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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…..




20. July 2018 · Comments Off on NGO Solidarity: A Case Study · Categories: Articles


Andrew Van Gorp 20 July, 2018.

The Theosophical Society made mention to our Sustain DuPage Gardeners last season that they hoped we would implement a practice of permaculture on their grounds… the following collaboration is a great example of how coalition building and solidarity can work in DuPage County between Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)!

Lindsay Zimmerman, Sustain DuPage Gardeners Director, sprang into action. Lindsay’s work perfectly demonstrates the abundance philosophy of Sustain DuPage. Instead of seeing this permaculture garden project as a way to build on the laurels of Sustain DuPage, Lindsay questioned how this garden project opportunity could be utilized to build stronger relationships between our fellow eco-nonprofits in the region!

The Resiliency Institute (TRI) out of Naperville is DuPage County’s premiere nonprofit focused on a permacultural approach to agriculture. With a scarcity mentality, our nonprofit would view TRI as our greatest “competitor” for the Sustain DuPage Gardeners mission project. This is how our system is set up in the USA- reckless capitalism extends its reach even into the nonprofit sector, warping the good-intentioned minds of those who would seek to better the world through the pursuit of nonprofit status. By rejecting this paradigm, we commit to the ideal of an abundance mentality- i.e. seeing TRI as our greatest ally in the fight to transform our County into a hub of sustainability culture. In sustainable living, there is not competition, only collaboration.

So when the Theosophical Society asked Sustain DuPage to implement a permaculture garden, Lindsay instead reached out to TRI to ask if they would be willing to provide consultation and a fruit tree guild design.


-The Theosophical Society financed the purchase of the plants from TRI, furthering TRI’s capacity to create even more gardens in the future!

-TRI provided expert consultation, a garden design, and plant sourcing- beautifying the grounds of the Theosophical Society!

-Sustain DuPage facilitated the project by bringing the two parties together and community organizing the volunteer labor for installation- gaining a new demonstration model for the education of DuPagers about this approach to agriculture and land management!

-DuPage County gained a 15 foot diameter perennial permaculture garden which will provide many pounds of free medicine, food, dye, and fiber every growing season, into perpetuity!

THIS is how we build community resilience.

THIS is how we strengthen our DuPage sustainability culture:

by clinging to the understanding that we are stronger when we work together than when we work alone!

Sustain DuPage can’t operate without your support. Find out here all the ways you can involve yourself!

08. June 2018 · Comments Off on Water Walks: Third Trek! · Categories: Articles

An Exploration of Life, Relationships, Movement, and Water

East Branch Trek 3:

Churchill Woods Forest Preserve ~~~> Glen Oak County 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.



This post is an amalgamation of writings By: Andrew Van Gorp, Elena Nichol, and Quinton Jensen


Andrew: A worried mother sends another text asking her son why he’s been gone so long and why he’s not responding to her texts. Fifteen minutes later she receives a two word answer, “rough terrain.” It’s not often in DuPage County that a mother receives this excuse for tardiness! You see, Dominic had decided to go on Sustain DuPage’s third Water Walks trek- with a group of complete strangers. He had been following Sustain DuPage for a while and decided this trek was too interesting to pass up…



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.

Interested in joining us for a trek?

Join our Sustain DuPage Creators Facebook Group to receive updates on our adventure!

Sustain DuPage can’t operate without your support. Find out here all the ways you can involve yourself!

17. April 2018 · Comments Off on Water Walks: Second Trek! · Categories: Articles

An Exploration of Life, Relationships, Movement, and Water

East Branch Trek 2:

East Branch Forest Preserve ~~~> Churchill Woods 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.


By: Jason Phillip Halm

How fitting is it that Andrew sought to coin the term hydrain after our last, and first, walk along the East Branch of the DuPage River?

In some senses, the hydrain, or the lay of the water, fits neatly into our preexisting sense of terrain, the lay of the land. After all, the water both follows and forms the land, and vice versa; their relationship is not one of contrasting competition, but of cooperative creation.

In another sense, terrain derives from the middle english terrene, which means “occurring on dry earth, earthly” or, alternatively (but similarly) “of the world, secular rather than spiritual”.

