I make an effort to get out into nature as often as possible. With our little prairie and woods nearby, it’s possible almost every day. Larger natural areas—Forest Glen, Fox Ridge, Spitler Woods, etc.—are within easy driving distance.

Trunk of fallen tree conforming to the contour of the ground in Forest Glen.

With my focus having been on nature for a long time, I was interested to read this piece in The Guardian:

In recent years, stressed-out urbanites have been seeking refuge in green spaces, for which the proven positive impacts on physical and mental health are often cited in arguments for more inner-city parks and accessible woodlands. The benefits of “blue space” – the sea and coastline, but also rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls, even fountains – are less well publicised, yet the science has been consistent for at least a decade: being by water is good for body and mind.

Source: Blue spaces: why time spent near water is the secret of happiness

We do have some water right here where we live. There’s the little creek that runs behind Winfield Village and a couple of little detention ponds, and they do have some wildlife. I often see turtles, snakes, groundhogs, and many sorts of birds. I’ve occasionally seen mink, coyotes, and bald eagles.

I do feel the lack of a beach. The closest is Indiana Dunes, but it’s nearly 3 hours away. I’ve done it as a day trip, but it makes for kind of a long day.

Great Blue Heron departing detention pond near Lake Park Woods.

The article makes for a good reminder to be sure to include blue when you’re making sure you get out into the green.

I don’t know when I quit crawling. Probably around first grade. I’m not sure why, either. Because it was something babies did, and I was grown up, I expect.

I don’t remember my parents trying to get me to quit crawling, but I’ve seen other parents try to convince their children to stay off the ground, in the interests of either propriety or cleanliness.

At any rate, most people who crawled all the time before they were five years old have so completely lost the habit it doesn’t even occur to them as a possible way to get under or through something.

When I trained with the local parkour group, the first thing the group practiced was quadrupedal movement—crawling on hands and feet.

After that practice session, I added quadrupedal movement to my own practice, and the first time I went out to do it, Jackie decided to come with me.

(It happened like this: I told Jackie I was going to go play in the woods. “What are you going to do?” she asked. “Crawl and roll on the ground,” I said. “Can I come?”)

We did some rolling, both just rolling sideways and shoulder rolls. We also did some crawling, both prone (bear crawl) and supine (crab crawl).

The actual amount of time spent crawling was pretty small—I doubt if it added up to as much as 5 minutes—but it turned out to be a surprisingly successful bit of practice, because just in the week since then, it has usefully informed the way we dealt with obstacles repeatedly.

The first time was last week at Fox Ridge State Park. At one point the trail was blocked by some fallen trees. There was more than one trunk, making the geometry a bit complex for climbing over. There was enough space underneath the bottom trunk that it would almost have been possible to just do a “step under” move, except we were wearing packs, meaning that we needed another eight or ten inches of clearance.

If I hadn’t just practiced crawling, I don’t think it would have occurred to me that the easiest way to get under the trunks was to crawl on my hands and feet. We’d probably have done something complex, like both take our packs off, have me step under the barrier, handed both packs through (or over), and then have Jackie follow under the barrier.

With the recent reminder that crawling is simple and effective, that’s what we did. I tried to step under, found that there wasn’t clearance for my pack, so crouched down further, put my hands on the ground, and crawled on through. Took about five seconds. Got my hands a little dirty. Worked great.

Yesterday we hiked the backpacking trail at Forest Glen, which presented a problem for which supine crawling made an excellent solution.

steep pathIt’s hard to capture the steepness of this bit of trail in a photo. Not only was the trail steep, it was also wet, and the mud was slippery.

Jackie went down first, and quickly found that the combination of steep and slippery made it too dangerous to attempt to go down bipedally. She dropped down and did an inverted foot-hand crawl (aka supine crawl or crab crawl). It made for a quick, efficient, safe way down the steep bit in the path.

I followed behind, just the same way.

Rediscover quadrupedal movement. Besides being a way to get under or through something, it’s also very stable—perfect for dealing with loose, rugged, steep, uneven, or slippery ground.

