August 11th, 2014
In Pursuit of the Great American Lotus Flower
Growing up on a four-lane busy street in the City of Chicago didn’t provide me with much exposure to the flora and fauna of the Midwest. During my first spring in Lombard, (tree town or lilac village), Illinois, I was captivated as I drove through the town on my regular errands.
During my early years in the city of Chicago, I might have seen a lilac bush poking through a fence, in an alleyway or caught a glimpse of a limb of a crab apple tree extending from the backyard. Sure, I knew about fall foliage and would frequent the Morton Arboretum, in Lisle Illinois, in autumn, but at the age of 25, I was unfamiliar the purple redbud tree that blooms for just a few weeks, in the spring, before becoming ordinary. There are at least four to five giant magnolia trees bursting with their enormous hardy buds on every block that eventually provides a carpet of powdery pink petals. The town is literally littered with pink, burgundy and white crab apple trees, you know, the kind that Bambi got his antlers tangled in when he met Faline for the first time?
The trees are just one attraction, because there is a stunning array of bushes too. As I drove, I would see bright yellow forsythia, pink azalea, blue hydrangeas, pink peonies, and lilacs in white, pink and many shades of purple, scattered intermittently throughout the town bordering the residence’s lovely gardens filled with tulips, irises, lilies, and daffodils.
Sheltered life, I know…Needless to say, I wanted to know all their names so that I could teach them to my children and then I discovered Lombard’s Lilacia Park. I learned about Colonel Plum and his wife Helen, who traveled the world collecting lilac bushes and planted them in their yard. This yard was transformed into Lilacia Park with the aid of Jens Jensen, a famous landscape architect at the turn of the century. The Plums later bequeathed their home, for the village library and their yard for the village park district in 1927 and it has been our legacy ever since.
As a writer I feel it is important to know the flora and fauna of the region you are writing about, you can paint a picture for the reader to be swept away in. I was enthralled by Margret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaids Tale; for the way she marked the passing of time by the different blooms that were budding. Dean Kootz’s descriptions of Southern California are prominent in every one of his books.
The setting of a story can become a character as strong as the protagonist and antagonist in your work. (click to tweet)
Recently, I tried to explain this to a young author in a review of her first novella, where the gardener spoke of all the trees and bushes and their many attributes. I wanted to know what kind of trees and bushes they were, as well as their attributes. A palm tree and a hibiscus bush, paints a different picture than a mighty oak and a lilac bush and depending on their state of being can also hint at the time of year. The description: Jenna looked at the crimson red leaves of the maple tree, denotes fall. Sarah walked through a lane bordered by Roses of Sharon in bloom, denotes mid summer. You don’t have to be an expert in the field of horticulture. Just do a little research to find out, what grows where and when it blooms.
I think by now I have established that I love flowers, trees, bushes and nature. In April I caught a documentary on PBS, The Fox River Valley and the Chain O’ Lakes with Geoffrey Baer. There was a little snippet about, The Great American Lotus Flower that bloom in late July and early August, but I was hooked. I wanted to know more.
In the film Geoffrey, shows the flowers blooming in the water and says that he wishes it were “smell o vision” so that you could experience their lovely fragrance. He went on to talk about how these flowers once filled Grass Lake at the turn of the century. People would travel from all over to take tours in steamboats to see, smell, and take pictures with the abundant blooms. They even sold Lotus Flower perfume to the tourist.
Sadly these flowers came near extinction with the busy tourism and powerboats mowing them down over the years to say nothing of the pollution created by all of the tourism and recreation, but Geoffrey assured in his film that they were making a-come-back so I wanted to investigate.
The Chain O’ Lakes is just an hours drive from my home and my husband and I set out on an adventure on August 2nd, 2014. It was a mild sunny day with temperatures near 80 degrees.
And just as we turned on to HWY 12 Rand Road by the VFW Hall, I spotted the flowers in a channel, right by the parking lot and said, “pull over!” I snagged a few pictures, including this one:
Then we were on our way to the Chain O’ Lakes state park.
We couldn’t find any of The Great Amercian Lotus in the state park so we asked a guy waiting to dock his boat if he knew where to go on land…He said, you really have to be in a boat to get a good view of them and suggested we take the pontoon boat over to Blarney Island and proceeded to give us directions.
We were off to the Blarney Island Shuttle Service on Grass Lake Road. Once we arrived we had to wait for the shuttle so we ordered two Coronas and got to talking to a local named Don, who works at Blarney Island, but was mysterious and wouldn’t divulge to what capacity he worked in.
We boarded the pontoon and left a boatload of people behind that would have to wait for this boat to return before their adventure would begin. Either my iPhones camera is just not strong enough or we were just too far but this is all I got.
There was a live band playing on the island when we arrived and we ordered a couple of beers. Ted and Audrey, of Palatine, Illinois, approached us and started up a conversation, because my husband was wearing a classic White Sox baseball cap. Ted went on to share great stories about his boyhood excursions to Wrigley Field and Cubs Park…I told him he should write them down because they were great! He brought back so many memories for me when I was a young girl and would go to the games with my father.
Time was ticking away and I still wanted to try and capture these flowers on camera before sunset. We were off again, this time on an empty pontoon, where we enjoyed talking with Scott the pontoon driver and Ralph, security for the island, about the area. Scott told me that these flowers only grow in three places in all the world, Egypt, India and right here in the Chain O’ Lakes, Grass Lake.
Through my research for this blog I discovered that that was not true, if you would like to learn more about the Great American Lotus flower, click here.
Scott was kind enough to bring us in closer to the beds of lotus, but I still couldn’t capture that picture of a budding bloom.
These flowers grow in clusters along the banks around the low hung bridges were no boaters can pass. Unfortunately, there is no parking allowed on either side of any bridge in the area, but we managed to park by one and I was able to capture this picture to give you an idea. There was a field of grass before the flowers:
Back on Land we decided to check out the Mineola Hotel, Illinois, largest and oldest frame structure, built in 1884. Onstar had steered us wrong and we ended up in a subdivision and just as we were about to turn a corner, four speeding vehicles came rushing by and they were heading to the same place.
We arrived at the hotel and grabbed some shots and I decided to ask, the people in the four vehicles why they were there? Sarah, the producer told me that she was an independent filmmaker and that they were shooting a movie, called, The Red Window. I couldn’t find anything online about it. She went on to tell me she had been to the hotel many times for weddings and that the inside is all original, from classic framed windows, chandeliers and wood working throughout a very lovely, turn of the century décor. The Hotel has been condemned and people are trying to raise money to save it.
Sarah, suggested a restaurant to us around the corner, El Puerto, so my husband and I finished off our adventure with a Margarita overlooking the lake. I didn’t get my picture, but I had a fine time trying.
There is currently a rivalry going on between the preservationist who wants to save the lakes and the recreationist who want to motorboat.
Nature pushed aside…the ducks struggle in the murky water and waves created by the recreational vehicles.