I’ve had impulses, from time to time, to take on certain polarizing issues related to children and families. But I generally don’t. Friends and acquaintances occasionally quip, “Sounds like there’s a column here!” when such issues arise, and still, I don’t.
I imagine they’re disappointed when, as I’m blessed with such a platform, I don’t use it to stir up more dust.
I’ve got plenty of fire in my belly, but I just don’t feel called to add fuel to most debates. There will always be others who will, and who will do so quite capably. What I do feel called to do, however, is to offer a brief respite from the turbulence that often surrounds us – by noticing and shedding a little light upon, the magic, wonder and sweetness possible and already present in an ordinary life.
But when that sweetness feels threatened, as I felt it was Tuesday morning when I pedaled past what remains of the formerly picturesque pond at Lippold Park in Batavia, the fire in my belly roars.
What once was an enchanting scene, complete with sheltering trees, an old wooden footbridge and a sleepy pond, home to several shy turtles who sunned on each other’s backs on the old log that poked up out of the water – who always dove underwater whenever anyone got too close – is now a noisy construction site.
Bulldozers rip up the landscape. Wood-chippers chew up the trees (several perfectly healthy-looking trees were felled as I watched Thursday morning). A chain-link fence keeps the curious out, while, nearby, signs warn of the hazards.
Too bad turtles can’t read.
I cried. I had to get off my bike to blow my nose, actually, to keep from crashing into the bridge around the next bend. My favorite Dr. Seuss story, “The Lorax,” immediately came to mind, wherein Seuss, speaking through the character of the Lorax, warns against mindless progress and the danger it poses to the earth and its inhabitants.
But is the development at Lippold mindless?
When I inquired about it Thursday morning at the Red Oak Nature Center in Aurora, which is just south on the bike path (on the east side of the Fox River), a young woman explained that the Fox Valley Park District is “reconstructing” the pond “to make it more accessible.”
“For whom?” I asked.
“Our visitors,” she replied. But what about the family of turtles, who appeared quite at home there? She then explained that the relative “health” of the pond has declined in recent years due to a build-up of silt, a natural effect of rain run-off. Jeff Long, public relations manager for the park district, tells me that this has caused a decline in the turtles’ – and frogs’ – numbers, which their visitors like to study.
According to the master plan for Lippold Park published by the Fox Valley Park District in 2008, restoration of the natural lands that comprise the 41-acre riverfront property includes the construction of a pedestrian-friendly boardwalk around a new pond, and “a new building that will be built to showcase green technology and sustainability and serve as an indoor/outdoor staging area for education and user groups.”
The mission statement for the project includes a vision of Lippold as a place “where visitors can actively engage in a caring and responsible connection with the natural world so that they better understand how the local ecosystem and individual actions relate to the global environment.” To what end? So they can learn how not to unwittingly disturb – let alone, destroy – other creatures’ habitats? Am I alone in seeing the irony here?
When I asked if anyone made sure the turtles were safe before the bulldozers showed up, I was told that, “We couldn’t do that.”
“You couldn’t?” I asked.
“They [the turtles] have plenty of wetlands they can move to,” said the woman at the park district. But why should they have to? What was wrong with letting nature take its own course, and allowing the turtles to make a migration when they were ready, if they felt the pond wasn’t actually “healthy?” Do we really need a fancy boardwalk, another building, and whatever other ‘stuff’ will no doubt come with them?
“I want to reassure you that everything is going to be for the better,” said Long. A self-professed, lifelong green guy, he insists that “Our intentions are good…It’s going to be beautiful.” Maybe. But tell that to the turtles, whose eggs are perhaps being crushed by those dozers. As for being beautiful, I can’t imagine the nerve it takes to rival Mother Nature’s own idyllic design. Who do we think we are?
I’m not the only one who wonders. As I sat on the grass and watched as another tree fell, someone out for a stroll on the bike path approached.
“Do you know what they’re doing?” he asked. We practically had to shout to hear each other over the wood-chipper, but Rick Walker, a resident of Aurora who was also very familiar with the old pond, admits that he’s “on the side of Mother Nature.”
That said, he and I agree that there’s a lot to like about the Fox Valley Park District, much of which I have yet to explore. He’s a huge fan of disc golf, for example, and my son and I participate in their canoe and kayak race down the Fox River every June. And, boy, I sure do enjoy my rides on the bike path – which, I admit, while relatively low-impact (on the environment), came about because of progress.
• • •
By the time my daughter and I stopped at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Geneva Wednesday evening, when I passed a sherriff’s vehicle in the parking lot – parked and running, no deputy in sight – I decided it was time to speak up.
I’d watched yet another neighbor’s lawn being sprayed with poison just that morning, and this was the last straw. (I confess, I paid one of those companies, 16 years ago, to do the same thing. But then I had a miscarriage. And I wondered. And I never hired them again.
The doctor called it a “blighted ovum.” Blighted, indeed, but by what? No one can truly ever isolate the potential variables involved. I imagine it’s more a cumulative effect of various factors, perhaps unrelated to the chemicals sprayed on my lawn, but perhaps not. But I digress.)
“Don’t get arrested, Mom,” Holly whispered, as we spotted the young deputy at the check-out counter.
“Excuse me,” I said, “but did you leave your car running?” I asked.
“Yes, I did,” he replied.
“My system just rebooted. Oh, did you think I left the keys in the ignition?” He asked, smiling.
“No, I wasn’t concerned about that,” I replied. “I was concerned about the gas and the environment.” Oh, that.
My concern extends way beyond the issue of our tax dollars at work. I worry about the little ones, kids and critters alike, and the simple things we all can do to make the world a better place for all of them. It’s really not so hard, is it? To strike a balance between what we want and what’s actually good for them? Do we build another “Disney-esque” destinations, when less will do? And do we really need to cut down all of those trees?
Even if you assuage your guilt by planting 6,000 more, as Long points out the FVPD has done over the years, is it possible to take a closer look before eliminating them?
I am hopeful that, going forward, every decision about every improvement will include even more thoughtful debate about whether each one is really absolutely necessary. And if it is, is there a lesser-impactful way to accomplish it?
“I see what you mean,” Long finally conceded, after I asked if the trees felled at Lippold were diseased. (He’d said that 80 percent of ash trees are diseased, these days.) When I asked if these were, too, he admitted that he didn’t know. In any case, they weren’t part of the master plan, so down they came.
I wouldn’t dream of presuming I could ever adequately “speak for the trees,” as the Lorax hopes we will, or for the quiet turtles, the grass, or even the plucky dandelions (whom I regret I unwittingly dissed in my recent “May basket” column), but I will say this: Mother Nature knows what she’s doing.
Just because we don’t understand her plan doesn’t mean she requires our “help.”
More pavement? Another sign? Another bench? Do yourself a favor and lay on your backs on the grass – if you can find any that hasn’t been subdued with cancer-causing poison, that is – and stare up at the clouds.
Then, roll over and watch the dear turtle families and their neighbors quietly go about the business of making a life. But you, and the turtles, may want to steer clear of Lippold Park, for a while.
I just hope they made it.
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at email@example.com.