Tuesday, October 28, 2008

ROADTRIP: Chicago Wilderness & the Grove

Introduction: As a native midwesterner, autumn rarely feels official until I have breathed in the cool, crisp air of the north and feasted on views of golden sugar maples and russet burr oaks. This year was no different than most, my natural wanderlust led me back home to northern Illinois.

Historically, northeastern Illinois is home to the beautiful duneslands of Lake Michigan, wide reaching prairies, and open oak-hickory forests. Both little pockets (e.g., Sunbury prairie) and large expanses (e.g., Illinois beach state park, Fermilab prairie) of these habitats can still be found in and around Chicagoland. In fact, Chicagoans are so proud of their surrounding parklands that a quarterly magazine, Chicago Wilderness, devotedly highlights local hiking opportunties and natural phenomena.

The Grove: One of Chicagoland's natural and historic gems is the Grove, located north of Chicago in Glenview, IL. The Grove not only maintains an impressive interpretive center full of live local fauna and Native American artifacts, but also offers guided tours of two historic homes: the Kennicott House, built in 1856 and the Redfield House, completed in 1929. Moreover, the dedicated Grove staff offers family programs, natural history hikes, and living history tours of an 1830s log cabin and a recreated long house. These historic sites are surrounded by over 123 acres of savannah, oak-hickory forest and both permanent and ephemeral wetlands accessible by a network of hiking trails.

The Grove's two major historic attractions (the Kennicott House and Redfield House) both offer strong links to local natural history. The Kennicott House was home to area naturalist Robert Kennicott (1835-1866) who collected local natural history specimens for Spencer Baird at the Smithsonian Museum and helped establish the Chicago Academy of Sciences. Robert Kennicott got the entire family involved in his nature escapades -- his sister Alice was a great shot and helped collect avian specimens, Cora would walk in the tall grass and shake insects off her long antebellum skirts onto a sheet, while Robert's dad, Dr. John Kennicott, would publish a passionate defense of snakes in The Prairie Farmer. Robert Kennicott went on to explore Alaska, where he died of congestive heart failure at the young age of 30.

The Redfield House, a beautiful prairie style home designed by George Grant Elmslie and completed in 1929, was the hideaway of writers Donald Culross Peattie and Louise Redfield Peattie. Donald Culross Peattie, a beloved nature writer, is probably best known for his lyrical book, A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America, which poetically and practically describes each tree in turn. Another jewel among Peattie's numerous books is A Prairie Grove, which takes the reader on a journey through history at the Grove.

The Redfield House, The Grove, Glenview, IL

Conclusion: Need a little getaway? Want to enjoy a northern autumn? Take a trip to Chicago. Enjoy first rate museums, like the Field Museum, Art Institute and the Museum of Science and Industry, then explore Chicagoland's natural beauty. Visit oak-hickory forests, fascinating dunelands, and prairie patches. And, if you have the chance, visit the Grove -- bring along Peattie's A Prairie Grove or An Almanac for Moderns, bring along your own nature journal and explore.

1 comment:

John Dancy-Jones said...

Great post, and hope your trip was as good. I have bookmarked these links and I hope to make the trip you suggest! Cara is from northern Ohio and misses it every time the thermometer hits 85. In Raleigh, we are lucky to have tiny gems of prairie re-emerging at the NCMNS's Prairie Ecology Center and the prairie meadow on the NC Museum of Art campus