Summer time in Chicago, that small window of time between June and August, is crammed with outdoor activity options; festivals, concerts, rooftop parties, ball games, the list goes on. It comes suddenly here. Spring is non-existent at worst and sporadic at best. Everything I did this summer seems like it was a highlight. As fun as everything was, the two things that stand out the most were the things, as typically happens, that seemed either really obvious, or while fun, not really worthy of mention.
The first was kayaking at Blackwell Forest Preserve. My aunt and uncle, retirees who are now living the dream in “Tiny Tommy”, a trailer so cute and little that it should be on an episode of “Tiny Houses”, were driving across the country and planning a stop in Illinois. I naturally suggested that they camp at Blackwell Forest Preserve. Because they wanted to stay close to their site, I suggested kayaking on the preserve’s lake as a Sunday morning activity. On my first visit to Blackwell, we had vowed to do this one day. My visiting aunt and uncle provided just the chance. Admittedly, I’ve always kind of “used” guests in the way; suggested an activity that I have wanted to do. Sometimes guests also provide a vacation for their hosts.
Part of the reason I suggested kayaking was to get over a bad first experience. That time, I was in Costa Rica. Minimal instruction and then trying to figure out how to paddle and navigate a river current at the same time put me off and left the river frustrated and in utter confusion about the appeal of this sport. I quickly saw that a lake is a different story and knew that this would be fun when the park employee compared the paddling wrist motion to scooping ice cream. As one who has made a lot of ice cream, I could relate.
We arrived at 10:00 AM and barely beat the rush. After paying $10 for an hour of kayaking, we donned our life jackets and paddled all around on the lake. Paddling around the lake, I discovered even more about this park. First the lake is bigger than I thought. Picnic tables on rocky outcroppings provided for a peaceful and secluded picnic area. The algae in parts of the lake reminded me of the swamps in the “Lord of the Rings”. From the picnic pavilions on the hills, we heard the strains of several choirs whose churches were holding outdoor service on this lovely morning.
In addition to kayaking, I got to see campsites at Blackwell. They have camping on the weekends only, and by having a gate at the campsites’ entrance, provide a secure and peaceful experience. Only campers and their visitors are allowed access, and guests need to be gone by 9:00 PM, or whenever the sun goes down, otherwise they will be spending the night. The sites are set back from the road, deep into the preserve. With a fire pit, a picnic table, and a large grassy area, there is plenty of space to lay out a blanket and have a picnic. My aunt and uncle are from Montana, and were impressed with the “civilized” Midwest camping. She said that in Montana, it would just be a small area to park in the middle of the rugged wilderness. Their site, with a sliver of a view of the lake below, was perfectly positioned to see the sunset.
Minor league baseball
The next day, I went to a Kane County Cougars baseball game. The Cougars are the minor league feeder team for the Arizona Diamond backs. I had heard of them, but quite honestly, didn’t expect to have as much fun as I did and normally we wouldn’t have even gone. My JD isn’t a sports fan, and I typically hadn’t seen the appeal of minor league ball. But, for their summer outing, my JD’s employer had reserved the Leinenkugel Picnic Pavilion in the right outfield. I love watching games from the outfield, as I get a different perspective of the game.
From the time we parked (not the ordeal I thought it would be), I felt like I was in the movie “Field of Dreams”, in a time bubble where my brain was stuck on “wonder” most of the time. We showed our tickets, and walked right in; no scanners or bag searches, no wary, overworked ticket takers, just a friendly greeting with directions of where to go. At the party, I started talking to one of the guests who had been to quite a few Kane County Cougar games. During our conversation, he pointed out the plastic brightly colored Adirondack chairs in the left outfield and said that viewers could pay $7 and watch the game from there. They also have lawn seats, and fun games for the kids along the stadiums perimeter if they get restless; bouncy houses and other carnival-like games.
There has been a lot of talk about America going back to what it was before. Many things in the past weren’t good, but friendly people unburdened by today’s concerns, and entering a stadium worry-free were good things. I think that is what made this game such an eye-opening and relaxing experience.
I used to view travel as requiring many plans, a giant suitcase, and possibly a passport, that these things made travel “count”. Maybe other people view it the same way, and that is why so many PTO days are unused. The world is a big place, and it can be overwhelming to decide where to go, so you decide to go nowhere. I have come to see that travel can be as simple as doing something new in your neighborhood and telling others about it. There is a lot to see and do if we just look around, from right where we are.