This week has been quite cool and rainy. The cat has taken to obsessive snuggling, and we turned on the heat in the house for the first time since spring. One by one the house plants that had been vacationing outside are coming back inside. I dug out my fleecy vest from the cedar closet, and put away some of the more summery tops I’d been living in.
While the fall colors haven’t reached their peak yet, many of the trees are beginning to turn, and our rainy windy patch has brought many of them down into the street and sidewalks. As if these signs of autumn weren’t enough, the woolly bear caterpillars are back. I spotted this fella, dressed in his black and rust banded sweater, on a path at White Pines Forest State Park, near Oregon, Illinois. Folk wisdom holds that the larger the brown center band is, the milder the winter will be. I did a little research and found that the width of the center band has more to do with the age of the caterpillar than any psychic ability to predict snow and cold. The older the caterpillar, the wider the brown band. I also didn’t know that the woolly bear is the larvae of the Isabella tiger moth. Isn’t the internet grand for discovering these things?
We took advantage of the one sunny day this week to drive about eighty miles south into Illinois to White Pines Forest State Park. Illinois parks differ from Wisconsin parks in a couple ways. For one thing, there is no admission charge, which seems neighborly and friendly to me. The other difference is that the parks often have lodging available as well as campgrounds. This park has a Depression era lodge built by the CCC in 1935. There are also snug cabins with rustic forniture and gas fireplaces, which appeals to my creaking joints much more than camping does. In the middle of the week I was surprised to see many cabins occupied. Based on the crowds at the White Pines Inn and restaurant, I’d say most were retired folks like us, taking advantage of the blue skies. The food is generous and good, and it’s hard to beat being able to stroll through the pines to coffee and breakfast without having to light a fire or drive off the property.
I like the park because it isn’t overwhelmingly large. The park is comprised of 385 acres of limestone outcroppings, forest trails and meandering streams. The trails we hiked were quiet, with only the sounds of gurgling water, calling crows, and chipmunks rustling the leaves. The trails were only moderately challenging, and some were downright easy. According to literature in the room, the park boasts the largest stand of native white pines in the Midwest. There were also lots of maples, sycamores, hickory and oak trees. We fell asleep with the sounds of falling acorns hitting the cabin roof.
People who visit the park relax in Adirondack chairs scattered around the property, have a meal, watch dinner theater, hike, fish, picnic, all manner of quiet pursuits. You have your choice of renting a very reasonable and comfortable cabin, or tent camping. We enjoyed our overnight stay, and made it home yesterday quickly enough to miss the evening gusty rain.