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25. August 2018 · Comments Off on Water Walks: Fourth Trek! · Categories: Articles

water walks

An Exploration of Life, Relationships, Movement, and Water

East Branch Trek 4:

Glen Oak County Forest Preserve ~~~> Hidden Lake Forest Preserve

DISCLAIMER: 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.



We leave our car in the Glen Ellyn Park District’s parking lot and cross Route 53 into a gravel car pulloff towered over by some kind of radio/telephone tower thing. The space feels like a meeting of worlds- sometimes stumbled upon mistakenly by automobilists as they need to make a quick uturn. A car is parked in the pulloff and a man is adjusting his fishing pole on his cartrunk. We ask if he’s catching good things in this section of the river. Yes, bass. Do you eat them? No, you can’t he says. Really, you can- predator fish in DuPage can be eaten one meal a month, according to the IDNR website. We leave him behind, descending into the brush, literally- we followed the fisherfootpath trailing down a hillside to the water. The mudpath was eroding significantly, yet solidpacked from frequent use and drought. The first river

Looking for wild rice, who could teach us to find it, spread it, utilize the gifts from the earth, returning the revered plant to abundance in our ecosystem?

We aren’t really sure. The Forest Preserve District refuses to let us know.  

Want to make paper? Manage a public forest to produce food?

Not happening. Gotta find permission, and then someone who knows how.

The banks of a small hibiscus-studded fluvial lake of the East Branch held flowers gleaming in the midsummer sun like large jewels, except whorled instead of cut. Passing them we wondered, can we make tea from their calyx?

No, we aren’t sure, and we don’t really have anyone we’d talk to in order to find out.


Walking, we saw numerous birds hanging out in this lake, and felt, the both of us I believe, for the first time on these walks that we were seeing remnants of a functioning ecosystem–incredible, considering we’re almost halfway down this branch of the river.

Walking, more, amongst the trees and prairies, we see, we think, a black-crowned night heron. Shortly thereafter, in another wetland area, slow moving riparian zone, probably 50 or so other birds, some easily identifiable–egret–some not so. Bird identification, another skill largely missing from the mainstream of our society.

It isn’t the birds that got us started on this topic, I must confess, but they seem to be fitting teachers for a skilless society.

That black-crowned night heron, though, knew much. It knew–had to know, really–that in order to fly, it must nest. In order to nest, it must construct a nest. To construct, it had to forage. We aren’t positive about this, but it’s quite the possibility to behold the next step, that in some ways the night heron may also encourage its foraged plants to take hold over less preferred species–all for its descendents.

And perhaps most of all, the heron knows, instinctually perhaps, that to fly is not the goal but the means, really–in order to share in its provision of life.

That knowledge may be the most fleeting in our society–that it isn’t the phantasmal flying that matters, it’s the sharing of the inherently shared experience. When we make our livings separate from one another–children to one corner, parents to another, grandparents to yet another, we fly in the face of what life actually is: an ephemeral experience that we must go through together. And when we divorce ourselves from our shared experience, we try to replace it with flights of fancy, often in our very own energy-intensive but somehow low-energy modules.

Andrew and I talk a lot about how our community has lost so many skills essential to not just a sustainable future, but, as five times enough carbon to permanently ruin our atmosphere for human life sits in barrels ready to burn, a future for humans, full stop. The most striking to me, though, is our lost capacity to share. Our culture insists on alone time, and it insists on private spaces. These are quite good ideas at the level of a home. Private space though, is a uniquely terrible idea at the level of a community.

This was proved to us as we tried to venture forth down the East Branch, encountering yet another fence, this time one with a barbed wire top–supposedly to keep people out of the wastewater treatment plant? I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone with an eye towards invading a sewage treatment plant. But, in our present time, it has been decided that this is one group’s space and not anyone else’s.

This ignores the fact that this is actually our sewage treatment plant, whether we like it or not. This is our river, too, a river that’s commonly used as a last step in the treatment of our sewage. Another piece of knowledge unshared–how safe is this water? What are the steps taken? Where can I find lab results of my local stream? It isn’t just the eco stuff meant to be shared on instagram that ought to be shared–it’s also the dirty facts of our ecologically bankrupt life.

While sunlight may be the best disinfectant, I like to know that it’s more than the summer sun disinfecting the water I kayak, fish, wade in. And I want to know–want to share this knowledge widely–what is the standard for disinfection? Is it water that’s safe to touch, to dive into, or to drink?  

The fence with barbed wire showed no signs of relenting. On relatively flat terrain, walking along a stretch of our home river felt more like climbing a small mountain–we had to watch out particularly for vines, lest we mistake fallen barbed wire for a wild grape vine. In what world are private property owners able to let barbed wire fall into a river, unattended?

Eventually, after about a mile and a half, the barbed wire (thankfully) subsided, and we walked once more along a riverbank with animals, plants, and people free to come and go as we may. As it once was, as it should be, and as it will be…..




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