Film Festival in the Woods Features Chicago Filmmaker

Midsummer crowd shot

RIVERWOODS, IL – With a mix of short, thought-provoking environmental films, light-hearted animations, and poignant documentaries, Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods examines the costs and benefits of sharing space with nature at it’s 2015 Film Festival in the Woods, August 22, 2015, 7:30pm-9:30pm. Some of the short films to be featured include:  Chasing Water and Delta Dawn by award-winning photographer, Pete McBride; CHICAGOLAND, by Ben Kauffman; and Bluebird Man by Neil Paprocki and Matthew Podolsky.

Each film examines the environmental impact of coexistence with our natural world. McBride’s films address the timely subject of water. With extreme conditions in California and the national attention on lack of resources, water has become headline news.  Chasing Water and Delta Dawn shares a photographic and explorative journey on the Colorado River.  Using incredible photography, McBride takes an intimate look at the watershed as he and his crew attempt to follow the irrigation water that sustains the family’s Colorado ranch, down river to the sea. His encounters along the way help us to feel the extreme value of water and the heavy demand on this important commodity in North America.

2015 FF 4x6 poster no sponsorsBirds are also feeling the pinch for resources, with increasing difficulty finding breeding grounds and food sources as land gets gobbled up by homes, highways, and deforestation.  Thirty-five years ago, Alfred Larson decided to retire and in his sudden pause, took note of the change in the landscape.  Once a fluster of noise and activity, the Idaho landscape he grew up in seemed more quiet and still.  Larson began a project to build one bluebird house with his new-found free-time and in so doing launched a conservation effort that changed his life, the landscape, and the local bluebird population.  Paprocki and Podolsky’s Bluebird Man, is a short documentary about bluebird conservation and citizen science.  This Wild Lens production focuses on the efforts of 91-year-old Alfred Larson, who has been monitoring and maintaining over 300 nest boxes for bluebirds in Idaho for 35 years.

Kauffman’s film was made right here in Chicago with Manual Cinema.  Although Chicago boasts almost 5,000 acres of urban natural areas, some wildlife subsist within the built environment.  In the film, CHICAGOLAND, the filmmaker tells a timely story about the unseen wildness of our cities and the animals that also call it home. We follow a lone urban coyote in search of sustenance for herself and her pups while navigating the perils of the Chicago landscape, both man-made and natural. Traveling from the perimeter of the city into its center, we see through her eyes a Chicago where the boundaries of “nature” and “city” are permeable; a Chicago where the wild and the urban intermingle.  This creative endeavor is a nail-biter and a lot of fun to watch.

This popular Film Festival is presented outside on the Brushwood Center lawn with room for picnics, blankets and chairs.  Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods is a non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing art, nature and discovery by offering multiple points of entry for the public to connect with the natural world.   This festival is in partnership with the Center for Humans and Nature, Lake County Forest Preserve, and the generosity of our sponsor:  Frances Simons/Baird & Warner.

The program is free, but with a suggested donation of $10.  In the event of rain, the festival will be held indoors.  Come at 7pm for a gallery tour. BrushwoodCenter.Org.

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Brushwood Center Announces Return of Shakespeare Outdoors July 23-26

Brushwood Center announces the return of Shakespeare Outdoors, July 23-26, 7pm, with the Bard’s As You Like It, performed by Citadel Theatre. This popular summertime event in Riverwoods, will be performed in Ryerson Woods, near Deerfield.  “Our mission is to connect people to nature through the arts and environmental programs,” said John Barrett, Executive Director of Brushwood Center.  He continued, “Shakespeare Outdoors is a chance for us to connect the community to nature in a unique way.”

as you like itShakespeare’s As You Like It is a favorite of audiences everywhere.  Recognized as his pastoral comedy, it is perhaps known as much for the famed soliloquy “All the World’s a Stage” or “The Seven Ages of Man” as for its storyline.  In the play, a duke’s court is usurped by his brother and he and his followers flee to the nearby forest.  There, his supporters; including his jester, other courtiers, his daughter Rosalind and her friends, camp out among the country folk and make do with their banishment. In hiding, Rosalind has adopted the visage of a young man, and a new name – Ganymede – and this new appearance leads to a comedy of mistaken identities as a country girl falls for her. “The show has a little bit of everything: comedy, love and romance, mistaken identity, and even chase scenes. It will be fun to watch,” said Scott Phelps, artistic director of the Citadel Theatre.