Knowing Andrew as well as I think I do, he crafted the word hydrain with much attention, but I’m not sure if even he realizes the tension the words hydrain and terrain create: if terrain comes to us through a word that means secular, rather than spiritual, does hydrain mean spiritual, but not secular?

I think not. Hydrain, remember, refers first to physical properties of the world we live in –but given that we deal with water, it also works with the way water flows, the way water walks. Though water’s flow has now been subject to science (hydrology) and to harnessing (hydroelectricity), it’s neither comprehended nor completely controlled–evidenced by both brutalities and droughts (Syria, South Africa, Puerto Rico), as well as by more gentle remeanders and reroutes (Mississippi/Atchafalaya River system, some sections of the East Branch).

The truth is that water’s flow, water’s hydrain, is neither solely spiritual nor solely secular. If solely spiritual, how could we sustain ourselves? If solely secular, how could we cleanse ourselves from our past?

This was on my mind as we set out for our second walk, on the first 70 degree day of the year, a marked contrast to our trek on the Vernal Equinox, a braving of 40 degree cloudiness. The sun felt almost as if it’d hang forever in the right spot for golden hour, for us.

In our last trek, I kept getting the claustrophobic and anxiety-inducing feeling that we were going perpendicular to the flow of our society, even though the attempt is to go with the long flow of the landscape. Right off, we had to cross a railroad set up on an enormous incline from the river, scrambling up remarkably handsome boulders to get on top.

We marveled at the perspective that lifting just a bit from a tame and gentle landscape brings, and wondered at the intelligence of blowing up distant mountains to get those handsome boulders, when glaciers carved rock down and left it here–right here–in our rivers and streams for us to use. I feel strongly that if you are going to blow up a landscape to create your own wealth, it ought to be one in which you are answerable to your community for the damage you reap.

The river snaked up to this point then dropped rapidly into a metal culvert, leaving us high on the terrain and with an impaired sense of the hydrain. If a largely neglected river can bring you to see such a well situated metaphor–an American railroad set on imported boulders, bringing coal from the hinterland to the city to burn to enrich already wealthy folks–and show you even just the beginnings of a solution–a walk, a friendship, glacial river rock–imagine how a well-cared for river can be left to cleanse.

Fortuitously, there was less perpendicular crossing in this stretch than in our first walk. We got less of a sense of marked hostility towards the East Branch of the DuPage River, and more of a sense of carelessness; the walk took less the character of a militant crossing in ways we weren’t supposed to and more of the childish playfulness that comes with the first beautiful Spring day spent in an often forgotten forest preserve (and ComEd right of way).

We also passed by a beautiful pond set in the East Branch Forest Preserve, and a matching “No Swimming or Fishing” sign, along with a natural gas pipeline running right through the area. The implication here is clear: although the physical terrain of this land ignores the river, the humanmade flow of life actively constrains the river. We can’t swim here. We can’t fish here. No one can assure us that fossil fuels aren’t leaching into our river. Hell, it is hard to find out where our wastewater is expelled into the river (as far as I know, fully cleaned thanks to a lot of really hardworking people).

The truth is that our chain of life, our circle of bonds breaks here. We cannot pretend to care for one another in any meaningful sense of the word ‘care’ if we lace the waters that our children play in with fossil fuel lines. A river ought to be a playground and a fishing ground, open to people of all backgrounds. When we make outdoor, unstructured, and generally unsupervised play dangerous, frowned upon, or even illegal, we constrain learning to a school or a laboratory–and an entire stage of life becomes commodified, able to be profited from to the detriment of learner, teacher, and the local hydrain.

We walked, though, and talked more about the ways that being outside itself can teach–that species as unlikely and often unwelcomed as Canada Goose and Reed Canary Grass can give us insights far beyond our ability to teach or learn from lecture. But only if we are there to listen. We admired the ability of Reed Canary Grass and Common Carp to thrive, to produce so much biomass and so many children–Reed Canary can grow up to 10 feet in a season, and Carp are now the most ubiquitous fish in our streams, to the horror of many restorationists.

