Thursday, March 5, 2020

Parrots, bonfires and snacks: Going natural in Northbrook

Richard Weiner, left, and wife Karen run a bird sanctuary in Northbrook. They also board birds.

     Humility can itself be a kind of vanity. Let me explain what I mean. I am proud to have written for a major metropolitan newspaper such as the Sun-Times for more than 35 years. I also take satisfaction in having written for many other excellent publications: Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Forbes, Granta, Sports Illustrated, and on and on. Implies a certain standard of quality...
     But I'm also proud to have written for far more obscure outlets. Advertising agencies and PR firms. I can bat out a commencement address for a buddy, come up with a list of ideas for marketing a product. Write captions for cartoons that carry somebody else's name. Not too long ago I wrote the copy for a memorial plaque.  It shows, I believe, a healthful lack of pride. It's the work, not me.
     And I'm proud to share this piece that came out this week in Northbrook Voice, a new publication of the Village of Northbrook. I was quite surprised that they contacted me, as I've said some things about the place that are not exactly kind. But they were looking for a critical eye, and this first essay permitted me to do what I like to do best: get my ass out of the office and into real life, meeting real people and doing real things. It's publicity rather than journalism, but I like to think it still merits reading.
    I'll let you be the judge of that. This June, I've lived in Northbrook for 20 years. It was a wonderful place to raise a family; my boys are trotting around the bases of life, tipping their caps to the cheering crowd, in part because of the education they got at the Northbrook schools. I'm glad to have the chance to give a little something back to a community that has given me so much. 

    A Chicago friend with a parrot tipped me off: did I know that Northbrook has a bird sanctuary?
     No, I did not.
Kaita, an Eastern Screech Owl
     But then, there are so many ways to interact with the environment living in Northbrook, it’s hard to keep track. My wife and I often walk on the Trail through Time, the Park District’s revival of farm field into Illinois prairie. But I’ve stepped into Somme Woods exactly twice in the 20 years we’ve lived here, and did not realize that almost every weekend, dozens of Northbrook residents gather to help transform what had been neglected forest preserve  overgrown with invasive species into a pristine trio of distinct Illinois ecosystems. 
    "You can get to all three in a short walk," said Lew Brashares, a volunteer. "There are only a few places in the country this way. Prairie coming up to oak savanna coming up close to woodland. It's all right here."
      Returning Somme’s woods and prairie to their original state isn't easy—residents have been working on it since 1978.
      "There are so many opportunities to volunteer, usually two or three a weekend," said Eriko Kojima. You can find a calendar at
   And if restoring natural habitat doesn't sound enticing, think of it as cutting down trees and building big bonfires, then meeting neighbors to share homemade snacks and conversation. 
    “It’s better than the gym,” said Ying Hensel, who volunteers in Northbrook, she says, because her hometown of Wilmette has nothing like it. We were both volunteering on a recent Saturday morning—my second visit—and I plan on many more.

To continue reading, click here.

Cutting and burning invasive, non-native trees in the Somme Woods. 


  1. The effort to create such a peaceful place has been admirable, but the naming is somewhat ironic to those familiar with the 1916 battle of the Somme, the first of a number of slaughters in the 'Great War' but remembered by the British for the 60,000 casualties incurred in one day. I looked on the internet for its provenance, but Mr. Google was unable to enlighten me.


  2. Looks like a perfect place to walk Kitty.



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