The most musical of Shakespeare’s plays, As You Like It features a number of songs which highlight the pastoral atmosphere and the changing of the seasons.   As You Like It is directed by Frank Farrell. Farrell performed as an actor in Goodman Theatre’s As You Like It years ago; and directed Citadel’s outdoor A Midsummer Night’s Dream last summer.

Sitting outside and listening to Shakespeare’s words in a wooded setting harkens to the early days of theater.  Phelps said his performers are really looking forward to returning to Brushwood.  “They love the intimate connection they can make with the audience,” he said. Last year was their first year at Brushwood and it was so successful that they are added a fourth performance this year.

As You Like It is a 90-minute performance including guitar, violin and vocals.  Barrett suggests arriving early for a hike on one of the many trails of Ryerson Woods or to take a tour of Brushwood Center to view the art gallery before finding a spot of the lawn.

Tickets are available for all four shows which begin at 7 p.m., July 23-26. Tickets:  $15 or $10 for Brushwood members.    Register at:  www.BrushwoodCenter.Org or call 847-968-3344.

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Ryerson Reads takes on Harrison’s “Gardens”

Gardens largeOur most recent session of the environmental literature discussion group, Ryerson Reads, was about Robert Pogue Harrison’s Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (2008). Harrison’s Gardens is not the sort of work we generally discuss. That is, it is not a work in the broad tradition that begins with Thoreau’s Walden and includes the many American books that connect a meditation about a particular place with a meditation on the subjective experience of a sojourner in that place. These books – let’s call them what Thoreau once called Walden, “a meteorological journal of the mind” – include such very different texts as Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge and Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, and constitute something like the mainstream of American environmental writing. Neither is Harrison’s Gardens a traditional work of garden writing that might belong in the tradition that stretches from Gertrude Jeckyll to Michael Pollan, or the traditional academic monograph that one might expect from Harrison, the Rosina Pierotti Professor of Italian Literature at Stanford University.

Gardens, which Harrison calls an “essay,” recalls the root meaning of that term: a try or an attempt. Harrison attempts to delineate some of things that the ancient human imperative to order outdoor space for aesthetic purposes suggests about human nature. The attempt, necessarily partial and incomplete, is undertaken with all the resources of a master teacher of the humanities. Dante, Boccaccio, Italo Calvino all figure in Harrison’s bibliography, as do Plato and Epicurus, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and many more in many languages. The difficulty of the book – its many references and subordinate texts – is part of the pleasure of reading Gardens: you admire the reach of Harrison’s learning even as you work to keep up with his argument.

Central to Harrison’s argument is the idea of care (cura), which Harrison defines, learnedly, by telling the story of Homer’s Odysseus stranded on Kalypso’s island of earthly delights. Kalypso has offered the hero immortality if he will only stay with her in her garden of perfect beauty, but Odysseus spends his days there pining for Penelope and Ithaca. But what he also pines for is the human world of mortality and imperfection where care and cultivation are possible:

Had Odysseus been forced to remain on Kalypso’s island for

the rest of his endless days, and had he not lost his humanity in

the process, he would most likely have taken to gardening….

For human beings, like Odysseus, who are held fast by care

have an irrepressible need to devote themselves to something.

A garden that comes into being through one’s own labor and

tending efforts is very different from the fantastical gardens

where things preexist spontaneously. For unlike earthly

paradises, human-made gardens that are brought into and

maintained in being by cultivation retain a signature

of the human agency to which they owe their existence. Call

it the mark of Cura.

