October is a wonderful month to walk or bike the DuPage River Greenway, except perhaps on days when it is cold, wet, and windy. In October, generally the air is crisp. There is color in the woods. Breezes whisper through the leaves that still cling stubbornly to tree branches. The asphalt beneath feet or wheels is peppered with leaves. A few wildflowers still wave yellow, white or lavender blooms. Mallards and Canada Geese settle onto the water for a swim before flying off. A lethargic honeybee seems ready to give up on life.
You may also encounter interesting people along the Greenway: track team members working on their cross-country skills, women chatting and pushing strollers as they walk, a man on a bike with a leashed dog running alongside, children excited to see squirrels or geese, bird-watchers, young adults getting exercise during their lunch hour, dog-walkers, a grandson stepping in his grandfather’s footprints, men or women with fishing poles hoping to catch something for supper at Hidden Lakes Trout Farm.
As I walked on the Greenway on October 12, I met with Ed Farrell, a long-time Bolingbrook resident. Farrell walks the DuPage River Greenway frequently. “This place is a treasure; it really is,” he told me. He told me that he is not a trained naturalist, but that he has learned a lot just observing nature.
Farrell has had many interesting experiences on the DuPage River Greenway, where he has been walking for at least five years. About a month ago, Farrell saw a bit of movement between himself and the river: “A large blue heron jumped up, and flapped those big wings.” It wasn’t more than 30 feet from him. Another time, Farrell came across a large turtle on the path. He leaned over it and looked at it a while, then reached down and scratched the shell. When the turtle looked up at him, Ferrell decided it would be wise to leave it alone.
Farrell has had several surprise encounters along the Greenway, especially early in the morning. One time a coyote stepped out on the trail not 25 feet from Ferrell. “Apparently the wind was blowing my scent away,” he says. When it saw Farrell, it looked startled and went the other way. Another morning when it was foggy, Farrell was near the Royce Road trailhead. Six deer were standing on the trail. “They looked at me,” Farrell said, “and I just stood still. Then I took a few steps.” The deer didn’t move, so Farrell stomped his feet a couple of times. Then the deer scampered away.
Farrell reported on some less happy experiences. Once on the Greenway, Farrell saw a small snake with a tire track across its back. It had been run down by a bicycle. Another time, he saw a frog about the size of a baseball. Through the frog was a depression about the width of a bike wheel. The head and the back end both looked fine, but the shoulder area had been flattened. Some internal organs had been pushed out near the chin. Wistfully, Farrell said he wished some bikers would pay more attention to what might be crossing the bath.
On one occasion, Ferrell saw a group of women kneeling in the woods a small ways off the path. He was curious, so he stopped and asked what they were doing. One woman held up a wild onion. They were gathering food for their families. The sample they gave him left a fragrant scent in his car. [NOTE: The Bolingbrook Park District prefers that you leave nature as you find it.]
“Sometimes in the spring,” Farrell told me, “I see iridescent dragonflies hovering near the ground. They’re always moving. And the wooly bears, the little brown caterpillars. Sometimes there are groups of them you see, fifty of them cross the path together. Other times you see just one. Later in the season, you can see the dragonflies with black and white wings.”
Farrell also enjoys watching the ever-present geese. When I met up with Farrell a second time during October, a single goose landed in a pond at Hidden Lakes Trout Farm. Several nearby geese rose and flew toward the interloper, noisily scolding.
“There’s a war going on here,” Farrell said. He mentioned that 50 years ago, the Canada Geese would be heading for Mississippi or Louisiana at this time of year. Farrell explained that when more aerating ponds were put in in this area, geese began wintering over. “They lost the instinct to migrate; they are not the explorers their ancestors were. They fly from here to the village hall area, and to the ponds in Oak Brook and back. I call them the Bolingbrook Air Force,” he laughed. “People come down here with popcorn and peanuts, and throw it to the geese,” Farrell added. “They know they have room and board here.”
“Some geese still migrate over Bolingbrook; you can see flocks of hundreds of them sometime; they are dots high in the sky,” Farrell said, “but the geese we usually notice are year-round residents.”
While we walk and chatted, Farrell spotted a spider on the Greenway, so we stopped to watch it. Tim Cashatt of the Illinois State Museum later identified it as a wolf spider, more specifically a Hogna helluo (Walckenaer), of the family Lycosidae. When Farrell put his hand near it, the spider sped toward the leaves along the edge of the asphalt, where it could hide.
Farrell’s love of nature and curiosity about creatures living along the Greenway has not declined after years of walking the DuPage River Greenway. “I’m amazed at the variety of wildlife down here,” Farrell said. “I’m always telling my daughter, ‘guess what I saw today.’”
© Wilda Morris