Turkey vulture feather

Jackie’s Spinners and Weavers guild had an event at Forest Glen today. It’s an annual event called Dye Day, where they mix up half a dozen pots with natural dyes and all the members can bring in some fiber to dye with walnut husks or goldenrod or cochineal or indigo or whatever.

Because we were going to be at Forest Glen, I seized the opportunity to go for a trail run.

It was a great run. I ran a section of the same backpacking trail Jackie and I had walked back in July, beginning at the same point (near the Gannett Center). My plan was to run out on the trail for 30 minutes, then turn around and run back. That was probably a bit ambitious, given that it’s my first trail run of the year, and that I’ve only had about three runs so far this summer that hit the 60 minute mark, but I was pretty sure it was doable, and that as long as I didn’t try to hurry, I’d probably be fine.

And, in fact, I was.

I saw two deer—or very possibly the same deer twice. At any rate, he looked very annoyed when, having run off after catching sight of me, I came at him from another direction when my trail took me around behind a hill and then right up to the very spot where he’d run off to.

I also saw a stufflebeam, who galumphed at a reasonably high rate of speed back into the underbrush when I threatened to get between him and that safety.

But the best thing I saw was a large flock of turkey vultures, that were all roosting together in a big tree that overhangs the trail.

Turkey vulture feather
Turkey vulture feather

Like the deer and the stufflebeam, the vultures were not happy to have a runner come upon them suddenly. As I passed under their tree, first one and then another leapt from their branch and took off into the air, beating their wings with a power that isn’t so apparent when they’re soaring.

But there weren’t just two or three vultures. As I slowed, startled by the first birds’ explosive launches, they continued taking flight, no longer one at a time, now taking flight in groups of two or three at a time. At least twenty very large birds took off from that tree in the 5 or 10 seconds it took me to pass under it.

It was spectacular.

It was early enough in my run that I didn’t want to stop and gawk, even to see the birds climb into the air to join their fellows who were already soaring, although I enjoyed what I could see of it.

It was hard to beat that little adventure, although the deer and Mr. Stufflebeam did their best, as did the forest scenery and the trail itself.

The backpacking trail is only marked to be followed in the forward direction, so it’s easy to get off track if you try to follow it in reverse, and I did go off course for a bit as I tried to return. After a few minutes of bushwhacking I saw where I’d gone wrong and worked back just enough to get back on track.

Running the trail as an out-and-back meant that I passed once again under the vulture-roosting tree—and it turned out that quite a few vultures had decided that 9:00 AM was too early to be up soaring, and had returned to roost some more. Once again, they launched themselves into the air. This time I slowed down to watch, and finally stopped near the trunk of the tree.

One vulture, either lazier or more confident of his safety up on a branch maybe 20 feet above the trail, decided not to bother taking off, giving me a good look at his red head and vulturous posture.

Roughly under him, I found the feather pictured above, which I assume based on its location and size is a turkey vulture feather. From the shape, I’m assuming it’s a primary flight feather (although I don’t know my feather morphology as well as all that).

I picked it up and carried it a short distance to a sunny spot where I could get a good photo with my phone. (I hadn’t brought my good camera.)

From there it was less than a mile back to the trail head.

According to my GPS thingy, I ran 4.523 miles in 1:14:44, giving me a 16:39 pace. My old GPS thingy—a first generation Timex Bodylink—isn’t nearly as good as a modern GPS device, and tends to have trouble maintaining a satellite lock under a forest canopy, so it doesn’t get as many waypoints as it might. That tends to cheat me out of credit for my full mileage. (The device assumes that I’ve run a straight line between one fix and the next. When the device fails to get a lock for many seconds at a time, it treats my run as cutting a straight line, even though I was following a twisty path.) Still, 4.523 miles is the best number I’ve got, so that’s what I’m going with.

I headed back to the Spinners and Weaver’s guild event, got out my folding chair, and sat down to rehydrate. Turkey vultures—almost certainly the same ones I’d startled into the air—were circling overhead. One of Jackie’s guildmates turned to me and said, “I guess they’ve figured out we’re dying down here.”

Great to be out on the trails again. I will have to find a way to run more trails before the end of the season.

