900 West Belvidere Road, Round Lake, IL 60073
Did you ever feel like you got a raw deal from Punxsutawney Phil? Did you ever wish they would just let him be? Did you ever wonder how close we were to spring actually arriving?
We have arrived for a Sunrise Stroll at Nippersink Forest Preserve in Round Lake. Let’s leave the groundhogs alone and try to see past the shadowy folktales. Here we come in search of early signs of spring.
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“Eileen pointed out a lot of interesting things that we would have missed. She had a lot of background about Nippersink, knowing that it used to be a campground. Everyone who participated in the Sunrise Stroll had a nice time!”
On a crisp, breezy, early Saturday morning in late February, Lisa and I ventured forth in search of spring. This was a big ask. Pulling up to the nearly empty parking lot at Nippersink, it didn’t look or feel like spring. It was just before sunrise, and the approaching golden hour glow started to reveal a curtain of bare trees and carpet of refrozen icy crust. Stepping out of the car felt like our first mistake. The wind cut through our clothes and raked at our cheeks and lips.
A warm welcome and introduction was given by our Lake County Forest Preserves guide, Eileen. As we talked, a few more vehicles pulled up. I noticed the sun starting to rise and shine low through the tall evergreens. I took a few snaps before we actually began our sunrise stroll. I could see the energizing cast of golden hour bathing everything in its warming light. I felt invigorated and optimistic. With everyone gathered at the appointed time, we were on our way.
The first stop was a massive oak tree that defied time and landscaping. It stood tall and strong next to the trail, which was a stone’s throw from the road. This irrepressible oak would not be stopped by the configuration of a road and trail. Standing before this oak put everything into perspective. After us, for many, many years, this tree will continue to stand strong and tall.
Walking around the twin lakes at Nippersink, we noticed many signs of animal activity. We identified tracks of geese, deer and rabbit. Eileen also pointed out a few coyote scat. The presence of fur trapped in the scat meant that the coyotes were eating rabbits and voles, and very well.
With the weather trending ever so slightly towards warmer, and with the sun unstoppable in its path toward more daylight, nature is fully attuned to these subtle early signs of spring. We look for bags of jelly beans on store shelves. Nature waits for warmth and light. We need to get back to nature.
“Some of the oak trees at Nippersink are literally hundreds of years old.”–Eileen, Lake County Forest Preserves
Eileen pointed out some leftover husks of last summer as we stopped for a look around the trail. She identified some gray-headed coneflower, picked clean of all their seeds. Eileen also spotted some wild bergamot. Yes, that aromatic and flavorful flower in tea, soaps and fragrances. This was wild bergamot. Eileen asked us to pick one and rub the flower between our fingertips. She asked us if we could smell mint. The fragrance was light and delightful. If Eileen weren’t with us on the walk, we would’ve blown right past these wild flowers, thinking them worthless weeds.
After walking for a bit, we stopped before a small oak. The entire tree was dotted with leftover acorn caps, which will eventually drop off with the arrival of new buds. I noticed myself that some of the extremities were starting to flash a striking red color. Life was starting to return to this oak, only if you stopped to look closely.
Some of the early signs of spring socked us in the face, like the Canada geese that threatened to box our ears with their incessant calls. But for every obvious sign observed, we would have missed so many were it not for our patient and knowledgeable guide, Eileen.
Lisa was very impressed with the knowledge and personability of our guide, Eileen. Lisa said, “Eileen pointed out a lot of interesting things that we would have missed. She had a lot of background about Nippersink, knowing that it used to be a campground. Everyone who participated in the Sunrise Stroll had a nice time!”
“We need to get back to nature.”
I forgot to mention that as we stood in the parking lot at dawn before our sunrise stroll, we heard the unmistakeable spring song of a cardinal. It was specifically the call to attract a potential mate. We didn’t see the cardinal, but we heard it and had a good idea about its location. We always wish we could see the animal heard, like an owl; but, sometimes we are only fortunate enough to hear it. If we appreciate the subtle gifts that nature always gives us, we will never feel like we got a raw deal.
Get back to nature, early and often. Slow down and walk with a forest preserve guide. Subtle signs are calling you and right beneath your nose. Take advantage of everyday without waiting for a mythical special day to be determined later. The groundhog in Pennsylvania has been doing that quite naturally.
To discover upcoming educational events at Lake County Forest Preserves, visit Lake County Forest Preserves: Events – Education
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