Saturday, February 5, 2011

A very long day (with few birds to show for it)

With the snow piled up high on every local hiking trail and park, I decided that I wanted to venture farther afield and see the Chicago Botanic Gardens in the wintertime. Sunwiggy and I stopped there briefly last year, on the first weekend in February in fact, on the way back from a disastrous trip to Illinois Beach State Park on the Lake Michigan shoreline north of Chicago. After a VERY long drive, we discovered that the beach was an impassible slick of ice, and instead of the rafts of wintering ducks we'd hoped to find, there was only a large flock of gulls bobbing on the water (watching them was a bit queasy-making in fact). On the way back, we got turned around and somehow found ourselves in Wisconsin. By the time we'd finally stopped at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, I, for one, was not in the best of spirits, and barely glanced at the landscape around me.

And somehow...I decided I wanted to do it all again this year! Not the lake, just the Gardens. I kept thinking how pretty the Japanese garden, especially, would look against the snow. What can I say? February makes me want to do crazy things. (In another two weeks Sunwiggy and I are going to northern Minnesota for the Sax Zim Bog birding festival--northern Minnesota in February? I rest my case. The month drives me insane.)

On the way up, our car started to make some ominous noises (not good...not good at all!), and yet we arrived in one piece. I will spare you Greenturtle's diatribe about the cost of parking at the Gardens. Let's just say it was not at all polite. (For the record, it's $20 per vehicle--so if you're going, cram your car full of as many people as you can!)

The sun was out, and stayed out, despite the weatherman's prediction for clouds, so that the gardens did, indeed, appear as a snowy wonderland.

And to be honest, the Chicago Botanic Gardens are probably a must-see if you're in the area. The book 1000 Gardens to See Before You Die lists these as one of the 1,000, and from what I've seen of botanic gardens, I would have to agree. The Chicago Botanic Garden rocks! Sadly, one must travel to Chicagoland to see them...more on that later.

The first birds I saw were robins, probably attracted by the many fruiting trees, such as this one:

Greenturtle was in charge of the photography, and he didn't want to mess with the zoom lens today, so we have no pictures of the actual birds (and I do apologize for that---I would have gone for the birds), so I want anyone reading this to close his or her eyes and picture the American robin perching in the trees. Do you have a good mental image yet? Excellent! But seriously...why didn't they migrate this year? I am seeing them EVERYWHERE!

As we walked toward the Japanese gardens, I also saw many house sparrows and black capped chickadees, nothing else.

This is me thinking "Where the H-E-double hockeysticks are all the birds???" (Greenturtle told me to smile, but that's what I'm actually thinking.)

As we were leaving the Japanese Garden, we passed the Island of Eternal Happiness, which was originally inspired by the islands off the coast of China, where the Immortals were supposed to dwell:

Such islands were only meant to be viewed and contemplated from afar; if one actually went there, it would defeat the whole purpose. This conceit actually resonates with me deeply. Ever since childhood, I have longed for wild, fey, untamed places, where anything might happen, where we humans, and all our rules and banality, are not welcome, not even understood. Perhaps that is what attracts me to birding, really; I have sometimes thought that birds fulfill my childhood desire to find fairies -- beautiful, unknowable winged creatures; time warps mysteriously when you are in their presence (hours fly unnoticed when I am birding), and after you have known these joys, it is so difficult to be satisfied by mere human pursuits...

Regarding the Isle of Happiness, I thought on these things, and remembered a line from the song "Long Slow Slide" by Jewel, "The worst fear I can imagine/is for the mystery to be named."

As I was lost in these thoughts, Greenturtle was taking pictures of ripples in the snow.

On the way out, one crosses a zig-zag bridge, which is supposed to prevent demons from following (nice to know just in case, I guess):

On a more important note, on the way out, I saw a brown creeper (so adorable!), an American tree sparrow, and a flock of pine siskins. I even saw the siskins eating from the pinecones, and heard their weird, buzzy call. To me it sounds like they're saying, "Ziiiipppp!" But what do I know? I also think that the willow flycatcher says "Whiz bang" instead of the "fitzbew" which is agreed upon by bird enthusiasts.

The only other bird sighting I had, besides a solitary goldfinch flying overhead, was of the inanimate variety.

We had a nice lunch at the garden cafe, and then, the interminable drive home. First, Greenturtle wanted to find a gaming shop in Palatine (a Chicago suburb for all you non-Illinoisans), which we did eventually find, after the inevitable Chicagoland C.F. (trying to find stuff amidst the endless strip malls and McMansion subdivisions is maddening), and then he wanted to avoid the tollroads on the way home.... Which meant that the return trip took forever! Really, it made me wonder why I wanted to go there in the first place. And our car was making ever more horrible noises.

Later, over dinner back home in Bloomington, Greenturtle confessed that being stuck in the suburbs made him feel claustrophobic, like Frodo and Sam lost in the swamps wondering if they would ever escape. Exactly! I was pleased that our experience did some good, for Greenturtle is from the Washington DC area, and was raised in suburbs like that, and has always wondered why I refuse to move there. Because I'm a small-town girl from the mid-West at heart (I moved around a lot growing up but mostly small to medium sized towns) and big city sprawl makes me feel like I'm losing my mind, that's why! I was very happy to know that he can understand where I'm coming from now!

Two other important lessons learned:

One, our car needs attended to right away!
Two, don't go to Chicagoland. I mean, there's a lot of really cool stuff there, but by the time I get home, I always feel like I've been through the wringer. The unbearable traffic!!!!


  1. Oh, you went to the Chicago Gardens! How beautiful it looks in the photos. Especially enjoyed the photo of you! I know exactly how you feel about not wanting the mystery explained. I hope your experiences of the day won't rule out a trip to the Morton Arboretum, say in August, for my birthday? Mom

  2. Well, if it's for your BIRTHDAY....