A Shangri-la within our reach

It was a benevolent stand-off. Me and my dog, Dakota, and a doe and her two fawns. We startled each other into a frozen sort of bewilderment. After what seemed to be a forever stare-down, mom and her babies faded away into a wooded camouflage.

Return visits to the place of the stare-down have yielded more surprising and beautiful encounters with wildlife. Great egrets and great blue herons stand lifeless in a river waiting for bluegill to present an easy meal. Familiar ground squirrels abound. And my Loch Ness monster-like experience, a column for another day, in the form of an otter that disappeared into the river as quickly as it caught my eye. No, it wasn't a muskrat, although I will stop and watch them swim with small branches in their mouths wondering how they have the energy to do what muskrats do.

The peacefulness of this place is under appreciated. It often hides its beauty, but it's there if you look hard enough. The woods might appear to be aged and in decay, but it's alive and quietly thriving. Flowering plants line the walking paths, offering delicate colors of yellow and white. Water flowers pop with large summertime red and pink blooms.

The watershed, once a foul-smelling eye sore topped with a chemical-like foam, is much cleaner and clearer. Fish species are omnipresent beyond the old guard carp and bullheads.

Over the years, but especially since COVID hit hard, I've treated myself (and Dakota) to frequent quiet walks there. It's a soul-soothing experience if you allow it to be. Coming at off times, there's a serenity to the place. Regular walkers nod hello as we pass one another, faces recognized but words not spoken. We share a silent secret. This place is a mini-sanctuary possessing beauty and small natural gems.

If you go at peak hours, the parking lot is full. Families bring bikes, strollers, and pets (including parrots on bikes) to walk the multiple paths and bridge crossings. Photographers wait patiently for that perfect moment. The black-crowned night heron seems to be a favorite of the photo buffs.

Some of us long for an outdoor place that restores, refreshes, and energizes - Muir Woods, Wonder Lake or Walden Pond. My place is far from those oases - but well within our reach. This Shangri-la is nearby Fullersburg Woods. By the time you read this column, trees there will be in autumn's full splendor; a perfect time to treat yourself.

If you are a Fullersburg regular, we'll nod hello as our familiar eyes meet. If new to the experience, I hope you enjoy it as much as Dakota and I do, even for a small moment.

- Kevin Cook of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email him at [email protected].