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.

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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.

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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.”

*SIGH OF RELIEF.*

Now I can truly begin writing.

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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.

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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?

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!

19. October 2017 · Comments Off on SD Board Retreat! · Categories: Articles

Beth Weiner 19 October, 2017.

Beth is a guest writer for Sustain DuPage from the Lil’ Green Warrior blog- check out her awesome work!

(680 words)

It is early on a Saturday morning and four sustainability warriors gather at Andrew Van Gorp’s home. Their mission: gather knowledge, inspiration, and hope from those who have come before them blazing a trail in sustainable community development. Their destination? Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and three sustainable organizations there.

It is important when we seek to create change in our communities that we listen to the voices of those who have gone before us, learning from their successes and the positive aspects of their work. It is also important to learn from their mistakes so we can alter our approach and better ensure our success. What works in Milwaukee, for example, may not be an exact fit for the Chicagoland suburbs of DuPage County. Learning from our elders can provide valuable lessons and incredible inspiration… (in light of the recent DAPL court decisions, some native american traditions might come to mind, no?)

Crammed into one car, they set out North. After two hours of driving and deep conversation (surprisingly energetic, considering the early hour!), they disembarked, stretched their legs, and breathed in the delicious fresh air being blown in over the lake. Something in the air here was distinct, carrying a strong sense of place. You knew exactly where you were- just by the smell of the wind.

Their first stop: The Urban Ecology Center. The Urban Ecology Center is an organization that is dedicated to educating the community about sustainability. The Center is built of reclaimed and sustainable materials, has a prairie planting and a green roof of native plants, and it is located riverside along an expansive arboretum. Sustain DuPage gained inspiration from this organization and their physical space, which is a beacon of hope for the Milwaukee community and a place where people can go to learn more- a gathering space for people with shared goals and dreams.

Down by the river, they revisited the origins of Sustain DuPage– a vision which came to the Founder, of “bringing people to the river”. They sat in silence and meditated on how far we have come as a community, and also how far we have to go. Hope was in their hearts and on their minds as they trekked to their next stop- lunch!

After lunch, a stop to Growing Power, a sustainable organic farm located in the heart of Milwaukee’s urban center. This organization provides healthy, sustainably grown food at reasonable prices in what was once a food desert. The Board was inspired by the aquaponic system they used, and by the incredible volume of food grown.

They even made some new friends with the goats being raised there! Perhaps there may be an aquaponics system in the Sustain DuPage Victory Garden’s future? The Board learned some lessons about what they could implement in the mission projects, and how they might perhaps tweak a few things.

By this time, it was afternoon, and the intrepid travelers were tired, but they trekked on to the Victory Garden Urban Farm! There, they met a few folks who work on the farm and were inspired to see an operation at least five times the size of the Sustain DuPage Victory Garden. They took photos of signage, made plans to return for the garden’s harvest dinner in the fall, and headed to their final stop- a victory beer!

The Sustain DuPage board is a dedicated group of hardworking volunteers. This trip was a great opportunity to learn from sustainability in action, as well as to bond as a community. There may be opportunities for our volunteers to travel along with us in future trips, so keep your ears close to the ground!

This journey North can serve as a reminder to all of us to look to the horizon for trailblazers who have come ahead of us, reflect on our progress, and make goals and plans for the future. It is with hope and strength that we look forward to the end of 2017, the beginning of 2018, and all the plans that that the future brings. Together, Sustain DuPage has made an incredible difference for the community, and there is so much more to come.

Sally Jungblut 23 July, 2017.

Sally Jungblut, born and raised in Lombard IL, is currently enrolled as a Biomimicry Master’s student at Arizona State University. She has worked in many different communities in as an environmental educator, volunteer, artist and solid waste coordinator. Sally is currently working with Biomimicry Chicago on their Deep Roots Initiative to inform the Chicago community about their environment and a future in sustainability.

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Biomimicry – the word does not fall off the tongue easily. Even though I’ve been studying this subject for over a year, whenever I pronounce that word I still feel my tongue trip just a little. It’s not a word you’re
expecting either. When people have asked me what I’m studying they’ll lean in as I say, “Biomimicry,” to which the instant reply is, “What?” Once it’s explained though, it’s very easy to relate to because it’s all something we’ve done through our entire history…in a sense.