I admire restorationists, and consider myself one. Reed Canary and Carp are here to stay. They are teachable remnants of our past willingness to do whatever we wish to the land, and to the water, in order to fulfill personal fortunes that we thought were manifest in our destiny. Fortunes aren’t explicitly manifest in any destiny, though. Life is work. Young Herons learn to fly high in the sky overhead. A Red Tailed Hawk calls out as it plays with us. Work can be fun–when we get on to it together.

The section of river we walked on likely had been channelized to make row crop farming easier. Straight as a well-made arrow, logjams have just begun to form, with Reed Canary Grass taking root in them and recreating a dynamic hydrain, slowing the flow in places and creating faster, more oxygenated riffles in others.

Human footpaths descend to the river behind humdrum apartment complexes, and deerpaths hew to the curvature of small unnamed tributaries. Friends walk the length of the river, birds watch overhead, and we learn from and with one another. To be aware that our chain extends far beyond our front door and our car door blesses us boundlessly; the whole world is both our playground and our workplace. The terrain, and the hydrain, conspire to flow our energies towards one another in our joyful and real work.

The real work starts here. Name your unnamed tributaries. Find the deerpaths. Follow them. Look up as birds fly in ecstatic workplay, both fully sacred and fully secular at the same time. Walk your logjams–where have you been diverted from your original path, only to find your correct course? Walk along your watershed–and come with us as we do the same.

Interested in joining us for a trek?

Join our Sustain DuPage Creators Facebook Group to receive updates on our adventure!

Sustain DuPage can’t operate without your support. Find out here all the ways you can involve yourself!

24. March 2018 · Comments Off on Water Walks: First Trek! · Categories: Articles

An Exploration of Life, Relationships, Movement, and Water

Trek 1:

East Branch Headwaters ~~~> East Branch 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.


By: Andrew John Iain Van Gorp

“Terrain” is to “Land” as “_______” is to “Water.”

The single word “terrain” is tied to many different understandings in our structure of knowledge. In our minds, the word “terrain” is strongly tied to the concept of “knowing” (or, conversely, “not knowing”). And so it happens that the most frequent phrase to string these two words into use, is, “she knows the terrain.”

But when a speaker speaks, “she knows the terrain,” what is the speaker actually implying that she knows? What can be known of terrain?

For us, the speaker may be suggesting that this person knows one of many things- one of many different things! Maybe what she knows is if the slope of the land is humble or proud. Perhaps what she knows is if the soil at a point on a map was, at last recollection, sandmixed or claybound. Knowing the terrain might even suggest she knows which activities can best take place when and where: a picnic in the meadow while the young flowers are in bloom, the path which is best for hiking through ancient trees when the snow still clings unsunmelted from the night before, the exact day the briarleaves have probably tinged red-and-yellow, signaling the blackberries are ready for patient hands and yogic postures. It might be that her understanding of the terrain stems from a geologic perspective- she could tell you of the region’s deep history, that of glaciers- or even further- that of lava and tectonic intrigues.

All these concepts of knowing can be bound up under one little word: “terrain.” After all, as terrestrial animals ourselves, we know the land best.

It is the same for me. I have explored the terrain of our region for all my grown years, and in step, my knowledge of the terrain has grown. But upon searching through my scaffolding of lessons that I’ve learned in my life, I could not for the life of me come up with a word equivalent to “terrain” for the converse regional presences and existences of water: the life dependent upon it, the relationships it maintains and sustains, its paths and personalities, its nature.

“Watershed” is close to a hydrologic equivalent to “terrain.” But “watershed” feels, eh… lacking. When I say, “use the word ‘terrain’ in a sentence.” You would say, “she knows the terrain.” If I said, “use the word ‘watershed’ in a sentence.” You would probably try to define it, “A watershed…is… a region… it’s a human understanding of, how- if a raindrop fell right here- would it end up in that river, or this river? If it goes there, the boundary, denotes- where it goes. A watershed is a boundary that denotes where water ends up.” Mmmmmmmmkkkkkkkkkkkayyyyyyyyy. Thanks for the very nerdy and confusing definition of what a watershed is…I guess. In asking someone to use “watershed” in a sentence, I would bet that next to no one would say, “she knows the watershed.” That’s telling.

