Photo of forest trees and a bridge during fall.
Photo Credit: Abby Geers

The clearest memories I can find, buried behind the typical stress of being a teenager, are outside- a picturesque scene, toppled with mountains that hide the true wonders of their moss-covered trees within. To escape the picture of stale cornfields and urban sprawl is my main goal in the next few years. Washington seems like an ideal setting: Douglas Firs growing beyond imaginable altitudes, water that’s actually blue (not the uncomfortable gray shade of Lake Michigan), and if this isn’t enough, native flowers sprouting on their highways, not littered with trash. When I compare the valleys of Yosemite and the Rocky Mountains to Oswego, Illinois, it’s difficult to find comfort in this town.

On some especially tedious days, when the sun starts to set before I get home from school, and the trees have been stripped to their barest state, I feel like I’ll never be able to escape. This intrusive and annoying thought festers and controls me, until I believe that I will always exist in the monotonous plains of the Midwest. Ranked as the 49th flattest state, behind Florida, which is practically underwater at this point, I can confidently say that we have it especially harsh in the field of trying to find challenging hiking trails. Maybe my fantasies get the best of me and I’m dreaming beyond my limits, but for now, the idea of going to the mountainous coasts soothes me.

When visiting the library recently, my eye was caught by a book, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”, by authors Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns. More entranced by the graphics than anything, I wandered around each page with precise detail. If I can’t be out of here now, I could at least learn about the environment elsewhere. All of the park’s photos and notes seemed so much more enthralling than what Illinois could handle. 

A few particular quotes stuck out to me through my skimming. Contributed by John Muir, coined the “Father of The National Parks” for his preservation efforts in Yosemite National Park, Mt. Rainier National Park, Sequoia National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park. 

“Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever,” Muir wrote in his journal.

Of course, these pretentious and old mountain men are the ones who are able to put my feelings toward nature into action. I know, yet I’m still hesitant to say with full certainty, that one day, I will be content out in the West. The dream of escaping can only follow me so much before being confronted by the truth— I’m only a sophomore, and still have a few more years until I can make this decision for myself.

Rather than focusing on the bleak parts of the Midwest, I’ve been trying to shift my outlook. There’s got to be parts of our state where your only view isn’t a gas station or McDonalds, right? 

Starved Rock State Park, beautifully diverse and able to hold such serenity among 2,630 acres, never fails to transport me to a simpler frame of thought. I think of when I was still a young kid, no older than six, and making the decision that I will forever devote myself to the beauty of nature. The canyons with trailing waterfalls contrasted with the thick overgrown moss patches have become my definition of perfection. 

Even earlier than that, my first clear memories were from Red Oak Nature Center, in Aurora, searching for butterflies and chipmunks hidden in the trails. My legs still too young to be able to brace the concept of walking, I would stumble over branches to find my newest discovery. Later, in elementary school when I went back for a school field trip, I felt the same rush of happiness return. Admiring the stars from the shaved grass of my backyard can still bring me a hopeful sense of security. A dull idea really, but something I’ve realized no other region of the world could accomplish just as well and simple as the Midwest. 

With the new freedom of having my license, I’m trying to make a habit of taking in all these sights. Each free weekend or nice afternoon, I will teach myself to adore all of the beauty Illinois nature has to offer. A large part of me will always prefer environments farther away from my home, and I have no doubt that I will get there one day, but finding comfort within the Midwest has become just as big of a goal for me. I like to believe that a true nature-lover doesn’t prioritize one landscape over another, so how could it be fair if I don’t give Illinois suburbia a chance?

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Hello! I'm Abby Geers and this is my first year as a 42fifty reporter and I am a sophomore at OHS. I enjoy reading, my plants, spending time with my cats, and hanging out with friends. I'm really excited to write this year!


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