I gave up religion a long time ago. Yet, here I am hiking through the restored woodlands and prairies of Midewin on Easter Sunday with strains of “Jesus Christ is risen today…” wafting through my head. Does this mark a relapse, a return to the religious roots of my childhood?
Perhaps. In a way. The resurrection of Christ, the return of songbirds, the re-emergence of woodland ephemerals, the recovery of the prairie following a spring burn? I’m thinking perhaps, maybe, imagine, it’s all one.
I was raised in the United Church of Christ and attended Sunday school and eventually Sunday services, well, religiously through my high school years. I was a frequent soloist with the adult choir and directed the children’s choir. Graduating from college with a music degree, I was hired by Holy Name Cathedral – seat of the archdiocese of Chicago – to sing in its professional choir. Although I am not Catholic, it is there that I fell in love with the pageantry of the Mass, the sacred grandeur of the sanctuary, the chant that transported me and the entire congregation to an otherworldly place.
For reasons that are the subject of another story, I fell away from church and singing both. And for many years, I searched, I wandered. Quietly.
I’m not quite sure how I got bit by the nature bug, other than it took precisely an extended time of wandering and quietude in places ranging from backyard garden to national parks to allow what latent affinity there was to blossom.
However, my love for nature came into full flower in discovering Midewin. For here is the living embodiment of the resurrection. Throughout Illinois, there remains less than one-tenth of one percent of natural land; and of that tiny fraction, an even smaller fraction remains of native tallgrass prairie. Once fully restored, Midewin’s 19,000 acres will encompass more prairie in one single place than exists collectively among all the scattered remnant prairie patches across the entire Prairie State.
At Midewin, staff, nonprofit partners and legions of volunteers clear invasives, sow seed, recycle nutrients to the earth through the controlled use of fire. As a result of our collective labor, an abundance of beautiful flowers and grasses are refilling the landscape. Rare and endangered birds find safe harbor in an increasingly uninhabitable world. Calling frogs fill the spring air with song that would grace any cathedral.
The return, the very survival, of these plants and animals, these kinds of entire ecosystems, depends entirely on us. This restoration work we do, therefore, is among the most charitable things we, as a species, can do. The most Christian, the most Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Humanist (the list goes on) thing we can do.