Is it possible? Can you be surrounded by so much beauty that you get inured?
Well, then, let us remind you: The Sauk Valley is dotted with spots that are beyond pretty, they are spectacular – in a quiet, polite, unassuming Midwestern kind of way.
The Rock River, the Hennepin Canal, and Lake Carlton; Nachusa Grasslands and the Franklin Creek State Natural Area and the White Pines Forest; the Elkhorn Creek Biodiversity Preserve, the Silver Creek Biodiversity Preserve, the Byron Forest Preserve’s Bald Hill Prairie Preserve; the Amboy Marsh and the Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary; Rockwood and Castle Rock and Lowden state parks. Cathedrals, all.
Sadly, not all are respectful of those sacred spaces. You know the type. Desecraters. Those who mess their own nest, or worse yet, others’ nests. Those who think rivers are just big ol’ liquid Hefty bags. The ones who wonder, if you drop a disposable diaper into the woods and no one sees it happen, is it really litter? You bet that sweet baby’s butt it is.
Fortunately, there also are those among us who realize it’s everyone’s job, not only to care, but to maintain. Scout troops, church groups, United Way volunteers, outdoor enthusiasts and conservation-minded groups.
For example, every year for more than 30 years, volunteers with the Rock River Development Authority, formed in 1984 in Rock Falls to help keep Rock River scenic – and safe – brave the muck and mire to go fishing for trash.
At the Oppold Marina in Sterling on June 16, they spent 5 hours snaking tires, barrels, an old dock and even a playground slide out of the waterway. They do the same for the Hennepin every April.
Other groups also make it their mission to preserve the pristine: Natural Area Guardians, the Northwest Illinois Audubon Society (ours is the Birdsong Chapter; it calls its cleanup efforts stewardship days), the Northwest Illinois Prairie Enthusiasts, Friends of Nachusa Grasslands and the Franklin Creek Conservation Association.
You never can have too many good stewards of the land, though, and Mother Nature is calling you.
If you can’t join a group, do what you can.
Be the person who inspires a team of co-workers, or fellow church-goers, or neighbors to spend a Saturday in service to the Earth. Take the kids.
Stuff a shopping bag in your pocket, take a walk, pick up what you can – then recycle it. Let your kids see you do it.
Can’t donate time? Donate money.
It’s summer. Get thee outside. Get sun drunk. Bathe in the rain. Howl at the moon and sleep under the stars. That’s how you worship at nature’s cathedrals.
Just make sure to leave those sanctuaries better, and cleaner, than you found them.