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Thursday, June 5, 2014

PREVIEW CHAPTER from BOOK

CALL OF THE FOREST

Forests were always my favorite place.

I remember my first road trip. In the back seat of my Dad's purple-blue Chevy Impala, my nose barely above the chrome framed window, I watch life getting greener. We are on the Interstate going to Indiana, which feels like a foreign country. To a place called Enchanted Forest.

On a concrete road called I-94, we cruise through the Southside of Chicago, and over the Indiana state line. A metal “Welcome to Indiana” sign stands at the border, greeting us with a view of monster steel mills, smokestacks like giant cigarettes puffing dark smoke into the sky, and burning smell of melted steel and fired coal.

Out the back window I see City life erased in the rear view mirror. Past houses poorly built and jammed onto small spaces of land, windows with dead end views of brick walls. Windows like glass eyes looking over concrete, rusted skeletons of buildings, and metal chain link fences, human constructed webs of aluminum that divided yet defined peoples' space and marked their territory. Defending whatever was inside from whatever was outside echoing invisible danger. No signs of Nature. Just mad orchestration of boxed in emptiness over Earth.

Soon it is just us on the road, ribbons of green grass and blue sky fly by, music on the radio, and forest up ahead.

This magical spot is US Route 20 and Indiana State Road 49, in the town of Chesterton Indiana, Porter County, right by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Here, was a little Village hidden in the woods, with forest paths leading to surprises, rides, snack shacks and fun things to discover. A giant swing ride flew up into the trees. I loved the feeling of flying. People here are different, they are not like city people, they are peaceful, dressed in clothes from a faraway time that I remember like myst in my mind. The pretty little houses and shoppes are beautiful, surrounded by grass, flowers and forest. A lady is selling jewelry that is sparkling in the Sun.

It all seems so familiar, like from a dream place I know, only in a real life fairytale.

I spend the day walking through the Forest with my Dad, observing trees, and stopping at things I find interesting. Little striped gophers peek from behind leaves, then run across the forest path as they do their own exploring. We arrive at a clearing, a Medieval town center with more shoppes and stop for lunch. We have Pizza and Royal Crown soda on a wooden picnic table in the Summer sun. It is awesome. I wish these Summer days would last forever.

Years later, the scene is Elizabeth Conkey Forest Preserves in Chicago. Dad was busy organizing something. Over the PA system an anonymous voice announced a water balloon fight for kids. I ran to the area and was given a handful of flat colored balloons that I hooked up to a water hose to build my arsenal. Other kids were using the well water iron pump, and it was taking a long time to fill their balloons.

We were divided into 2 groups, told to stay on opposing sides and not cross the invisible line, which an anonymous adult pointed to in the grass. My Viking warrior spirit sprang into action as I dodged incoming balloons, but launched mine like soft weapons, landing on kids, empty picnic tables in epic explosions, and watched one fat balloon wobble aimlessly on the grass from those who ran away. I ran out of balloons, asked for more and was told no, because an adult complained I was 11, taller than the other kids, and said it was an unfair advantage. While asking for an explanation of why they let me play the game in the first place, I was sneak attacked by an army of small kids who crossed the battle line during my nice request for more balloons. Resulting in a mob of madness. Squishy sounds of rubber exploding into showers of cool well water, kids squeezing balloons over smaller kids heads till they burst, and everyone laughing falling on the grass play fighting in a pile of silliness. It was crazy fun until the anonymous voice announced game over.

Adults were playing bingo and there was nothing else for me to do. So I decided to take a walk in the woods. I found a forest path and went in. While walking, I met another kid from the picnic who was leaving. He stopped me, to say he found mudpuppies in the pond and that I too, should look for them. I asked what kind of creature that was. He said it looked like a big catfish but with two legs, and they live in mud at the bottom of ponds. I never heard of such a thing, and thought maybe he was making up fish stories like the tale of the Loch Ness Monster. Regardless, I was curious to find out.

I didn't worry about how long I may hike, how far, or how long it may take to discover if mudpuppies really exist. I didn't have a watch and didn't need one. I could tell time by observing Weather and Nature. This was never taught to me or learned at school. I always intuitively “knew” what to do in the wild, from my Soul's intense connection to Nature.

