|Illiniwek Forest Preserve, Illinois|
The trilling morning song of the birds is punctuated by a steady orchestra of traffic sounds: the brash bray of a motorcycle, the deep growl of trucks, the whine of car tires on pavement. After a while the traffic noise ceases to intrude; after a while the urban sounds are just a cacophony that drifts to background chatter. A new and recognizable sound emerges in this urban orchestration--a Canadian Pacific locomotive pulling its train past the campground, the brass of its horn and the tympani of its wheels on the tracks. The deeper bass of a barge horn floats across the river, and now that I am listening for the urban-morning sounds, the steady drone of RV air conditioners add to the morning's urban symphony. Yes, indeed, welcome to camping in the not-so-deep woods!
To pinpoint my experience, I am camping at the Illiniwek Forest Preserve on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, near Moline in the Quad Cities area, across the river from Iowa. This forest preserve consists of 174 acres of woods and river frontage, including a campground. With hiking and biking trails, being linked to the Great River Trail, having both modern and primitive camping, and picnicking and a boat ramp, the preserve has something for pretty much anyone wanting some outdoor experience. This morning my wife and I watched a pleasure yacht leave the river's lock and head downstream. Yesterday evening we walked the shoreline road and saw a half dozen anglers happily fishing. One guy with a grin held up a sack o' catfish when we asked him how the fishing had been. A steady flow of bicyclists on the river trail require us to keep an eye out for riders so focused on keeping their pace that they get a little crazy. It's a hot summer July day, and this urban forest preserve is definitely fulfilling its mission: "to connect the community to nature through land preservation and recreation as well as administering educational opportunities."
Finishing up my third day here at the preserve campground, I ask myself, "How enjoyable is this urban camping experience?" I mean, last night before going to sleep, I looked out the window and saw a police car stopped on the campground road, talking to somebody. On the other hand, yesterday we also saw three children blissfully riding their bikes around and around the loop, just as happy as wrens flitting from branch to branch. I think this is one of those "Is the glass half empty or half full?" moments. The wooded forest preserve is just across the road, and the hilly woods are deep and lush and beautiful--once you get across the road, dodging 55 mph traffic. The traffic on the trails is regulated, one-way travel--one direction three days a week, the opposite four days a week, this probably mostly due to bicycle traffic and the attempt to lessen collisions.
|A pocket of wild at Illiniwek Forest Preserve|
Here in Iowa, and I believe this to be true for much of the United States, the land has been "civilized" by human beings. Some scientists suggest that our modern era be named the Anthropocene Epoch, which a Britannica entry describes as "characterized as the time in which the collective activities of human beings (Homo sapiens) began to substantially alter Earth’s surface, atmosphere, oceans, and systems of nutrient cycling," the last meaning how biological life (matter) cycles and recycles in a sustainable manner. I think our "pockets" of nature, even if they are tiny pockets like here in the Midwest, are important reminders of how the world must be to maintain its sustainability, how the earth should be so it doesn't erode away, how the water should be so it is drinkable, how the air should be so it can be breathed healthily. People need--and the planet needs--the deep woods to be healthy, but the not-so-deep woods are also needed in this Anthropocene Epoch, both as reminders and as sustainers of life, as reminders of the "default" setting of the laws of nature. And it's also important to remember that when we consider nature's default settings in terms of geological time, it's not essential (to the laws of nature) that human beings be included in that resetting to reestablish balance and sustainability. Just ask the dinosaurs.
|Trying out solar panels as an Iowa state park|
My wife is working today online, outside this morning and inside this humid afternoon, and she expressed exactly what I'm feeling: "Hey, I can look up from my work and see the river." For many people, that's what urban camping is, an opportunity to look up from the workaday experience and see the sky, the water, to stand upon earth in the shade of a sycamore. It's a chance to connect with nature. Is it Denali National Park or the Pacific Crest Trail? No, and it's not even Iowa's Pikes Peak State Park, where I was camping a little over a week ago and had the chance to see the beautiful Bridal Veil waterfall, which was only a quarter-mile hike from camp. I'm camping in this little pocket of nature-left-alone, surrounded by the Quad Cities with a population of almost 400,000 people. My glass is half full, though. My little travel trailer is comfortable, the views are interesting and varied, and my wife Sandy has driven up to spend three days with me, an added treat on my seventeen-night Mississippi River camping tour. If I were alone, I'd be spending every morning on my bicycle, exploring the Great River Trail. Yesterday Sandy and I hiked some on the preserve trails, and once again I was impressed at how little distance one must travel from the landscaping of humankind in order to feel the over-arching, quiet yet powerful omnipresence of natural law. Green zones are good for the environment and good for our souls.
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