“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” — John Milton
Did you make a New Year’s resolution? One of mine is to visit nearby prairies and natural areas I’ve overlooked. Today, it’s Ferson Creek Fen Nature Preserve, in the western Chicago suburb of St. Charles.
I have a soft spot for preserves with a mosaic of different habitats. Ferson Creek Fen ticks off a lot of boxes. Restored prairie.
The Fox River.
And yes—a namesake fen. What is a fen, you might ask? Here, think of low lands with peaty soil (usually alkaline—in this case—calcareous) that flood, brimming with wet-loving plants.
A boardwalk stretches through part of the preserve, protecting the sensitive wetlands. You can see the Fox River as a sliver of light in the distance.
It’s quiet in the 50-degree weather of this early January day. Our winter coats feel unnecessary.
A gull flies upstream.
Ice drifts in the current, not yet melted in the bright sun.
Downstream, a few kayakers brave the frigid water. The wetlands are painted with freeze and frost in the shadows. Cold is relative, when the sun is shining unexpectedly and the air teasingly whispers “spring.”
The warm planks of the boardwalk offer secure footing in the sunlight.
A steady hum of traffic to the west, punctuated by the squeaky calls of a white-breasted nuthatch nearby, compose the soundtrack for our hike. In the distance, Jeff and I see half a dozen unknown birds roosting in a tree. We step off the boardwalk to investigate. Hoping for something unusual, we plunge ahead on the grassy trail and discover…
…a tree full of….
…common mourning doves.
They fly up at our approach, and despite myself, I marvel at the gradation of pastel colors in their feathers, dotted with inky black. The pink feet. Their eyes like polished jet-black beads. I remember my grandmother, a science teacher, teaching me the call of the mourning dove. It was the first bird call I ever learned.
It’s a good reminder for me. There is beauty in the ordinary.
Complexity in everyday things.
All we have to do to is look. Take a moment to reflect. Remember.
And be grateful.
John Milton (1608-1674) was a British poet and writer, best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost. He also wrote the speech, Areopagitica, in a time of political and religious unrest (1644), an argument for freedom of speech, of the press, and of expression. He eventually went blind (probably from untreated glaucoma) in his late forties, then was imprisoned by a hostile regime and forced to leave his home. His poetry and works on religion and politics continue to be read long after his death.
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby at Ferson Creek Fen Nature Preserve, St. Charles, IL (top to bottom) common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with unknown aster seedheads; remains of an unknown sunflower; ice on duckweed (probably common duckweed Lemna minor, but could be greater duckweed Spirodela polyrhiza or star duckweed (Lemna trisulca) and cattail base (Typha, either common latifolia, narrow-leaved angustifolia or hybrid xglauca); floodplain forest; the Fox River in January; view from the boardwalk; boardwalk through the nature preserve; Fox River reflections in January; unidentified gull flying downstream on the Fox River; ice floes on the Fox River; view from the boardwalk; probably a red oak (Quercus rubra) leaf on the boardwalk; grassy trail; mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) roosting in a tree; willow pinecone gall made by the gall midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides); cattails (Typha latifolia, angustifolia, or xglauca) backlit by the sunlight.
Thanks to John Heneghan and Tricia Lowery for telling us about the preserve!