Walking through the Woods, I feel life lit up around me. Although wandering, I am aware of everything: colors, sensations, sounds, vibrations. My eyes send these images to my mind. I think in pictures. I have a brilliant photographic memory. It archived visuals of what light looks like at different times of the day. Light reflected in leaves, changes like the hands of a clock. The Sun, being the day's light, above me meant Noon. Soon the Sun was a pizza slice to the right, which meant 2pm.

I kept going and found the pond, way in the forest, with baby fish swimming around poking their noses out of the water towards the Sun. I sat on a rock and watched them. I wondered if mudpuppies were here. I did not see anything mysterious with legs moving in the mud. Lillypads and some frogs floated by. Birds were chirping and everything felt happy. Just me, trees, animals and plants. No one else was around, and I was not afraid. Then the Sun was not so bright anymore. Leaves were not illuminated. Colors were becoming pastel. Dusk was arriving. Excited from my exploration and tired, I decided to turn around and back track. Finally at the fork in the path near entrance to the Woods, I heard someone calling my name. I ran to the sound and found my Dad. He said I'd been gone for hours, and he'd gone looking for me. I said “how did you know where I was?” Dad said “I knew where to look for you. Where else would you be?”

Fast forward to Year 2013, and I'm still fascinated by Forests.

My explorations have gone beyond my backyard, beyond State lines, across the USA, into the Wild West, the Redwood Forest, and under the spell of the North Star into Canada.

For the last 3 years, I've been exploring the Forests of West Suburban Chicago. In Kane County, I saw a wild creek under railroad tracks in rural Oswego, IL - and climbed 15 feet down, discovering a stunning archeaological cove of layered rock. This is one of Nature's treasures you would never find on a map, only by exploring. Along the Fox River into Aurora, North Aurora and Batavia, IL are miles of bike paths, river walks, and parks with flowers and grand staircases. Off trail in these areas I've found abandoned wooden bridges, walking them to see where tracks take me further into the Forest. Every day I hiked two to three miles in DuPage County Forest Preserves, along Butterfield Road near the towns of Warrenville, Wheaton and Naperville, IL. I saw Herrick Lake's frozen beauty in the Winter, and lush colors of the Summer. Danada Forest Preserve is magical, and holds a very special place in my heart. Here I visited Horses, went on a hayride through the Forest, learned geological history of the prairie, and took an EAP educational workshop, on the Psychology of healing with Horses.

Traveling East I visited a secluded blast from the past. Right off Rt 83 in these woods, is a place rocked by time. Forces of Nature - wind, water, ice and shifting of the Earth's plate, were the Architects of this place. It is the only Ice Age canyon existing in Cook County, IL. Geologically, it is dolomite limestone, a rare crystalline mineral composite of calcium magnesium carbonate. The time stamped layers embedded in rock, tell the story of when glacial ice covered Chicago. I walked inside these 40 ft high rock canyons. In the Spring, Bluebell flowers turn the surrounding forest, into a landscape of majestic blue-green.

I have been in attendance during Nature's perfectly orchestrated four seasons. I've witnessed the breathtakingly beautiful and the wildly wicked weather. And I've learned to navigate by Nature and stay ahead of the Storms.

For the lasts 4 years, I've traveled the US on road trips in my Van, exploring and observing Nature, writing my online journal aka travel blog, and taking photos.

Immortalizing these images In the moment via my cell phone is a perfect avenue to document experiences on the road. The power of digital technology to instantly transmit, archive, and tell a story in real time, with words and pictures, is like the modern day equivalent of an explorer's handwritten diary.

My photography helps me be the visual voice of Nature, a mirror to the words I compose. It highlights amazing places I've seen, my adventures, and miles I've traveled It illuminates the spirit of Nature. Volumes of scenes and memories are not only in my mind now. They live in my Gallery online at National Geographic Your Shot, shared with the world, with hope of raising Environmental awareness. I have seen so much of this Earth - wild and hidden, created and destroyed. Based on true life experience, I am dedicated to defending what is left of this beautiful world. There is no substitute for Nature, no matter how advanced society may perceive itself to be.

Like the magnetic force that keeps the sun rising and shining, and stars lighting the night, I irresistably follow the compass of my Soul, driving into Nature. Rocking and rolling with the elements in an enchanting symphony of my Life.

This is awesome. And I can't imagine it any other way.

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