“Waterways” is an even closer hydrologic counterpart to “terrain.” However, when we hear, “she knows the waterways,” we might accidentally assume it to only mean that she can navigate the connections of waterbodies for the purposes of travel to distant landmasses… but not much else beyond that. For example, in common usage, you might know the waterways and still not know when you are standing upon land hiding the course of a deep underground river, you might know the waterways and not know if you are more likely to pull up chert stone from the sediment above or below a beaver dam, you might know the waterways and not know at what depth the Largemouth bass likes to suspend during a sweltering hot summer afternoon.

I was trying to sit down and write about “Water Walks,” the new adventure my friend Jason and I had finally initiated, and I was lit-rally stuck at the first word. I was stuck at the first concept of a missing word, really. In all honesty, I was a little embarrassed. I grew up in a county that is named after a waterway- in a Village named after a body of water, within walking distance of both a lake and a river. I immerse myself in a constant stream of ecosystem and environment. In starting Sustain DuPage, people have even begun to expect that I just know things- and I couldn’t think of a word that is the hydrologic equivalent to terrain?!

So, where prior knowledge falls short, invention must do us service. Please lend me your approval of our newly co-held understanding, let us together agree that the water equivalent to the word “terrain” is: “hydrain.”


Now I can truly begin writing.


Why Walk With the Water?

There has long been a whispered urging of my heart to fill out an ungrown branch of my own unknowing: the learning of DuPage County’s hydrain. (You nod along in agreement that this is a word you have long known and fully accepted as a very real word, a word that a majority of our community also knows and accepts as a very REAL WORD).

Ahem, as I was saying- the hydrain of DuPage is a currently-vacuous section of my unknowing which could alternatively be filled with rich new knowings, if I would only set out with intention to explore the unknown. But you see, exploring the unknown can be very intimidating if you set out to attain it alone. Which is why I am very thankful to be blessed with the friendship of a very cool person named Jason Phillip Halm, who shares my desire to know the DuPage hydrain.

We had once been in conversation, seemingly very long ago, about DuPage’s hydrain- namely, the East Branch of the DuPage River and the West Branch of the DuPage River, and how they confluenced just South of the County. Jason lives near the confluence, and frequents it often- yet I had never been there. He urged me to visit the confluence with him, and I did. And I am so very grateful that I did, because our journey there was the seed which led to our “Water Walks” adventure, an exploration of life, relationships, movement, and water.

The DuPage River Confluence

In planning Water Walks, we didn’t really know what to expect. Like, was it even possible to walk the entire length of the DuPage- branches and all? Both Jason and I are practical people, so we decided to start small: “Let’s walk the entire length of the East and West Branches (headwaters to confluence), and then walk from the East Branch/West Branch Confluence to the Des Plaines River/DuPage River Confluence!”

So it was decided what we must do, but it wasn’t clear until much later why we must do it.

When I asked Jason why he wanted to do Water Walks, the word “confluence” stood out in his mind. Confluence is a word which means the flowing together of things (it’s not solely applied to rivers). And so for Jason, Water Walks is a flowing together of things.

Our understandings are built through relativity- no understanding can exist in isolation, but only exists in relation to all of our other understandings. Understandings which have been previously unconnected can become newly related through life experiences. I am eager to watch what meanings and understandings for Jason become confluenced through our experience of Water Walks.

If I had to pick out a word that stuck out in my mind when thinking of Water Walks, I would pick “relationship. I think when we say “relationship” most people think of intrapersonal human relationships, that is: our relationships with other humans. But when I think of the word “relationship” I tend to include extrapersonal relationships too, that is: human relationships with all biotic and abiotic existences of the known universe and even the unknown/mystic universe (which many call the, “spirit” or “dream” world).

And so for me, I would like Water Walks to be an exploration of my relationship with DuPage’s hydrain. I have long believed that relationships with other-than-human lifeforms are just like the relationships we share with our friends. The more time we spend together, the stronger our relationship gets! We cannot expect to cultivate a deep understanding and appreciation for biotic or abiotic beings who we don’t spend time with. I’ve long felt a growing desire to connect to all the life around me in DuPage, including that of DuPage’s hydrain. In order to strengthen my relationship with DuPage’s hydrain, I must spend time with it- and that’s why I’m participating in Water Walks.


