A few weeks back, the mallard made her way to the bay from the hosta bed nearest our house, where she had, improbably, chosen to build her nest. That corner of the garden went unweeded for a month. Then one morning, tiny ducklings crowded close on their mother’s tail for their first swim. I counted five. I won’t count again. The great horned owls had begun, as they always do, searching out nests of their own in late February, sending five-note night calls through the still woods across the lane. They will be a dark presence through high summer, swift and silent in flight. Though fascinating to glimpse on the wing, their hunts are terrible to see and hear. Unconcerned, the great blue herons have been fishing off the dock for some time. And from our vantage point, we’ve counted four deer, one raccoon, one coyote, one woodchuck and enough Canada geese of various ages to populate a good portion of the state. The Monarch butterflies and the screech owls are overdue. The mergansers have moved on. It’s in this way, as much as by the calendar, that we mark our seasons. All of us, really. Whether we live in country, suburb or city — and whether we pay any mind or no — the birds, the animals, the wild places of Illinois, however changed at our hands, continue to define time and space. If we will pause to see and hear, they can help us to learn who we are, and our place in this world. For these reasons, each year at this time we celebrate the nature of Illinois, and offer some warnings about what could be lost. This is our sixth such issue. Enjoy. And savor the summer.
Illinois Issues, July/August 2001