There’s plenty more summer on the calendar, but this is probably the peak of high summer outside Chicago. Rich and I walked in Wright Woods and saw some classic local and invasive plants that remind me of a childhood spent bombing around the woods with the family dogs while Mom and her parents made a fire and talked in the picnic area.
My mom made wild grape jelly out of these sour little guys. It takes gallons to make any jelly to speak of, because they’re 65% seed inside and 25% skin outside. But the skin’s the best part. She didn’t need to add any pectin to make it gel. The jelly was almost black and packed with flavor.
Sometimes she added black walnuts, harvested by me and my brother and smashed open on the back sidewalk with hammers, and orange peel, to make grape conserve. That was tasty, but what I’m most homesick for is that grainy, supergrapey, pure grape jelly.
This lovely cardinal flower cost me five mosquito bites, but it was worth it. Cardinal flower likes deep shade, so I had to wade through a lot of bug-rich environment, stepping over the poison ivy thankyewverymuch, to shoot it. You can see the sunlit portions of the undergrowth blazing white in the background.
If you happen to grasp a nettle plant and get its irritating little sharp hairs stuck in your skin, this plant, jewelweed, is supposed to make it feel better. Crush it and rub it on the affected part. Thank goodness I’ve never had to find out if that works.
Jewelweed likes wet areas, i.e., most of northern Illinois, but I managed to import one plant to my garden. Then it took me three years to pull up all its million babies—out of my garden and out of my neighbor’s garden. From one plant. I’ve made the same mistake with four other native Illinois woodland plants. Note to self: don’t be too hospitable to wildflowers if you’re not ready to deal with the consequences.
Though this has been a remarkably cool, mostly dry summer, you can still see amazing fungi pop out. I have no idea what these little white guys are, so I wouldn’t try to eat ‘em.
At the far end of our walk, we stop at a bridge overlooking the Des Plaines River. Ahead, north, we see a fat, slow, sprawly river. To the right is deep woods growing on riverbottom land, often flooded, mosquito heaven. To the left is a big wetland, three times the width of the river, with a hidden beaver dam, frog habitat, and heron hunting ground, which can often drown in the wet season. Below is a shallow dam that is invisible after a good rain.
We like to pretend that, if we could just see around the bend, the view would go on like this forever.