Our “First Trek” Experience:

Driving in a car over to the East Branch Headwaters, I shared with Jason that I was actually kind of nervous- just kind of- mostly excited, but also…nervous. He asked me why. In my head I asked myself, “why am I nervous?” I mimicked the response I received back from that heart/stomach voice inside me back to Jason, “I guess I’m nervous because I’ve never done anything like this before. But I also feel grateful to be doing this with someone else.” That last part I spoke rang loudly in my ears, “someone else.” I didn’t want him to think I meant just anyone elsebecause it was important for me that he knows I’m excited to do Water Walks with him, not just someone, so I added “with you, I mean.”

*A brief aside*

In my relationships with straight guys, I always try to achieve a balance between two non-assumptions:

1) Don’t assume they will be uncomfortable being intimate with you because they’re straight [if I’m too distant with them in order to protect them from my gayness (read: internalized homophobia) I sometimes hurt my guyfriends’ feelings, cause they’re all like “don’t you know that I am not homophobic and you can be your regular gay-*ss self with me?!“)

2) Don’t assume they will be comfortable being intimate with you just because they generally accept your gayness.  (Even super progressive feminist cis straight men are entitled to healthy boundaries of what levels of intimacy they desire from a friendship).

*End Aside*

I explained this delicate balance I constantly strive for to Jason in the car and he laughed. He said he’s also excited to do Water Walks with me too. I love that he doesn’t have fragile masculinity like dat, it makes me feel more at ease to just be organic and uncurated in my friendship with him. I can’t remember if he and I ever broached the gay topic before, but he handled it like a pro. #Gratitude

We stopped to get gas before arriving at the headwaters because we’re fossil fuel abolitionists who can embrace complexity like dat. Also, Jason had to pee. While I waited for him I was trying to envision what to expect the headwaters would look like. With the little knowledge I had of how DuPagers treat our hydrain, I was expecting a non-magical spot, probably largely ignored and especially unassuming, encircled to the shoreline with either concrete, lawn, or buildings. I hoped against the struggle of my logic to picture a beautiful sloping fen, tucked away from the terrors of human landuse- but the former picture kept superseding my dream vision in my mind. Jason returned to the car. I decided to try to not have any expectations, just to make sure that I wasn’t disappointed in the end, which has basically become my modus operandi when dealing with feelings of excitement in my jaded late-twenties.

We arrived at the headwaters of the East Branch of the DuPage River. We first glimpsed it peaking out from between two houses as we drove around to find a place to park. We walked toward what appeared to be an unassuming retention pond surrounded by lawn, complete with giant fountain.


Yep, there was absolutely nothing magical about it. It might have had something to do with the sign that loudly exclaimed the headwaters of the East Branch of the DuPage River were, “PRIVATE PROPERTY” and that we- “DO NOT TRESPASS.” Yeesh- Ok Ok! Message received! We’re not welcome here! Got it!

We loitered around long enough to shoot a little intro video for the Water Walks project (linked at the bottom of this article!) but not long enough to have a run-in with the police. After all, the enjoyment of one of DuPage’s most sacred natural heritages, the birthplace of the East Branch, does not just belong to anyone, but rather a small subset of very specific people.

The water, which was pumping up into the pond from somewhere deep in the ground under Bloomingdale, crossed under the street- so we walked along to follow.

For all intents and purposes, this is where the East Branch takes on its river form and begins its long walk to the Gulf of Mexico. It comes out of an elbow-noodle shaped pipe at a 90 degree angle from the riverpond. (We decided to call ponds and lakes which are really just rivers disguised as ponds and lakes “riverponds” and “riverlakes,” respectively).

Most passerby would probably assume this water comes from somewhere North of this pipe, but it actually comes from the pond immediately to the West, which you wouldn’t know unless you crawled down that cute shore incline to doublecheck, as we did, just to make sure. It doesn’t take more than a few human steps before the East Branch’s erosion problem becomes noticeable.

The silt from Bloomingdale, some of the Earth’s richest soil for plant growth- built up over thousands of years- could end up as far South as the Gulf of Mexico. That’s pretty hard to stomach. It was the first sight that caused an emotional and spiritual response from us. The headwaters had lacked the inspiration for any feeling, except for maybe disgust. It was the banks of the infant river which first elicited our sympathy. It hit a little too close to home. It’s houses, roads, parking lots, and lawns like mine that cause this river to experience 100 and 500 year flood events every summer. Ouch. Sorry River. We can do better. We will do better.

