Wednesday, October 8, 2008

October Walk in the Woods (part 1)

For various reasons, the massive flooding last month, travel, and other busy-ness among them, I realized I'd not been down to the forest preserve in nearly a month! So yesterday before my workout I made time for a hike on some of the trails there.

It is a beautiful time of year to visit - we are a few days short of the peak of fall color, though the deepest part of the woods is still intensely shady and green. I did learn one thing very quickly though - after all the rain and flooding in mid-September the mosquitoes are the worst they have been all summer! They were upon you immediately if you stopped walking, which made taking photos difficult. Fortunately, I wore a sweatshirt, but still had shorts, so my lower legs and hands suffered the worst. The second thing I learned (though it came later after talking to a staffer at the nature center), was to leave all the spectacular reddish undergrowth alone - poison ivy!

The Tekakwitha Forest Preserve has two parts, an upper prairie section, and another of dense hickory-oak forest on the hills down to the Fox River. This time I worked clockwise and hit the prairie section first and shortly after running into the poison ivy, there was a nice section of Queen Anne's Lace. The nice geometrical pattern of the inner small flowers was quite striking, and I think I found me some new desktop wallpaper! Legend has it that the innermost flower is red because Queen Anne needle-pricked her finger while making it, but as these small flowers are not fully open, that center red spot isn't seen here.

As the prairie transitioned into the forest, this little maple was spotted growing out from a fallen branch. The seedling consisted of only 4 leaves, but my-oh-my, what a job it did on those 4! Almost makes you want to transplant that one to the yard for it's annual display!

To wind this post up a bit before it gets too long, I've long noticed that there are a number of vines growing up the trees here, some so thick and firmly attached that some trees actually have bark growing over the vine and it looks like the bulging artery of an athlete under the bark. After documenting some of them I had the opportunity to sit and talk to one of the staffers later at the nature center. The vine with the pretty groups of 5 leaves is Virginia Creeper. The other, with thick vines and aerial roots is poison ivy - a different variety from the prairie version, but equally toxic... Check out the vine, though - so firmly attached with it's auxiliary roots that it couldn't be budged, thus why the tree eventually grows around it... It was great talking to the staff at the center - it was a slow day for them (though I did see a school bus parked at the lot earlier as my walk started), but it was great to have them at full attention to answer all the questions I'd accumulated over the last month since I'd been there. Will have to get back sooner!

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