Monday, April 30, 2007


Receiving instructions, across from the Museum of Science and Industry

Of course I got lost on the way to clean up Jackson Park on Saturday. Oops.

When I arrived I learned that park architect Frederick Law Olmsted never met a foreign species he didn't like, and imported every plant you could imagine from overseas and stuck it in the park. But the biggest threat to the natural oak savanna is invasive species, which can be either local or foreign and will mow down everything in their path if they're not stopped.

So we spent a lot of time cutting down box elder saplings -- you cannot imagine how cathartic this was -- and weeding out garlic mustard, which smells just like you'd think and can be cooked up like collard greens. It actually poisons the soil. I spent most of my time on hands and knees crawling around in the savanna (where the trees are not as thick as in a forest) and pulling it up; garlic mustard has little white flowers and heart-shaped leaves with prickly edges. I forgot how much I like getting down and playing in the dirt. Plus it was 72 and sunny. And it smelled amazing. It reminded me of those summers pulling weeds for $4-an-hour -- an unheard of sum at the time -- for my grandmother, who managed my uncle's apartment buildings.

The man in charge knew everything (including the site of the missile silos, which he'd like to turn into a bumper car park), and told me to keep an eye out for Morel mushrooms. I didn't find a single one, but came across several cheap golf balls that strayed from the nearby driving range. I also got to know a fellow volunteer named Charlie (love that name) who was also on his very first Chicago Cares outing. He recently moved here from Madison and thought it'd be a good way to meet people (and then he ended up with me. Poor guy!). The others in our group mostly cut and hauled out branches. Everyone was quite friendly, and most had tried yoga and had good things to say about it.

I learned that in addition to everything else, the man in charge also knows how to liberate bicycles from stuck U-locks. (I was so traumatized I couldn't blog about it, but I recently paid $140 -- after talking them down from $165 -- to have an evil corporate locksmith cut my bike from a rack in front of YogaNow when the key refused to turn). I made sure to get his number.

After we finished cleaning up, he took us all on a tour of the park and wooded island. It was an unexpected and exquisite gift -- plus I found a condom wrapper during the walk. Photos below.

He does nature restoration at Jackson Park every second and fourth Saturday; for more click here

The Osaka Garden

One of the oldest oak trees in Chicago.....

And another even older and more awesome oak tree.

....They're part of an oak savanna that dates back 4,000 to 5,000 years -- making it nearly as old as yoga. Apparently this is how Chicago looked when Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable first settled here.

The oldest tree of all was uprooted during recent storms.


Purple bush.

Pagoda Xing.

The wooded island from afar.

And the drive back home....

...To reality.


  1. the purple bush is really an
    eastern red bud.
    (Cercis canadensis)

    just thought i'd put that out there

  2. There bits and pieces of oak savannas left at North Park Nature Center on Pulaski and Peterson, and on NEIU's campus on St. Louis, just east of the gym.