The river rambled under a bridge, past a school, and around the lawn of a soccer field which was mown down to the river’s edge. We wondered aloud if the surrounding neighbors knew if the water here was a river or not as we walked under the swinging branches of a majestic weeping willow (a little too on-the-nose if you ask me). We wondered that same thought aloud very often throughout the walk: what did we expect the people who live next to this river knew about the river. “The person living in that blue house!” (Pointing demonstrably). “Do they know it’s a river? Do they know it has a name? Where it’s from? Where it’s going?”

The river turned decidedly into a concrete underpass. A crow called with warning. As we crossed the street we noticed a commonly-ignored death cairn: “WARNING. PETROLEUM PIPELINE.” Just a few minutes from the headwaters of this river, a pipeline flowing under homes, under our Earth’s arguably second/third most precious resource (water). A hidden pipeline filled with literal ecocidal poison.

Past the road the river overflowed a small waterfall into a beautifully large riverlake, also lawn-strangled and house-menaced. We were thankful for the splashing sound. It sounded happy, despite everything.

Upon and above this riverlake we saw “sea”gulls floating and flying. By voicing this observation, we realized we had both noticed an unusual number of gulls this spring, independent of eachother. I hypothesized that maybe they were dying by the lake due to the 2014 heavy tar sands oil spill that threatened the drinking water of more than 7 million people in the Chicagoland region, and so maybe decided to fly inland to seek food refuge? After all, we’re still not sure how much oil remains sunk to the bottom of our lake, emitting toxins into our drinking water within a few miles of the water treatment intake. (#AbolishFossilFuels) “Or,” Jason offered, “maybe those gulls were just switching it up, seeing some new sights, trying out something new- like us.” I’m thankful he keeps me focused on the good stuff.

We walked along the northern shore of Westlake Park, confusedly past the monument-sized bolder with no plaque or companions (definitely not glacially placed- EXPLAIN YOURSELF! WHY ARE YOU HERE?! #mysterybolder), until we reached the outlet of the riverlake where the water returned to river form. If you can call it that…

Between the outlet of the lake at Westlake Park and the inlet of the river at Sunnyside Park is the most heinous infrastructure of human destruction I’ve ever seen. And I’ve visited open landfills. Jason and I were struck silent at first, resentfully stepping into the concreted aqueduct the river was allowed to pass through.

In a way it appeared- in form- like art. But art in the way that art is something that makes a human reflect on the human condition, like the tragic mummies of Pompeii. Art that manifests an eery beauty evoked from the shadow of a past terror. Jason and I came to a realization through dialogue that there must have been at one point a vote held at a Village meeting wherein Villagers agreed in good faith to cement over approximately 1,210 feet of the river’s path motivated by what we supposed was called “convenient maintenance.” About 500 feet down the aqueduct Jason voiced, “I mean, this river is completely dead.” There were, to the human eye, two distinct kinds of algae growing on the concrete floor of the river: a solid mass of the slimy lime green kind, and occasional spots of the forest green kind. It is an example of ecocide.

Jason found a really cool rodent skull in the aqueduct. It was a nice distraction for a moment, but we didn’t linger to discuss it for too long. We were pretty eager to be done walking through the aqueduct stretch of the river because it filled us with so much shame for the current indefensible behavior of our species.


THANK GOD. We made it past Knockturn Alley. The river flows back into riverbottom sediment at Sunnyside Park. Just South of Sunnyside Park is a wastewater treatment facility. We paused to inspect curious stakes set firmly into the riverbed at equal distances along the Eastern shoreline. Perhaps they were once meant to hold in place wetland plants for a mitigation project and had been long forgotten? Perhaps they were once holding riprap to reduce erosion? We never figured it out.

