The Clearest Way

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” — John Muir
I love being part of nature and take several hikes through the woods when time allows me to slip away. I’m usually alone, but sometimes when I get lucky, one or two of my kids will come along. I like to learn about the history, and what stories lay beyond the brush. One my favorite places to explore is an area where in the early 1800’s, a portion of the Potawatomi would often winter. The tribe would split up into smaller groups as not to deplete the land of all its resources. I try to visualize what that must have been like, being part of the forest rich with bounty, men hunting deer, fox and other indigenous species to bring back to their families. As time moved on, so did the history of the land. The mid 1800s ushered in families from Germany and Ireland. The land the Potawatomi honored, was parceled off and soon became a thriving community with a main road into town, beautiful homes, a school, a church and a cemetery where the locals would meet after their Sunday services. There they had picnics and swam in the lagoon. Vestiges of the homes that once stood now dot the woods, with small areas of long buried foundation that peak out from the forest floor. The cemetery is still there, maintained by the Forest Preserve district. Most of the inhabitants have been moved to other cemeteries, but stone markers can still be found. It’s quite beautiful and as I walk, I feel the history soak up through my bones, although everything surrounding the cemetery has been consumed by nature, keeping the secrets of what was. Going forward in time to the 1920s, the old main road was rumored to be a drop off point for bodies Al Capone and crew needed to dispose of. The road ran adjacent to an open sewer system that floated to the lagoon, where the families of the previous century would picnic and swim.
As time moved on, legends grew of hauntings, houses floating in the distance deep into the woods, ghostly horseman charging at you while walking up the main path, and apparitions seated on grave stones. The tv show, Ghost Adventures, even claimed this area to be one of the scariest and most haunted. It’s sad really. I can tell you first hand the hype is just that.
When I walk deep into this forest I see beauty. This is my quiet place. This is where I do my walking meditations. Trees wrap around each other, forming arcs like natural trellises which are welcoming, leaving you feeling enchanted. There are areas that are filled with may apple which are shaded under the thick canopy of trees. There are crazy looking mushrooms, wild garlic, and onions. Sometimes if you’re really paying attention, you will see deer. The stream is filled with fish, clams and a colorful array of insects. The lagoon has native frogs that haven’t been wiped out by bullfrogs! The prairie flowers align the main path and put on a spectacular show by midsummer. This is place of beauty and solace. This is where I find my center, again and again.

So, I ask you to take some time and walk through the endless forest paths that Illinois has to offer. Let yourself experience what a walking meditation feels like. Carve out the time and know there is no place else you need to be and know that taking time for yourself is okay. Nature has a way of wiping the lens of your mind clean, leaving you to see things more clearly.

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