Harrison extends this claim in a striking feminist adaptation of the Christian felix culpa argument by asserting that Mother Eve, an apostle of Cura, redeemed humanity from the idleness of Eden by delivering us into the world of labor and care.

The gardens Harrison surveys in this brief and crowded book are many. Plato’s academic grove is contrasted with Epicurus’s kitchen garden as divergent expressions of the Greek idea of civis virture. Harrison analyzes the temporary gardens of homeless people in New York City as exemplary of human biophilia or, as he wittily calls it, “chlorophilia.” He writes of Versailles as the monument to a suite of regal vices. And there is a lovely interlude on Kingscote, an out-of-the way garden on Stanford’s campus, which is one of several places in the book where Harrison insists that to be a garden there must be a wall enclosing it, but that the wall must have openings to people and polis: “Gardens are vital to the degree that they open their enclosures in the midst of history, offering a measure of seclusion that is not occlusion.”

In the final chapters of Gardens, with the help of a cast of sources that includes Ariosto, Pound, and the Czech modernist writer and gardener Karel Capek, Harrison launches an attack on modern Western restlessness and consumerism. Our manic modern energies, and the environmental destruction they have wrought, are for Harrison a renunciation of Cura in quest of a dehumanizing Eden of creature comforts. Modern westerners live in “the expectation of an Edenic condition, in which the sole higher purpose, if not obligation, of the citizen is to enjoy the fruits of the earth in an increasingly infantilized state of sheer receptivity.”

A bracing and challenging book, Harrison’s Gardens provoked a rich discussion among the group at Ryerson Reads. Consider joining us next season, when we will discuss Berndt Heinrich’s Life Everlasting; Terry Tempest Williams, An Unspoken Hunger; E.O. Wilson, The Meaning of Human Existence; and T.C. Boyle, A Friend of the Earth.

Ben GoluboffWritten by Benjamin Goluboff, professor of English at Lake Forest College and an expert in American literature. Ben has led Ryerson Reads for the past eleven years and is now preparing for an exciting 2015-16 season.

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It’s woodcock dancing time

Stand near the entrance to Ryerson Woods at dusk in March, April and May and you might hear the unusual courtship and flight song of an unusual shorebird, the American woodcock. It’s called a shorebird because of and habit of probing into the earth with a long bill to capture its food, as other shorebirds do.

But the woodcock doesn’t live or nest along the shoreline.  It chooses habitat that includes an open field with short grasses next to a wooded area that can be wet in spring.

And, compared with other shorebirds, its legs are quite short, especially in relation to its rotund body.

Woodcocks will stay in the woods during the day, but come nightfall, the males emerge onto a short grassy area to show their dancing and singing skills to females and competing males.

First, the male utters a nasal-sounding, “Peent,” lifting its open bill to the sky. He continues his “peenting” for up to a dozen or more times before spiraling into the sky as high as 100 or more yards, the size of a football field.

As he flies into the air, his wings give a whistling twitter – until he’s so high, you can’t see or hear him. Seconds after you’ve lost him, you’ll hear a chirpy,chirpy,chirpy or kissing sound  he utters as he returns to nearly the exact same place he started peenting. Minutes later, he starts peenting again, then taking off to the sky again.

Sometimes, he’ll peent in all directions, turning after each peent, to broadcast his vocals as far as possible.

Watching woodcocks can strain the eyes – they begin their displays when it is almost dark – just after the last American robin has quit singing for the night and when the spring peepers begin their chorus.  Stand quietly and listen for the unusual sounds and hope for a glimpse of the bird against a moonlit sky.

Here’s a better look at a woodcock:

You can find more videos here.

You’ll notice it has large eyes  on the side of its head – this gives it the chance to look out for predators, while inserting its long bill into the earth searching for a meal of worms.

