Like so many people, I’d planned to get away this summer. That’s right, I — the girl who walks to work, and considers a drive to Wheaton “pretty far” — thought I’d be leaving the state at some point during June and/or July.
This notion of travel in 2020 actually dates back to last year, when I signed on to serve as a judge for America in Bloom, a nationwide community enhancement organization.
It didn’t take much convincing. Veteran judges spoke glowingly of their experiences evaluating municipalities from coast to coast. They hooked me with tales of towns with scenic vistas and thriving business districts, then reeled me in with that magical phrase, the Pacific Northwest.
If there is one place I’m meant to be, besides Illinois, and possibly the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it is that glorious area of the country. Plus, AIB would pick up the tab and make the arrangements — details that sealed the deal for this inexpert traveler.
Since actual itineraries would be dependent on which communities would be participating in AIB’s annual awards program, I tucked the idea of sightseeing at the back of my brain.
But on more than one occasion this past winter I drifted off to sleep with dreams of the Cascades, Pike Place Market, the Olympic Peninsula, the Columbia River Gorge, Powell’s Books …
Then along came covid.
In March AIB took a wait-and-see approach. But in April they announced, using that now familiar term, “an abundance of concern,” that they would be cancelling all 2020 community visits, including the national symposium in October in Washington, MO.
Bye bye, Portland. See ya later Seattle. And farewell, bucket-list trip to WashMo to tour the Missouri Meerschaum corn cob pipe factory.
But you know what? Thanks to a little impromptu excursion the other day, I feel like I just got back from a vacation. I’m sitting here looking at all the lovely photos I took during a trip to … and I’ll pause in case you want to get a pen and write this down … Delnor Woods Park in St. Charles.
I kid you not, this gem of a community park has it all. Trails, trees, water, wildlife, all packed into a neat 45-acre bundle just off Route 25.
I started my tour around 2:30 in the afternoon with a stop beneath the recently rebuilt manmade dam. The pools there teemed with mosquitofish, a species that was introduced years ago to eat, you guessed it, mosquito larvae. Toddlers with nets were splashing around while I was there, but I’ll bet if you go earlier in the day, like maybe dawn, you could find a green heron stalking breakfast.
From there I walked past the Timeless Tags memorial, a giant dog upon which people can hang the tags of their dearly departed pets, then veered to the south to check out the non-manmade dam that was built by a family of beavers last spring.
But waist-high vegetation and my poor choice of footwear (flip-flops, which are great when its 90 degrees out but bad for bushwhacking) had me reconsider, and I instead opted for viewing the pollinator action at a stand of Monarda (a.k.a. bee balm or wild bergamot).
Bumble bees drew my eye to the shaggy pink flowers, but I was delighted to see a number of other insects flitting and fluttering there, too. A snowberry clearwing moth, which looks like a cross between a bumblebee and a hummingbird) was sampling nectar, as were a silver-sided skipper (small and butterfly-like, with a furry, moth-like body and erratic flight) and a number of small bees and flies.
I grabbed a few photos, as well as some video of the faster-moving subjects that, try as I might, were just too fast for my limited photography skill set. I then continued eastward to take some more pictures … this time of the enormous white oak tree that stands to the south of the paved path.
This beauty is 300 years old if it’s a day, and due to a lack of wind (read: stifling heat) stood obligingly still for pictures. As I snapped away, I heard not just one or two but at least three and maybe more blue jays calling back and forth.
Some calls were distinctly more jay-like than others, and it didn’t take long to figure out that I was eavesdropping on an exchange between parents and fledglings. From what I could gather, the youngsters were hungry and the parents were working as fast as they could but, darn it, food doesn’t grow on trees. Or something like that.
With the sun blazing at its harsh, mid-afternoon angle, it was time to head into the cool shade of the woods. Thanks to the efforts of our restoration crew, Delnor Woods now has several areas that are clear of the buckthorn thickets that used to dominate the park.
You can walk on wood chips, dirt or, in some places, sand (courtesy of glaciers during the last Ice Age) while admiring woodland understory plants like joe pye weed and bottlebrush grass
I snacked on a few black raspberries — a very few, actually, perhaps because our wet May was followed by a dry June — then realized it was time for my trip to end. For the time being.
The great thing about Delnor Woods is that it’s easily accessible. No, it’s not in the shadow of Mount Rainier or Mount Hood, but it also doesn’t require reservations or a lot of preparation. You can stop by pretty much any time and take in the sights and sounds of summer at its finest.
And those are travel plans even I can handle.
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