After a morning of volunteering, what better way to spend the rest of the day than walking through the recovering landscape of Midewin with a poet? My dear friend Jim Ballowe is Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus at Bradley University, where a personal essay contest is named in his honor. He’s the author of a recent biography of Joy Morton (of the Morton Salt Company and Morton Arboretum) and the even more recent Christmas in Illinois, a collection of Christmas stories by such Illinois luminaries as Gwendolyn Brooks, Mike Royko, and Carl Sandburg.
But it’s Jim’s poetry I most love. And as he, his wife Ruth and I stroll through the restored Prairie Creek Woods and out into the recreated prairie along South Patrol Road it’s hard not to think of Jim’s “Wherefore Walking:”
Take ten thousand steps marching
toward a healthy life untouched by wildness.
Sure. It’s done almost everywhere:
on city streets, unrestricted lakeshore,
on paths through parks, restored woods and prairie.
How then along the bourne, bedraggled,
accosted by devil’s beggartick, nettle, and wild rose,
startled by a ravening coyote pursuing a doe,
do we emerge, feeling in fine fettle,
cheered that ferity, unleashed, has not forsaken us,
while civilization’s abominable accoutrements
— bags, bottles, and boorish babble — have vanished,
and we, dwelling in our savage imaginations,
think ourselves in the presence of good men and lovers?