Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Autumn continued at the Morton Arboretum

This week it was J. who suggested the trip to the Morton Arboretum. First, however, a combination of Bonjour coffee + chilly weather + the walk to the train station and the wait + my squished bladder = a quick stop at Caribou Coffee in Homewood for relief. J. loves this particular cafe, with its standalone fireplace, so after an hour, a scone (for him), and a turkey wrap (for me), we dragged ourselves away—but we were still an hour ahead of our previous week's excursion.

We were in time to peek into the outdoor gift shop, where J. bought me a hedgehog made of some kind of prickly pods—very cute if not cuddly—in addition to picking up more shopping bags. We also stopped at the cleverly named Gingko Grill for boca mushroom burgers. There's nothing so refreshing as dining al fresco in a chill wind.

While J. made his mandatory stop at the gift shop, I made mine at the restroom. This proved to be fortuitous. After I finished I read some of the Visitor Center graphics, including one that suggested Lake Marmo is a good place for fall color. A lake—this did sound promising. I love water at any time of year.

After J. made his relatively modest purchases, I looked at the map and steered him to his car. Lake Marmo is on the other side of Illinois 53, and, despite expressing some skepticism about my navigational abilities ("I don't think this is right"), J. drove through an underpass past what appeared to be a Morton family mausoleum, and along a road through groves labeled such things as "Flowering Trees" until we spotted a body of water sparkling in the intermittent late afternoon sun—Lake Marmo.

We found one of the nearby mini-lots, then set off to walk the circumference of Lake Marmo. It's one of the few lakes I've seen where in many places there are no barriers to the water's edge—no steep inclines or impossible footing, no vegetation fences—just a straight step from grass into water. Although I imagine it's not permitted, there are several places that would be perfect for a shoreline picnic—in warmer weather, of course.

The leaves were in better form this week, and we found a vibrant red, whole maple leaf trapped underwater at the edge. Even as we watched, the ripples caused by the wind tried to turn it over and carry it off.

On the far side, we found a waterfall spilling over a curved concrete lip into a lower pool. Despite the man-made look, it would be another idyllic spot—especially if you love the distinctive roar of a mini-waterfall (and you have a strong bladder).

We swung around, bypassed the intriguing Hemlock Hill (presumably named for the trees and not for people who poison), and, while taking a look at the eastern shore, spotted a drake. (J. also saw the female, which I missed.)

When we returned to the mini-lot, a trolley bus was blocking his car's escape route, and a dressed-up woman and little girl were watching as a photographer took photographs of a large wedding party from the main fork of a tree. We too watched while waiting for the trolley to back up for us. Suddenly J. exclaimed, "Whoa!" I asked what had happened, and he said, "I wasn't expecting that!" He told me what he meant, and then I saw it briefly—when the bride lifted her long, white, elegant dress up to protect the skirt from getting wet and stained in the grass, she revealed her footwear—carved, brown leather cowboy boots! If only he could have taken a photo of that!

Rudely and insistently nature was calling, so we went in search of an open building with a bathroom. This led me to choose our final destination from the map—Sterling Pond, "dug in 1960 as a sediment settling pond for Lake Marmo." Like the lake, Sterling Pond drains over a waterfall to a lower level. This area was more hilly and had a slightly wilder look. It, too, was surrounded by autumn colors. Alas, sunset was nearing when we came upon Lake Marmo again, so we backtracked  past Sterling Pond to the car.

After J. read and photographed signs at the Prairie Visitor Station, we headed out. As we rounded a bend, I involuntarily exclaimed, "Oh!" Two deer were picking their way delicately across the road. It was too dark for sharp photos—in the camera's night mode, there tends to be too much blur—but J. took a short video as one of the deer discreetly tired to hide behind a bare bush. Aside from the standard deer, ducks, squirrels, and rabbits, I wonder what species call the Morton Arboretum home?

My plan to drive around the east side was foiled by a gate across the road—fair enough, as by then it was 15 or 20 minutes past sunset. After driving a short distance on Illinois 53 and not seeing much, we decided to make a return trip to Oakbrook Center.

I was pleased that J. wanted to pay another visit to Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe. I was not so pleased when I turned the corner and saw dark windows. "They're closed!" I said, because I never miss the obvious.

It wasn't only that the lights were off. The windows had been covered with black paper. The cafe wasn't just closed. It was closed. On a window further down, we found a sticker confirming the all-too-clear. I peered through a teeny gap between the edge of the glass and the edge of the paper and saw that the fixtures were gone, and the place had been torn up. I was in a state of shock and denial. I recalled what a warm, inviting place it had been, with the trays and trays of specialty chocolates and "pigs in a pen," and the pleasant staff who had boxed our purchases with care. I recalled relaxing over hot chocolate and coffee and how much J. had enjoyed it. If we had known that our first visit would be our last, we'd have lingered and taken photos, but we also would have not enjoyed it as we did. There's something sad about the recent memory of a place when you know what you didn't know then—that within a week it would be gone, and the memory you didn't think you needed to cherish is already fading.

J. said, and has said several times since, that he's glad we finally made it there.

Dismissing The Clubhouse as too fancy for our needs and mood, we settled on Antico Posto, where the wait was 45–60 minutes—so much for an early evening. J., who typically doesn't complain about these things, later said that the wait was "horrible." He'd noticed that the table we secured (eventually) had been vacant for a while, which didn't make him feel better about standing in a crowded bar area for an hour. But bread and pasta did, followed by pumpkin gelato pie. The server made him happier, too, by, as he put it, "looking after him," replacing his coffee cup because the one he had looked "cold."

To the Flamingo for another episode of Antiques Roadshow—the end of a lovely autumn day.

Minus chocolate.

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