Woodcocks visit other Lake County Forest Preserves to mate in spring, including Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest and Almond Marsh near Grayslake. You’ll need to enter those preserves to hear the woodcocks. At Ryerson Woods, you can turn into the entrance, then immediately park alongside the road, turn off your car, get out and listen.  If you’re lucky you’ll get to hear and see the birds before the preserve is closed for the night. Or come first thing in the morning before the sun has risen – woodcocks peent and display at dawn as well.

For a special program on woodcocks and a guided tour to hear and see them, you might consider signing up for a class at Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest on  March 27. Click here for more information.

Sheryl DeVore

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Artists explore the rare bobolink in exhibition to open March 8 at Brushwood Center

Artists Ginny Krueger and Ann Blaas present an intimate and varied look at a declining songbird, the bobolink, and its migratory patterns at their exhibition, “The Bobolink Proposition,” which opens March 8 at Brushwood Center, 21850 Riverwoods Road, Riverwoods. The opening reception, held from 1 to 3 p.m., is free and open to the public.

The artists, who have done other shows together, wanted to work within a bird theme.  “We thought the bobolink had that exuberance and childlike rhythm that’s in both of our works,” Blaas said. “The word bobolink has a fun sound. We learned about the bird’s migratory patterns and there are some hints toward that in our paintings. “

The bobolink, one of North America’s fastest declining songbirds, breeds in grasslands including Rollins Savanna, a Lake County Forest Preserve District property near Krueger’s home. During courtship, the male flies close to the surface giving a tinkling sound and showing off its white back to attract females and deter intruders. It migrates to South America for winter. “I’m fascinated that the bobolink’s breast is dark and the back is white,” said Krueger. “It’s usually the reverse in birds.” In field guides, the bobolink has been described as wearing a reverse tuxedo.

Blaas, who teaches art at College of DuPage and Joliet Community College, is creating some of her works on Mylar, a type of drafting paper.“The transparency of the paper allows the artist to work on both front and back surfaces,” she said.

Krueger will display her encaustic paintings of melded wax, resin and pigment on wood. She’ll also showcase two colorful quilts depicting woodland birds, and several ceramic sculptures.

“Brushwood Center is a wonderful venue for artists. It has such intimate spaces,” Krueger said.

Visitors can meet Blaas and Krueger at the March 8 opening. No registration is necessary for the free event. The exhibition continues through May 5. Gallery hours: Monday – Thursday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sundays 1 to 3 p.m. For more information, visit www.brushwoodcenter.org.

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January’s Ryerson Reads gave us a chance to delve deep into Abby Geni’s “The Last Animal”

by guest blogger, Benjamin Goluboff

The-Last-AnimalOur January meeting of Ryerson Reads, the environmental literature discussion group, was focused on Abby Geni’s The Last Animal (2013). Geni’s debut volume, this collection of short stories explores the troubled, sometimes contradictory relationships between humans and the natural world, specifically our interactions with animals — wild, captive, and domesticated.

Perhaps the most striking thing about these stories is Geni’s mastery of various voices and various modes of prose fiction. In “Terror Birds” Geni writes in a gritty naturalistic vein about a child growing up all but feral on an Arizona ostrich farm.  In “The Girls of Apache Bryn Mawr” she spins a brisk New Yorker-ish social satire that turns alarmingly dark as the kids at a Wisconsin summer camp for Jewish girls discover that one of their counselors may harbor a kind of inner beast. And “Captivity,” possibly the finest story of the collection, is a comic tale that owes something to the Magic Realist tradition, and describes, among other things, an Octopus and his (or her) relations with the keeper of the cephalopod wing of the aquarium where they both spend their days.

One of the pleasures of Ryerson Reads is that no matter how carefully I prepare for these discussions the group’s talented readers always surprise me, taking the discussion in directions I could not have foreseen. As we discussed “Captivity,” for example,  collating the story’s two intertwined plot lines about different sorts of captivity, the group engaged in a rich (and unresolved) debate about the ethics of keeping animals captive for scientific or educational purposes. Does the scientific mission of institutions like the Shedd Aquarium (where Geni’s story seems to take place) redeem those institutions from being what “Captivity” suggests they are: prison camps for animals?

