I lived for many years in Chicago, and I enjoyed my share of the big city's delights. Those delights do not include untrammeled nature, though. You have to get really far away from that city -- I mean, really far away -- to find some peace and quiet, along with trees, birds, gurgling brooks.
Not so here in Madison, where the great outdoors is a short drive in any direction -- and where some of the great outdoors is right in the city.
Take the North Unit of Cherokee Marsh, at the end of the winding gravel road that is North Sherman Avenue on the city's northern frontier. It is an idyllic place, a haven of greenery and water. This summer my boyfriend and I have been going on nature excursions that take us farther and farther from the city, but on Sunday we stuck close to home and explored this lovely park.
Walking paths lead in all directions from the parking lot. We set out on one that leads southwest through forest, then connects with a park service road. As we walked the road, around us flew swarms of the red admiral butterflies that lately are thriving around here. We passed the marker for a centuries-old conical mound, then made our way down a crumbling boardwalk we found.
Meandering through the marsh on the boardwalk, we encountered a group of butterfly watchers. "Would you like to look at a beautiful butterfly?" one asked us. We did.
The boardwalk ended abruptly, so we backtracked to the parking lot, then headed north. Soon we found a modest pier jutting into the Yahara River, and we paused at that spot, mercifully free of flying insects, for a picnic lunch. We looked at the new wetland plantings in the river -- they are protected by fences -- and watched a pair of kayakers, far in the distance. On a tree branch nearby, an oriole fussed at us.
Then we embarked on the last and longest part of our hike, up a snaking, wooded trail (the mosquitoes were relentless here), then through pasture and, finally, to another boardwalk. This led to a viewing stand, from atop which we saw grasses and birds, and more butterflies. Not far away was Interstate 30-90-94, which reminded us that even in this placid spot, we weren't that far from civilization.