this quiet hunting water didn’t exist for him? Kane County? Beyond?
Elena: My feet remembered how to walk without the assurance of a path or sidewalk, thankful for the cushion of rushes underneath. Ancient instincts of awareness could detect birdsong, the trickle
of water, the mist on skin, changes in the light. My sensitivities were assets again, to
smell the presence of an animal, the sound of water that might become a hazard,
natural light inviting alertness, yet not anxiety. I might have been anxious in unknown territory with dusk approaching. But while this was a very personal journey in many ways, it was also a group experience.
Quinton: The terrain was difficult to navigate and will continue to change depending on how the next storm surges through. I was grateful to see the remnant pollution and crumbling erosion infrastructure up close so that I could step in to the past and learn from it for the future. There is something to be said for getting off of the beaten path and into the drainage’s solitary feel, even right next to I-355.
Andrew: We are getting very good at posing with mystery 55 gallon drums. Perhaps we should rename the river to the “Rusty Drum River?” How have we continuously missed these with all of our County’s riversweeps? I wonder how much of the river we’re actually sweeping. Perhaps we’re missing certain parts? When we stumble upon a site like this, my stomach cringes. I swim in that river! What kind of chemicals am I exposing myself to? I think of the night that whoever-it-was lugged the drums out here- about a 400 yard distance from the road. Did they park on the side of Swift or St. Charles? Did they wear dark colors so as not to be seen? Were they scared of getting caught? I imagine them rolling the drums, hands caked with the clingy riverside mud, bitten with mosquitos. Did they stop several times, asking themselves, “is this far enough? Should we go further so the drums aren’t found?” When they returned home, did they rinse the mud off their hands so they could share a family meal? Did they watch their children play in the sprinkler the following week and think, “thank goodness our water comes from Lake Michigan and not from that river we dumped those drums at.” These images and stories flood my mind on a daily basis, like a very sad “That’s So Raven” episode. Is that normal?
Andrew: We found a tremendously large glacier-rolled bolder in the woods along the river, split clean down the center. Was it ice that had split the stone? Was there once a day where a loud crack rang out through the forest, startling the great-great-great-grandfather of our dear Kingfisher? I wonder if local forest-walkers returned one day to find it split. Would they be saddened? Would the stone seem somehow lessened in value to them? Clearly here there is a story. A story of division, but also new life. A local Jewelweed took advantage of the new opportunity and tossed its seeds with faith into the dark crevasse, where they will grow, happily ever after.
Andrew: We visited the Grandfather Tree. I happened to have a tape measure in my pocket so we were able to calculate the DBH (Diameter at Breast Height) to gauge the age of our favorite elder tree at Churchill Woods Forest Preserve, aaaaaaaand…
Andrew: He’s 259 years old!!! We’re going to have a 260th Birthday Party for him on September 1st! You’re invited! Wow. That is freaking cray. I can’t even begin to put into words how humbling it is to stand under the branches of this piece of local history!
Elena: Setting out, I wondered if old injuries might make me a liability. But as a group, we
collected our knowledge and observations to find our way over small tributaries,
tree stumps buried under layers of grass, communicating to one another, sometimes
offering a hand or a comment at an uncertain spot. I could accept such help without
shame, and offer it knowing it would likely be accepted with thanks.
Elena: The humming of power lines and highways never let
us really forget the suburban sprawl around us, yet even those familiar things
sounded different from our new vantage point. Navigating our own path through
waist-high grasslands, under and over branches, often loosing sight of anything
manmade, I felt myself remembering how to be in the midst of nature without
needing to name or control, simply to observe and connect.
Quinton: Walking along the East Branch of the DuPage River, I was taken aback by it’s character that was wild and unsympathetic to human development interests. So many of the forest preserves I am most familiar with are cleared and manicured with paved trails. In contrast, the flood plain hosted tangled plants and deadfall of all proportions and variety from years of buildup.
Elena: I’d probably not go on such a walk alone, perhaps for my personality, safety issues as a woman hiking alone, but with my group, trust in myself and my knowledge of the area, I
could trust that we’d reach our endpoint together. That’s something to truly
appreciate; especially considering many of us had met for the first time that day.
Elena: The obstacles, the mist, rerouting of our path brought us together, and made the
conclusion of our hike feel that much more of an accomplishment.
Returning home, I saw my village with new eyes; appreciating the surety of
my warm, dry home that much more. My evening meal tasted so much better
because of that adventure; my bed, a comfort. An even greater assurance was the
knowledge that I’d challenged myself and succeeded, motivating me to explore more
on my own and with such a group as the one who explored the DuPage River on a
misty evening in May.
To explore and connect with our waterways might just begin our way back to
honoring and preserving these wild lands and water sources.