Ryerson Reads 1491One of the stories that provoked a particularly rich discussion among the Ryerson group was “Dharma at the Gate,” a story of social realism roughly in the Raymond Carver tradition. This story features an ill-starred high school romance, and a golden retriever who acts as a kind of tutelary spirit to the young woman of the pair. I believe we found the story so engaging for at least two reasons. First, the story is about social class, and like Americans in general we take a kind of illicit pleasure in talking about class because it is one of our democratic culture’s dirty secrets. Second, the story explores the unique bond that has obtained, since our species hunter-gatherer days, between people and dogs. Geni may have gone somewhat out of her depth in “Dharma at the Gate” in advancing a particular hypothesis about Homo sapiens and Canis lupus familiaris as coevolutionary partners, and then offering that hypothesis — tentatively, ambivalently — as a template with which to understand her characters’ troubled romance. What the reader is left with — opinions varied among the group — may be a startling insight into her characters’ motivations, or may be a richly readable muddle. Read “Dharma at the Gate” and decide for yourself.

GardensThe Ryerson Reads selection for March is Robert Pogue Harrison’s Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (2008). This is a challenging academic book that endeavors to find in gardens — real and imaginary — clues to what makes us human. Harrison ranges from Epicurus to Bocaccio to the gardens of the Manhattan homeless in this learned study that is anchored in what he calls the ethics of care. Join us in March as we take up this rich and difficult book.


Ben Goluboff

Ben Goluboff, professor of English at Lake Forest College and an expert in American literature, has led Ryerson Reads for the past 11 years.  He will be revealing the book selections for the 2015-16 season at the Spring session, to be held on March 11th.

For more information on Ryerson Reads, visit our website.

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Listening for the song of the Chickadee at Ryerson Woods

chickadee2On a cold winter day, if you listen closely while walking Ryerson Woods, you can hear the unmistakable call of the black-capped chickadee. “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” it calls, perhaps to connect with its brethren at a good feeding spot or alarm them of an intruder, possibly a predator. Both male and female chickadees give this call throughout the year.

Chickadees live at Ryerson year-round – they can survive the winter because of special adaptations that other birds living in cold climates possess: by fluffing their feathers to trap warmth, by growing more feathers, and by shivering as a way to regulate their body temperature. They also seek tree holes and other crevices on the coldest days to protect themselves from the chilling wind.

Chickadees have other special techniques that help them during the coldest time here in northern Illinois. First, they can hang on the undersides of branches to retrieve hidden larvae and eggs. Yes, the insects that will come this spring are waiting there for just the right moment to emerge. Chickadees help keep the population in check.

Chickadees also feed on seeds – as you know if you feed the birds in your backyard.  Have you ever watched them at your feeder? They sometimes take the seed and fly off with it in their bill – they’re hiding it for future retrieval. They actually remember where they hide the seeds – usually underneath tree bark.

In January, the cheerful sound of the black-capped chickadee’s call brightens anyone’s spirit. And when February comes, you can hear a new sound from these hardy birds – their spring song. They start early. Listen for “fee-bee” or “fee-bee-bee” or “hey, sweetie” with the first syllable higher in pitch.  Click here to listen to the song:  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-capped_Chickadee/sounds

That means they are starting to think about raising young, establishing territories and finding a cavity in which to nest. Sometimes one will even sing in January.

While out at Ryerson Woods, take a walk and listen for the chickadee’s calls and songs – then step inside to warm up and view the art exhibition featuring sculptures and drawings of the birds you love. You also might hear chickadees when you’re on the free Soundwalk scheduled for Jan. 25 at Brushwood Center.

Have any questions about chickadees? Let us know.

– Sheryl DeVore

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