Let’s break down the word. ‘Bio’ – the brain instantly refers to biology or something living. Biology is the science of life on Earth and how it continues to dazzle us with new and amazing properties every day. It’s what you see when you look outside or touch when you go to the grocery store. It’s our story of how we came to be and how we are able to continue to live. “-Mimicry” or to mimic: to imitate or mirror. I do not know any kid that hasn’t gone through one phase of imitating an animal noise. I can’t speak for kids all over the world, but every kid I’ve encountered always knows “Old McDonald had a Farm.” In fact, as we grow from infant to toddler, toddler to child, child to pre-teen and so on and so forth we’re constantly imitating what we see and learn. As a kid
you’re imitating animals or your older sibling; as teenagers you try to emulate people you look up to or think are ‘cool’. So as it turns out, mimicry is an integral part of our life as biology is.

So if we put the two together “Bio-mimicry” we can understand that we are emulating the processes of nature. We are imitating what we see. Now you might say, “Haven’t we always done that?” and it’s true, we have. Since the beginning, we as humans have taken and used nature as our template or inspiration. When gardening, you use a rake to loosen up the soil which helps get rid of unwanted plants. What is the rake tool if not a claw based off a
badger who uses its claws to dig a home for itself? Scuba divers use fin-like extensions on their feet for mobility underwater. Fins that fish and other aquatic life use to move as well. Biomimicry is an age old process – something that we’ve all used throughout our lives, but we’ve never given true thought to
how it actually works in nature. Nature is a test lab. It has a certain amount of variables, a diverse set of players and an exact, even calculating manner in which it operates. The first signs of biological life began 3.8 billion years ago. That means that within 3.8 billion years nature has experimented, trialed and tested organisms through many different climates and changes until we’ve arrived here at this time. We are the latest in evolutionary chain. Those organisms that couldn’t adapt went extinct. We’ve survived because in nature we have succeeded. Yes, humans are awesome – but we’re not the only ones who have succeeded and that’s something worth pointing out. All living things that we live with are champions too and so we have to realize why they are champions and what we could learn from them.

Biomimicry is our chance to look at where we came from, who we are and who we want to become. It’s our chance to learn from the 3.8 billion years of trial and error so that we lead more sustainable lives. This is it. It’s time to mimic.

 

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

Andrew Van Gorp 15 July, 2017.

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I first met Karen Vanek at the Resiliency Institute a few years ago at a workshop on vegan eating. We struck up a conversation quickly- and I still remember talking about the DuPage deer cull and how excited we both were dreaming up an idea that the Forest Preserve could sell culled deer meat in DuPage as jerky or sausage with all profits going directly back toward DuPage conservation efforts. (Perhaps sold at Kline Creek Farm?) Looking back, it’s pretty hysterical that we held an in-depth conversation about sustainable meat-eating at a workshop meant to encourage veganism. “The rest is history” as they say.

Through the years Karen has inspired me with her unique insight into quirky and esoteric knowledges. We have had the funkiest conversations, and I always have enjoyed that Karen is never afraid to turn a commonly-accepted worldview on its head- questioning everything we think we know. When we needed more Sustain DuPage Board Members, Karen stepped up to the plate.

In her time as Sustain DuPage Board Member, Karen has helped put on the successful First Annual DuPage County Environmental Commission & Committee Symposium, tabled many events, participated in workshops, taken down the minutes at meetings, and started conversations about a permaculture pilot project at our Victory Garden.

That’s why it’s hard for me to reconcile the fact that Karen is moving away. John Muir famously wrote, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” As Karen leaves DuPage to start an exciting new chapter in her kick*ss life, I feel saudade. Of course I’m happy for her new adventure- and I know she will excel at whatever she does wherever she goes in life- but truly, I’m sad for our community’s loss.

I’m constantly railing about the importance of community- how without a community support system people are more likely to act out aggressively, suffer from depression and anxiety and drug abuse (and the list goes on!) but today I find myself weirdly resentful of just how tight-knit the Sustain DuPage community has become. Because, loss hurts. Loss hurts a lot! When I think of Karen living a few states away, it makes me want to cry. And, to be honest, as I’m typing this, I’m crying a little. 

Karen has a sharp mind, a caring heart, a passion for sustainability justice. I find my heart has become fully hitched to Karen’s friendship and support. I will always treasure the beautiful memories I’ve shared with Karen, and her shoes will be hard to fill.

But fill them we must. The movement Karen has helped to build here will continue on. The eco-movement, the pro-earth movement, the environmental movement, the sustainability justice movement- whatever you want to call it- it’s bigger than any one of us. It is an ancient struggle and it will surely continue to be waged long after we have all walked on from this life. As Karen moves East, we will be looking for a new Board Member.

If you are interested in filling this crucially important role in our community, please read this article to see if you are ready to apply!

Karen, you can move away, but we will always know you to be a DuPager Abroad. 😉

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