Wednesday, November 6, 2019

How did all those balls get into the bog?

     After this was submitted for publication I heard back from the Village of Northbrook engineers—yes, the area was created for stormwater management, "a wet bottom detention basin" in their evocative phrase. And to my delight, this is an instance of vigorous journalism having positive effect in the real world. After I inquired, they went to examine the marsh (not difficult; it's directly across the street from Village Hall). They discovered that it is "plugged"—it should drain in a day—and they will coordinate with the school to unplug it. For a moment, I imagined that my belief that nothing I write ever has any impact on the real world needed to be amended. Then a sharp-eyed reader observed that it wasn't the column, but the inquiry, that set the gears of diligent habitat husbandry into motion. Maybe next time....

     One reason we moved into the ramshackle 1905 farmhouse my family has inhabited for nearly 20 years in the leafy suburban paradise of Northbrook is its proximity to Greenbriar Elementary School, one block away. It gave an excellent grounding to our two boys, slingshotting them into the stratosphere of first academic, then professional success.
     They’re gone now. But I remain, a spectral late middle-aged man haunting the neighborhood. A dog owner, during our daily walks we sometimes drift toward Greenbriar. Though never during school hours, not after a jarring incident five years ago. The dog and I were ambling along an empty sidewalk between the building and the parking lot one afternoon, minding our business. Suddenly the school doors burst open and we were surrounded by kids. Really, it was like Rush Street the moment the Bulls won their first championship: empty, whoosh, mobbed.
     Children jostled to pet the dog,. Before I could get out of there, a woman strode over and informed me that strangers are not permitted on the grounds during school hours. I felt like Peter Lorre in “M.”
     She did not command me to leave that instant. Nor did I clap my hand to my heart and declare, “I am a Greenbriar parent emeritus!” Instead I hung my head, aghast, and fled.

     But 7 a.m. Saturday we had the place to ourselves, so vectored through the schoolyard, past the lovely little wetland next to the playground. It wasn’t there when my kids went to school, but installed later as an encouragement—I imagine—for migrating birds and besieged bees. As an educational tool and not—I hope—a moat to keep scary neighborhood men off the property.
     Admiring the miniature marsh, I noticed a ball, yellow, among the grasses. Then another. Then a third. I began to count. Five, 10, 15, 20...more. At least two dozen balls, of all sorts: kickballs, footballs, basketballs. Plus a pink hulu hoop, floating in the fen.

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  1. It's thrilling when a mountain moves at your touch, or a marsh drains at a few words from your lips. Now, let's talk about that snake-infested swamp in DC.

  2. "There are so many ways you can go with this." The meandering nature of what follows brings to mind how the Swiss artist Paul Klee famously described his technique: "Taking a line out for a walk."



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