It’s the first day of Summer. As I start this is am sitting in bed, windows open, sunshine streaming in, birds singing.
When I was a younger man much of my focus on where I wanted to be had to do with geographical location. Trips to Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah across the course of my high school and undergraduate years left me enamored with the rugged beauty of the Rockies. I found them so beautiful and intriguing that, when it came time to apply for graduate school virtually the entirety of my focus was on the where - I wanted to study sitting on the side of a mountain.
I still love the mountains, and I’ve been back to see them a few times. But I have no regrets about not moving out west.
Illinois sometimes gets a bad rap - I’ve routinely heard our state being described as flat and empty, and as having nothing in it but corn. Those who are feeling gracious may sometimes say “well, there are some pretty spots” and go on to describe a trip to a place like Starved Rock State Park. I can understand this perspective, to some degree, particularly if one’s primary exposure to the state comes from a trip along the interstate.
I try to be an active person and, whenever possible, I prefer to be active outside. Not making that move out west when I was younger meant that I’ve had to meet that need here, where I am. In the process I’ve come to realize that every place has its beauty if you are prepared to see it.
This thought has occurred to me a number of times over the past several years. This time around it was spurred on a couple of nights ago, as I went outside in the twilight to find my first sighting of the Fireflies.
It seems a simple thing, perhaps. You catch a glimpse of the first one out of the corner of your vision - sometimes you aren’t even sure it was really there. Then there’s another, and another. To catch these first glimpses your sight line is, by necessity, low, looking at the grass a few yards in front of you. But once you are sure they are there, you look up, first across the grass, and then across the corn, now waist high, to see thousands of tiny lights across the darkening green backdrop, each flickering on for just a moment, and then away again, to be replaced by another to one side or the other.
It catches me delightfully by surprise every year - I logically know they will be there of course, but it’s never quite certain when they will first show.
Flat is a lazy, dismissive description. Northern Illinois is a former prairie, to be sure. But as I look out my window - in they top story of a tall house sitting on a hill - what I see is miles of rolling green, punctuated by islands of trees surrounding other homesteads or tracing the courses of streams. It is magnificent, vast, and peaceful.
Turns out this is not, shall we say, the ideal approach for getting into graduate school. I was not the only person who was interested in the graduate program at, for example, the University of Colorado at Boulder. The year that I applied they had eight openings and, I believe, something in the neighborhood of 800 applications. It took me two years, a kind mentor, and a change in perspective to get into graduate school. ↩
One does not have to be a scholar of the history of interstate highway construction to realize that the pathways through our great state were chosen based upon location and availability of marginal, largely unloved tracts of land. One only has to have eyes. ↩