I’m saying goodbye to this land that I’ve loved and nurtured, and that has nurtured me back.
We arrived in June 2009 to a sterile, weedy landscape. Morning glory vines had overrun all of the landscape beds, their long tendril roots anchored firmly through the landscape fabric that smothered the soil. Transforming this property into an oasis of nature in suburban Chicago has been a labor of love so generously rewarded that I don’t even know where to start. Nature just needs a little space, a little relief from human pressure and control, and She will take care of the rest.
We pulled out the morning glory, the Japanese barberry, the privet, buckthorn, garlic mustard, and more. Over the years, I’ve planted natives in their place; Indian grass, little bluestem, prairie dropseed, spicebush, black chokecherry, birches, and oaks. In the traditional landscape beds, beebalm, prairie smoke, blazing star, coneflowers, woodland sunflower, wild geraniums, and spiderwort bloom in the soil freed from the fabric. Butterflies and caterpillars come in droves; monarchs, swallowtails, tussock moth caterpillars, dagger moth caterpillars, and swallowtail caterpillars. The songbirds raised brood after brood on this bounty (it takes 6,000-9,000 caterpillars to raise a nest of chickadees). Yet, somehow there were still enough for them to transform into moths and butterflies.
There are chickadees, wrens, house finches, sparrows (white-crowned, tree, white-throated, song, and more), catbirds, blue-grey gnatcatchers, cardinals, juncoes, orioles, goldfinches, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, red-breasted woodpeckers, flickers, and more. There are more than 50 species of birds on my backyard list. Every year, someone new shows up.
I dug up part of the lawn in the front yard to plant ferns, Virginia bluebells, wild ginger, side oats gamma (grass), butterfly weed, foxglove beardtongue, and New Jersey tea. Our resident mallard pair nested here in its first year. A song sparrow laid her beautiful spotted eggs in the low bush of the NJ tea.
Under the bird feeders at night, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and coyotes come out of the shadows the dine on the spilled seed. They were always respectful (even the raccoons!) and never caused trouble (my dogs might disagree). Grey and fox squirrels planted peanuts in the most unusual places. I let a few plants grow and, in the fall, dug them up and put the new peanuts back in the feeder.
Deer wander through. A rare red fox was always exciting. Coyotes were regular visitors, befriending a couple of our dogs and figuring out the others (all bark, no bite).
We didn’t mow along the pond shoreline initially for erosion control. I started planting prairie grasses and forbs. Rob took to burning it in the spring. Over the years, sedges and flowers took over and crowded out the turfgrass, morning glory, and canary reed grass.
Muskrats and beavers came. American toads have populous spring mating gatherings despite the substantial population of large bullfrogs (they’ll eat just about anything they can get their mouths around).
We have a regular Great Blue Heron who, of all the wildlife here, raises the ire of my Vizsla, Bridger, like no other. The Great Blue Heron ignores that crazy barking dog and just fishes the opposite shoreline. A pair of osprey have been nesting nearby, and for the last few years, our pond is a regular fishing spot for them. They soar, hover, and then dive, piercing the water in a spectacle of stealth and power.
I could go on for pages telling the stories of all the ways this land has given back to me, all of the ways its saved me, inspired me, guided me and taught me.
I am writing today from my front porch in the cool breeze a late March day, a blanket on my lap and my dog curled at my side. The spring sun is hot, warming the ground, spurring all that lies dormant through the winters. A cardinal song floats in from across the street. The bluebird pair is back, checking out their old nest box. A woodpecker calls from my right, always sounding urgent and alarmed. The crocuses are ablaze in their bright purples and yellows, always the first to pierce the gray of the early spring landscape. The noise from gas-powered engines from distance lawn equipment intrudes into my peace. A house sparrow eyes me from the edge of a naked lilac bush chattering in a one-bird show just for the sake of her song.
I get up and wander. I can’t help but pull the sprouting lawn grass from the landscaping and the creeping jenny that is so easy to control now, but if left unchecked, it will be a monoculture carpet by July. I do it for the land and for myself. To help whatever is in store next for this place. A family of five is moving in. Will they be too busy raising little kids or, will they embrace this outdoor classroom. Will they feed the birds? Will they tolerate the coyotes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and beavers long enough to see that they peacefully share the land. Whatever the future holds here, for a time, it was a thriving habitat, a respite for Nature in the middle of suburban Chicago.
There is something else out there calling me. A new place where I will thrive. A new relationship with the land and the wild to begin. But first, a stop in a rental house on a sliver of congested land. But I hear there’s a resident fox in the neighborhood. And so I leave this land that I love, but take it with me in my heart.
Subscribe here to receive an email whenever a new blog posts.