BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER & AUTHOR OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND
The crunch of my footsteps on crisp ice and snow
Birdsong high above in the trees
Deer tracks imprinted in the slippery ice
Poems posted in the frozen forest
These were just a few of the things I experienced or encountered yesterday on a bright 17-degree day, with a windchill of 5 degrees, at Sand Ridge Nature Center (15891 Paxton Avenue, South Holland, IL 60473, 708/868-0606).
There are two types of Chicagoans (warning: major generalization): those who hate winter and those who embrace winter.
I used to be the former, and now I’m the latter—choosing to double scarf, double sock, triple shirt, double hat, and double pants (OK, long underwear) to try to enjoy winter in Chicago (which really hasn’t been that bad this year). Don’t ask me about last February, when I got to know my roof very well—day-after-day-after-day—trying to clear an ice dam.
So….I ventured out to Sand Ridge Nature Center yesterday to embrace winter—and I had a splendid time. I loved my visit because:
I had a great hike (about 1.5 miles). Sand Ridge’s trails travel through forests of white and black oak, wild black cherry, hickory, sassafras, and black gum; wetlands; prairie; savannas; and the remnants of what was once the shoreline of Lake Chicago (which covered most of what we now know as Cook County after the end of the last great Ice Age). I first hiked the 1-mile Dogwood Trail, which alternated between dirt paths and wooden boardwalks (both covered with snow), taking me through forest and frozen ponds and wetlands. Then I hiked the Pines Trail (0.3 miles) and a portion of the 1.5-mile Long Beach Trail. One word of warning: The trails were icy, so be sure to wear boots with good cleats or use crampons. Here’s a trail map link.
Sans one other intrepid Chicagoland winter-Olympian (OK, I’m just having fun here; I did nothing special), I was all alone in the woods, frozen-over ponds and wetlands, and prairies of the preserve. It’s wonderful to be alone in nature.
I got the chance to check out the remodeled nature center, which has exhibits about the natural and human history of the area, kids play and activity areas (both indoors and outdoors), and exhibits that feature frogs, snakes, turtles, and fish. Great job, Forest Preserves of Cook County.
I was able to enjoy some of the bluest sky and most interesting sun-scapes I’ve seen in awhile. The sun went from being a strange moon-like dot in the sky to becoming superpowered because of the light refraction amidst the frigid temps.
I was able to read some nature-oriented poems from famous and rising authors that the nature center had posted in the tundra.
I had a wonderful moment with a Great Horned Owl. I expected the owl to look at me and move away but, instead, I got a hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo—twice—which I learned is a territorial call, but there was no Manifest Destiny on my mind, just a love for our beautiful outdoor creatures. I heard two hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo in a few minutes, which made me happy.
There are 58 days until spring. Until then, let’s embrace winter in Chicagoland. Take a hike, go snowshoeing, or drag out those cross county skis. I hope to see you on the trails.
Sand Ridge Nature Center is a wonderful destination year round. Check out my article, “Sand Ridge Nature Center: Indoor and Outdoor Education and Fun in All Seasons,” for more information.
SAND RIDGE NATURE CENTER FACTS
Open (nature center building): March-October: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Fridays; November-February: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Fridays
The nature center and grounds are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
No fishing or dogs allowed.
There is ample parking.
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes
Looking for some great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more. The book has 306 pages and 210+ photos and is only $18.99.
ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school. Stories about my work have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Southtown, Beverly Review, and Practical Homeschooling.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).
My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.