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Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007 01:02 am

Travel to unravel

Some of my favorite places here, there, and everywhere

Untitled Document I’ve had a lot on my mind lately but not a lot of time to sort things out. That’s just the way things are. Compared with many, I don’t have much to complain about. We have plenty of people whose lives here are much worse — they’re sick, they’re poor, they’re alone. Not me. Still, it’s hard not to get a little overwhelmed sometimes, a little tightly wound. That’s normal. I remember a song from my youth that advised that there are three ways to unravel: One is to die, one is to travel, and the third, well, I think there are laws against that. Suffice it to say, I’ve always put a lot of stock in travel. Often the trips I take have no purpose except to go, go, go. I once got it in my head that I could use an art break, so I just hit I-55 and winged it up to Chicago, zipped around Lake Shore Drive, went too far, backtracked to Michigan Avenue, and trotted over to the Art Institute. Spent about two hours, mostly checking the collection of Impressionist works and noodling around the new Millennium Park, then came back to Springfield. Seven hours in a car for two hours of art — made perfect sense! Another time I decided that I wanted to see the Shawnee National Forest. We’ve published lots of articles about southern Illinois, and it’d been some time since I tooled around there in places like the Garden of the Gods. I took the state highways to Mount Vernon, then cut over to Interstate 57, traveling south. Paused at the rest stop by Rend Lake and sat by the shore. I could have ended the trip there and turned around — there’s nothing better than sitting by a body of water to calm down — but I pressed forward. I decided that I’d continue to Cairo, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, but when a road sign indicated that I was only about 170 miles from Memphis I kept going. It had been some time since I’d been there, and a couple more hours, I decided, shouldn’t matter. This was familiar drive for me; the cotton and soybean fields of Arkansas brought back memories. The sun was setting as I crossed the Hernando DeSoto Bridge, and I drove to Tom Lee Park and sat there, watching an excursion boat slowly paddle north. I made a few other brief stops and almost got to Blytheville, Ark., before I could drive no more.
These trips gave me something that’s a real luxury: a respite from telephones, computers, and decisions. Since moving to Springfield, I’ve discovered that the same kinds of refuges exist here, and they don’t involve marathon treks. There’s much to like about the capital city — in your hands you have a newspaper full of things that make us proud — but one of the best things is that we are in the middle of a great undiscovered country that’s always changing. For example, on the way back from Jacksonville, on the spur of the moment, I decided to leave Interstate 72 and headed for the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish & Wildlife Area. (There are quicker ways to get there from Springfield, but I was in the mood for exploration.) I’d never been there before and knew nothing about it. As I entered the park, miles of miles of cornfields dissolved into prairie. I took a gravel road to one of the lakes there, parked the car, and walked to the shore. I was the only person there, that hot Sunday morning, but I wasn’t alone — thousands of butterflies, of many varieties, congregated on the muddy shore. They rose when I startled them, and for a minute or two I felt as though I was inside a snow globe that had been shaken hard. For the rest of that day, I had no worries. I had the same feeling when I walked the beautifully landscaped grounds of Allerton Park, near Monticello. There are many places right here in Springfield that have the same effect on me. We’re blessed with a picturesque lake, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is to walk the trails of the Lincoln Memorial Garden. I’d rather spend a Sunday morning at the Garden, sitting on one of the benches, than go to church. The quiet sermons at the lake are somehow more compelling than any I’ve ever heard from a preacher.  The Tom Madonia parks are nice — I’ve learned that the ducks don’t care much for bagels, and the power plant is interesting — but when nice weather brings out lots of people I go to the Muni and have a picnic under the horse chestnut trees. Failing that, there are always the cemeteries — not just Oak Ridge and Calvary but all of the little family plots off country roads, surrounded by farmland. One time I just sat on a hill for awhile and watched the wind play with the grass. No matter how crazy things get, I’ve found, there’s always a time for a quiet interlude. Sometimes it’s the best thing.

Contact Roland Klose at rklose@illinoistimes.com.
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