I’ve read that in the early days you could gallop a horse through the woodlands here in Illinois. That certainly wasn’t the case for most of the years I’ve lived here. What people didn’t understand was that the parklike forests early Europeans found were the result of the efforts made by the native tribes living here. They selectively planted the trees and shrubs they needed for food and fiber, and used fire and even pruning to keep the woods healthy and producing the materials they needed. Once they were shoved aside, decades of neglect ensued. Many people thought it best to let nature take its course, and felt that the choked mess that resulted was the natural state of our woodlands. In fact, many still feel that way and restorationists get quite a bit of push back on their efforts. By the time my family lived here, the woods I saw were in a sorry state indeed. I wish I could show you a picture of how things looked back then, but it was so ugly I never thought to take a photo. Picture in your mind solid masses of stems, no big happy trees, indeed, no baby oaks or hickories. They were not reproducing, unable to compete with the thick stands of introduced and run-amok shrubs like Japanese honeysuckle and buckthorn. They were a study in grey and brown.
I tell you all of that because I want you to see the difference at Grant Woods this spring. The Forest Preserve District removed TONS of invasive trees and shrubs throughout the winter. We’d go out to watch them and couldn’t believe our eyes. It didn’t even look like the same place from one week to the next. And when the soil warmed and the sun’s rays reached the long-choked soil, look what happened! Sheets of wild geranium responded, carpeting the floor of the woods. It was breathtaking. They were there, waiting for 50 years or more, to spring back. What a wonderful thing nature is! The woods get burned again, now, so hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy this scene again and again. I see a lot more native bees in the area now, and the birds have really responded as well.