By Fr. Jim Brobst, OMI
On May 2, 2015, La Vista Ecological Learning Center sponsored “Through the Eyes of a Biologist”, a workshop which included a presentation and hike in the Missionary Oblate’s Woods Nature Preserve. It was led by Eric Wright, a Natural Heritage Resident with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. What follows is a reflection on that delightful experience by Jim Brobst, OMI.
Along with a few other pilgrims, including biologist Eric Wright, I took notice of things that had been there long before my first walk down that path and major changes that have occurred in the intervening years without my ever really noticing. One major change is that these sixteen acres are now legally protected by the state of Illinois as a nature preserve. With expert instruction from Eric, I gained new perspectives about native species which have been on this land for ages and also about newer, non-native ones. Some of these latter species are not merely new, but also invasive and destructive of the natural balance of this delicate and formerly pristine area. The woods at La Vista, on the grounds of the Missionary Oblate’s novitiate in Godfrey, have been a source of inspiration to me since 1978. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I have walked the back road from our novitiate kitchen to a nearby lodge which hangs over the bluffs, overlooking the Great River Road. My most memorable walk was just this past week.
The State of Illinois has recently begun to expend considerable efforts to preserve this property as one of its very few remaining acreages of old-growth forest. With the recent removal of significant amounts of bush honeysuckle (the kudzu of the Midwest), I was able to encounter waterfalls and orchids which had been obscured from sight. With proper guidance, I became aware of an old shagbark hickory (home to bats which eat mosquitos) and a massive sugar berry (one of the largest examples around). These old souls were always present to me, but their significance had escaped my divided attention. I also became aware of major shifts in the forest species over the past century. Massive oaks and hickories are now giving way to maples and other newer plants, largely because of the introduction of non-native species to these woods.
There are few things like a slow, open-minded and open-eyed walk through the natural spring woods in beautiful weather to feel more human, aware and focused again. I hope to return to these woods more frequently for several reasons. The first is to drink in the beauty and goodness they have to offer. Another is to sit with how they and I have changed in the intervening years since my first visit. A final reason is to protect these qualities not only for my own spiritual nourishment, but for that of generations to come.
Won’t you join me?