This is character building weather, alright.  I had almost forgotten the feel of stiff, frozen jeans and coagulating mucus membranes.  It’s cold out, and there just might be a little snow in our future.  Could it be?

I hope each and every one of you had a chance to get outside Saturday and enjoy the unseasonable warmth and sunshine.  We took a trip out to Starved Rock as did a great number of our northwestern brethren.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but we have been out to the Starved Rock area before, just not Starved Rock itself.  We always managed to drive past it towards Matthiessen.  Now, of course, we knew Starved Rock existed, but somehow we had always veered away from it, thinking Starved Rock was just too touristy and Matthiessen was a hidden gem only few knew about.  Of course, we were wrong.  Starved Rock was busy, but it’s also massive.  You could easily get lost, in a good way, along some back trail and not see another hiker for quite a while, but if you stuck close to the Main Lodge and hiked up to Starved Rock or Lover’s Leap, then you were sure to run into others, but you weren’t tripping on anyone either.  It was a lovely experience, albeit somewhat abbreviated, as our original and main intent was to scout out the campsites.  Again, we were completely impressed.  What a beautiful and well maintained piece of heaven.  Looking around, it was hard to believe we were still in Illinois.

As we headed home, we were presented with a sign on the highway, entitled, “Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial”.  We had seen the sign many times on our excursions, but we decided today was the day to check it out.  We had missed the turn off into the parking lot, so we decided to find someplace to turn around.  Low and behold, we stumbled upon another War Memorial, tucked deep inside Illini State Park in Marseilles, IL.  It was haunting, humbling and shook me to my core.  Here on the outskirts of a mighty, midwestern forest stood a field with hundreds of Oak saplings planted ever so carefully and lovingly.  Each Oak stood for a fallen soldier, and the plaque on the ground read:

War Memorial #7War Memorial #6We walked upon the roughly cut paths between the trees – some labeled with a name and photo while other’s, anonymously, displayed a flag.  Anonymous or not, these were selfless people who gave their lives for our country, our freedom.  It was awe-inspiring and what a beautiful, honorable way to memorialize these great soldiers.

Just a few miles down the road, our intended destination, stood the “Middle East Conflicts War Memorial” perched on the banks of the Illinois River.  It too was an impressive and haunting site with name after name chiseled into the many walls of the Memorial.  I made an effort to read at least ten names from each wall, while saying a prayer and giving my thanks.  It seemed like a paltry offering in comparison.  There was something raw and stark about this Memorial.  It did not have the serenity of the White Oak Forest.  It made me think and feel how pointless war is.  It was poignant and loud, jagged and fierce, perhaps made more distinct by the rushing waters behind it.

War Memorial #3War Memorial #2War Memorial #1If you have the time and inclination, I highly recommend a trip to Starved Rock or Matthiessen and please take a moment on your way to visit these two remarkable Memorials.  It’s amazing what you find in your own backyard.

Stay warm and cross your fingers for some snow!

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.  We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream.  It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

– Ronald Reagan

Best wishes,

Kim Sweeney