Jackie looking back along the trail.

Jackie and I went for a hike at Forest Glen today.

There was a Spinners and Weavers Guild event there, and our plan was to go early, go for a hike that would take 4 or maybe 5 hours, and then get back in time for a late lunch and a couple hours at the event.

Turns out, our timetable was a bit optimistic.

For one thing, having failed to get all packed up the night before, we left an hour later than we’d intended. Plus, getting to the venue took a bit longer than we’d planned. So, instead of starting our hike around 8:00 AM, we didn’t hit the trail until about 9:15. On top of that, our hike ended up taking a full 6 hours, instead of the 4–5 we’d planned.

Our socializing after ended up being with just the last 6 or so die-hard spinners.

Jackie climbing a ridge.

Still, it was a great hike. Unlike our urban walks, Forest Glen is non-flat.

It’s kind of hard to see in that picture (click through for a larger version), but Jackie is there right in the middle, hiking up the side of the ridge.

There’s not a huge amount of elevation change, but the trail makes good use of what there is. According to Endomondo, we stayed between 407 and 644 feet above sea level, and yet we managed a total ascent of 1330 feet and a total descent of 1287 feet.

There’s quite a bit of wildlife in and around Forest Glen. In trips past we’ve seen owls, several kinds of woodpeckers, turkeys, vultures, pheasants, and deer. We saw several of those this trip as well, but we also saw something that was common when I was a boy, but has been quite rare in my experience for more than twenty years: a box turtle.

Box turtle just off the path at Forest Glen.

Apparently the Forest Glen box turtle population has been at some risk—a few years ago, tens of box turtles were found dead, all in the same area. They’ve done quite a bit of research on what happened without a definitive result, but the best guess is that some infectious disease took them, possibly passed to many individuals when a large number of turtles were caught and then held together for a local charity event that included a turtle race.

Apparently the local organizers have agreed to drop the turtle race, as a way to protect the turtles. (The race had been held for 49 years without incident, but so many dead turtles all at once was a strong sign that there was a problem.)

A great hike, albeit a bit tiring, and some very pleasant (albeit a bit brief) socializing after. Here’s the details on Endomondo:

If you’re familiar with Forest Glen, it might look as though we hiked the backpacking trail, but we didn’t—because that would have been against the rules, which require that you register a week in advance and pay a fee. Instead, what we did is scout several segments (well, all the segments) of the backpacking trail in advance of some future hike. Before trying this trail with a backpack full of camping gear, we thought it would best to know just how rugged it was and how hard it was to follow the markings. (And it’s good that we did. Our urban walking has not quite conditioned us adequately to manage this trail safely with camping gear. We’d have almost certainly made it, but several spots would have been tough—maybe even dangerous—if we’d been carrying heavy packs. Also, we did miss one turn. By the time we’d backtracked and gotten back on the trail, we’d added a good half a mile to our total distance.)

My sore calf never hurt throughout the hike, although I could just perceive the injured spot as slightly tight, slightly tender on some of the more aggressive downhill bits of the hike.

Tomorrow will be a rest day. If today’s activities don’t produce any soreness, maybe I’ll try a short run on Monday.

A perfect day for a hike, so we went to the Forest Glen Preserve, where we not only got our hike, we got it with extra wildlife.

We scoped out several trails, with an eye toward bring Jackie’s mom with us later in the spring. We thought the trail we hiked on last year, the Big Woods trail, would be too rugged, so we wanted to evaluate some of the other trails as possible alternatives.

The first trail we tried was the Beach Grove trail, which is short (about a third of a mile) and paved. It’s marked as being handicapped accessible, although seemed a bit rugged for someone in a wheelchair or scooter. It’s the trail where we saw these deer!

After that, we moved on to the Willow Creek trail. It’s probably closer to what we want for Barbara. It’s not paved, it’s longer (about a mile), and it’s got some change in elevation (without being as rugged as the Big Woods trail). It also had some wildlife! We saw a red-bellied woodpecker before we even got on the trail. Then, just past the trail head, I saw what I assumed would be a hawk—except once he landed right in front of us, I was able to see that it was a barred owl. He sat there for a while, turning his head to look at us, and then off to the side to give us a profile view, and flew off silently the way owls do. We also saw a whole big flock of wild turkeys. They were too coy for me to get a photo of, but near the trail head, we’d seen this guy in a big pen.

