Of all the many different volunteer activities I have to choose from for National Public Lands day at Midewin, I choose to move rocks. Big friggin’ rocks. Boulders. What, am I nuts? But what better excuse to get up close and personal with these hard fruits of the last glacier to scour and shape our landscape?
Most of us, of course, just pass by rocks without so much as a glance. The smaller ones we might kick up with a toe, or pick up and give a toss. Especially if there’s a pond near by to test our skipping skills. The bigger ones…who cares?
Well, today, a handful of volunteers do and we’re the richer for it. Our job is simple. Find them. Excavate them. Lever them onto skid loaders. And then lever them into lines leading up to new bridges in South Patrol Road Prairie.
Working with these rocks invites you to take a closer look. To see the subtle gradations of pinks, whites and greys. The quartz. And the greens, yellows and oranges of the lichens that beard their faces. To feel how they hold the heat of the sun even on a cool day.
The complex patterns of granite (before it becomes a countertop), gneiss and other rock types hint at their being born of lava. Or tremendous heat and pressure. Or both.
The great weight of the erratics – this job is a workout – hint at just how powerful the glaciers were that wrenched them out of the earth as far away as Canada and carried them here in a massive grinder of ice.
And as the glaciers melted and retreated, they left behind their stony load for future generations of Midewin farmers to do the same thing we’re doing today – dig them up and use to make a stone wall.
All along the new path through South Patrol Road Prairie, you’ll find erratics of many different sizes, shapes and colors. This time of year, on a cool but sunny day, they make a great place to rest and share of their warmth. And imagine their journey from lava to rock, from Canada to Illinois, from farmer fencerow to Midewin trailmarker.