In the northern suburbs of Chicago, there’s not much nature that’s natural, let alone wild. When I walk through a neighborhood, I’m drawn to the few wild patches that humans haven’t bothered to domesticate: the ditches where wild things grow—what people call weeds. Everything else is marked by humans: clipped lawns, carefully arranged flower beds, a few select trees. In the office parks, huge swaths of grass are demarcated by carefully plotted lines of the same species of tree growing in orderly lines. Even in the forest preserve along the Des Plaines River, the sounds of a busy highway and the sight of tall office towers are never far away.
Outside of these small bits of nature, the mood on the streets and in the stores is harsh, hurried, sometimes aggressive. Drivers are intent on getting to their destination as fast as possible, running red lights, honking when I fail to make a left turn fast enough, pushing their way into merging traffic. In the packed supermarkets, there is little courtesy as shoppers barrel down the aisles, impatient when my mother, at 90 years old, pauses to figure out what she wants.
Coming back to the cabin after six days in this artificial landscape is like returning to heaven. Aside from a few people’s attempts to have lawns, nature here runs free. Plants thrive here on their own terms, finding niches in the landscape and waiting patiently for the right conditions to start growing.
At the cabin, I slowly fall into the more subtle rhythms of nature. The morning starts out cloudy, and a sudden gust of wind is followed by a short sprinkle of rain. To the east the rising sun casts a rosy light through the rain, warming the bark of the pine trees. All morning the clouds sail by, the light changing quickly. When the sun breaks through, it is a rich, tender light, illuminating the dense pines on the hill across the valley for just a few minutes before hillside returns to the shadows.
Here there is no pushing, no fighting, no arguments. The clouds move across the sky slowly and softly, as if heeding some inner voice. The trees branches sway in response to the same force, while the grasses dance together in the wind, as if they were one being. The silence is profound, entering every pore of my being.
After the brief rainstorm, I’m startled to see colors I don’t usually see this time of the year: bright yellow, green and pink. When I go outside to investigate, I discovered a rainbow on the southwest flank of Mount Meeker—at 8 in the morning at the end of October! It seems a sign. Here at the cabin I had crossed over into a different world, somewhere far from the crassness, aggression and ugliness of the city, somewhere apparently over the rainbow.