Downstream of the water treatment plant (where our water goes before reaching the river) there were lots of sudsy bubbles. We wondered how much pharmaceutical pollution flows through us and into the water. Does the treatment plant filter out all the cleaning chemicals we pour down our sinks, toilets, and bathtubs? Even if the treatment plant cleans the water to EPA-recognized “safe” levels of pollution, are the EPA-recognized levels really safe? Is there any safe level of pollution? We breathed deep sighs as the conversation petered out and we continued on our walk.


The riverbanks rise high over the sinking river, which cuts its way through a cottonwood and elm forest- the banks dropping some 10-12 feet in the worst eroded sections. Most of the mature trees on either side of the river are dead and stripped of their bark, which left tall white columns contrasted against the dense black of a buckthorn thicket. If we disregarded what we could read was happening to the landscape it was pretty stunningly beautiful. I was enraptured by this small hollowed out treeknot. I could sense on a spiritual level that at least a few bird families had raised chicks in this hollow- I mean, how could they NOT have?! I spent some time feasting my eyes on the quiet enclosed space from multiple angles. We continued our way, ducking and snapping through the buckthorn thicket.

Every once in a while Jason feels the need to prove he could be a GQ model, largely because I enable him/ don’t give him much of a choice in the matter- OK IT’S ME, I WANT THE WORLD TO KNOW MY FRIEND COULD BE A GQ MODEL. This was the highest bluff eroding into the river through this section. It showed a cross section of gravel under a few feet of the dirt that was pretty cool to see if you were able to just stand witness objectively without recognizing the destruction taking place on a daily basis as an externalized cost of our society’s built infrastructure. I learned a long time ago that if you want to live as an eco person in this region at this point in history you have to get really good at withdrawing emotionally from 90% of your waking existence or else you will completely lose your mind from the backwardness of the insanity we commonly call “the carryings on of daily life.”

This tree’s roots were slowly exposed and worn away by the erosion from regular catastrophic rain events. Because so much of DuPage soil is now covered with buildings, lawn, and asphalt, (not to mention our infrastructure built to get rainfall away from our houses and straight to the river) less than an inch of rainfall can overwhelm our rivers in minutes. In the olden days, less than an inch of rainfall would percolate slowly through the soil over the course of months, ensuring a steady supply of water for the river. In the hottest months of summer in DuPage, the water we see in the river is actually water we pump in from Lake Michigan. If we were to stop pumping in water from out of county and walk away from DuPage, we would observe the result of our infrastructure leaves the rivers dry in the summer months.

We found an old car rusting into the soil along the river, surrounded by a heap of scrap metal. It was very “I am Legend.” We wondered aloud how much the metal might be worth if someone dug it up and scrapped it. Maybe there’s a farmer somewhere still telling himself, “some day I’m going to fix that car up!” Sitting in a half-buried rust heap surely makes one ponder the legacy of one’s life. Looking at this image I think, “I like that I can’t see the company logos sewn onto my clothes in this photo.”






Seeing these 55 gallon drums camouflaged by so many years of piled up brush filled me with immediate dread. God only knows what evil lurks within, waiting to be rusted free. It was a pretty surreal moment between Jason and I. I remember asking, “What is this?! 1970?!” It was a fitting metaphor for our human response to the growing toxic legacy we are building up upon the landscape: hide it from view and maybe we’ll never have to deal with the consequences of our toxic burdens within our lifetimes. Who knows, maybe they’re empty? But with what I’ve seen so far in this world, I doubt it. 😉







We finally reached the East Branch Forest Preserve. This was by far the most undestroyed landscape of the entire first trek. Walking through the tallish grass I suddenly remembered that there was a cougar sighted at this very forest preserve a few weeks ago! At this point in the 2.66 mile trek, we were getting cold and our thoughts turned to tacos. There were a few tributaries that were not on the map we had previously referenced, so we had to keep veering left to find a place to cross the tributaries. The telltale sign you are approaching a tributary within the next 15-20 feet as you walk in the direction of the river’s flow is cattails. If you’re walking with the flow of the water and hit cattails, you might as well veer off at 90 degrees to seek the thinnest section of the tributary to cross (to save time by eliminating the need to double back up the tributary).

Our first trek was very fulfilling and I am very excited to go out on Trek 2: East Branch Forest Preserve ~~> Churchill Woods Forest Preserve!

Check out the intro video we made to hype up Water Walks!


Interested in joining us for a trek?

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