Last weekend we finally had the inspection for the farm we’re in the process of buying. After scooting around in the crawlspace, learning all about geothermal systems, and introducing ourselves to some very skeptical chickens, we decided to head south for an early November hike.
A lot of people think Illinois is totally flat & filled with nothing but cornfields. This couldn’t be further from the truth! As soon as you cross I-64, the smooth northern prairies suddenly explode into steep hills and limestone bluffs left untouched by Ice Age glaciers. Keep traveling south and you’ll eventually wind up in a huge river delta where large swathes of forest and swamp have been preserved by the National Park System.
On this rainy, chilly day we decided to visit the swamps! It was perfect actually, because the cold weather knocked the bugs back & the rain kept most other hikers away. It also made my hair frizz up like a chia pet. Fun.
We hiked just 5 miles or so around the Cache River and met three champion trees in the process: the state’s biggest cypress tree (over 1,100 years old), the state’s biggest cherry bark oak (probably older), and the state’s biggest swamp tupelo. Each is growing in a grove of virgin forest – rare for these parts – so it felt like being in a fairy tale. Or Jurassic Park, as my husband insisted. He did have a point – it was pretty primordial to stand under the canopy of these ancient sentinels, some of whom were saplings during The Crusades, listening to leaves gently falling & owls’ hoots echoing across the swamp as the sun set. We felt small and insignificant in the most miraculous of ways.
The colors in the swamp were totally unexpected; it’s the tail-end of autumn, so we thought most of the leaves would be gone already. Instead, the bright yellow-green colors of the tupelo groves popped against the damp, dark tree bark. Their leaves dotted the surface of the water like confetti. The cypress trees were shedding bits of bark on their knobby roots, revealing a kaleidoscope of oranges and greys…even purples! All the while cypress needles were drifting down and landing in our hair like angel’s feathers. Amazing.
Later this winter, we plan on coming back with a canoe and spending the day puttering around. We were told that the duckweed ‘blooms’ into a sea of beautiful green, which will be a sorely missed color come January. Maybe we’ll finally be settled on our farm by then??? (Keeping fingers crossed.)