Back on one of the park roads, we saw a big male ring-necked pheasant.

The Big Woods trail leads to an observation tower that we hadn’t climbed on our previous hike, but there’s an easier way to get there, hiking up an “official vehicles only” access road. We hiked up there and climbed to the top of the observation tower, which gave us a great view of the surroundings, and also a particularly good view of the turkey vultures that were soaring all around at just about the same height as the observation platform, often coming close enough that we could see the red of their heads. (Despite the great view we had, I didn’t manage to get a worthwhile picture of the vultures.)

All in all, a great outing, and I think we have a plan for when we bring Barbara—the Willow Creek trail, followed by the Beach Grove trail if we’re all up for more hiking after.

Jackie and I went to the Forest Glen Preserve, a nature preserve in eastern Illinois, over near the Indiana border.

We scouted the campgrounds, because the local Esperanto group is planning to some tendumado. We found two, although there’s at least one more.

One is a pretty ordinary Midwestern campground with a mixture of tents and RVs. It was pretty full, but only as crowded as you’d expect on Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend. It had showers and flush toilets, firewood on sale, etc.

Near that one (but far enough away that noise wouldn’t be a problem) was the “tent campground.” It was different in that it didn’t have parking spaces for the campsites. There was an area just a few yards away where you could leave your car for up to 20 minutes to unload, and then you were supposed to move it to a parking area that was still really quite close—I’ve carried my luggage further in a hotel. Still, it seemed to be enough to discourage campers. Even Memorial Day weekend, there was nobody there—sixteen vacant campsites. (It did lack flush toilets. Also, the recent rain had left some of the campsites under water, although the dry sites were also vacant.)

Once we’d scouted the campgrounds, we went for a hike. We picked the Big Woods trail, which a posted list had described as the most rugged of the preserve’s trails. We took that with a grain of salt. Here in the flatland, pretty much any change in elevation seems to qualify a trail as rugged,  but it was somewhat rugged. The train went down twice into ravines, then back up again, and ended at an observation tower at what I assume is the high point of the preserve.

We saw plenty of neat stuff—sugar maples and tulip trees, white oak, sassafras, ferns, various kinds of mushrooms. (I saw what might be the tallest sassafras tree I’ve ever seen. It was huge. I usually think of sassafras as being scrubby little things.)

The trail was muddy, but only very muddy in a few places (plus, of course, the places where it crossed running water). We ran into three very wet, dirty guys with tools who said they’d been doing trail maintenance.

The trail was only a little more than 1 mile, but out-and-back so we got in maybe 2 ¼ miles of hiking.

We left it at just that much hiking, because we still needed to go to the Viking Reenactment, which was the reason that we were visiting Forest Glen this weekend in particular.

Two of the reenactors seemed to focus on fiber crafts. One is a member of the spinners and weavers guild, and was using some of Jackie’s handspun yarn to demonstrate weaving with a warp-weighted loom. We had a fun chat.

The other fiber-crafty person told us about her theory of mud-colored peasants. Many reenactors, she said, end up with clothing in colors of sheep, because dyeing fabric is another whole skill that you need to learn—and making your own natural dyes is two or three more skills (growing or gathering dye plants, and learning how to prepare them for dye use). However, in her experience meeting actual modern-day poor peasants, even the really poor ones go to considerable effort to not be the color of mud. Hence, she proposed, actual Viking-era villagers probably wore clothing that was as brightly colored as possible, within the limits of the natural dyes that were available to them. (They had several sources of yellow, yellowish green, red, and purplish red. Blue was available. A really good green was tricky, because you had to get a good yellow and then overdye with blue.)

Despite her theories, all the other reenactors seemed to be wearing clothing in natural colors.

What with scouting and hiking and viking, it was already lunch time. We had lunch at Gross’ Burgers, then headed home (pausing just a bit at a rest stop to let a severe thunderstorm pass).

A good outing.