On Saturday morning August 27, 2016 at about 6:35 a.m., the bus arrived at Christ the Lord church for our very first Northern Kane County Wild Ones road trip. Our lovely driver, Sonseray White greeted us warmly as we embarked in a light, but steady rain (it continued all morning). Shirley brought a list of all attendees to check off, and we pulled out of the lot before 7:00 a.m. carrying 22 Wild Ones.
The bus was roomy and tidy. Sonseray kept the bus moving at a steady clip and we zoomed through Illinois, past Rockford, and Whitewater. We stopped at a Wisconsin rest area around mile marker 140 – perfect timing – because at marker 118 we encountered an accident slowdown that showed up as only a 9 minute delay on our phones, but stretched out for 20 more minutes. We were a little late for our scheduled tour at the Aldo Leopold Foundation, where we met up with the other four Wild Ones members who drove separately and got caught in the same traffic slowdown.
Tom Davis, our tour guide, ushered us into the beautiful center for an introductory video and we re-boarded the bus to ride about a mile to the Aldo Leopold Foundation and
Family Shack & Farm.
After we took turns reading passages from the Sand County Almanac aloud to the group, we followed Tom to the Shack along a winding road, next to a beautiful prairie, under trees that Aldo planted, and heard all about the Leopold family’s introduction to the Shack (a rehabbed chicken coup that Aldo sold as a weekend getaway to his wife and five kids). Tom told us the history of their life and times at the Shack in summer and winter, and how they grew to love the place like he did. We strolled on sandy soil to the old shoreline of the Wisconsin River, past their outhouse, which they dubbed the “Parthenon.” Tom showed us before and after pictures and aerial views of the land restoration over the years; Leopold’s shack overlooks a prairie that is the second oldest prairie restoration, after the Curtis Prairie in Madison. We walked back through a wooded area and couldn’t help but imagine Aldo doing the same. The tour ended and we all wished we had more time to visit the center and its gift shop.
Our arrival at the International Crane Foundation under gray skies was right on time for lunch and we were directed to an outside gazebo/pavilion, which was an exact fit for our group. Generous members shared carrot cake, zucchini bread, strawberries, chips, watermelon, grapes and lots more! Rich Wilson, Wild Ones member and long-time volunteer at the foundation, joined us and added special anecdotes during the tour. After a video telling about the origins of the foundation and the vast reach of their work in protecting these fascinating creatures, we began our walking tour of the grounds. Intern, Savanna Dahl led us past the outdoor exhibit pods for each of the 15 types of cranes, which culminated in a beautiful overlook with a panoramic view of restored prairie and finally, the Whooping Crane exhibit. The only cranes we didn’t see were the Demoiselles, who were spending the day inside. Savanna was relatively new to the foundation but had already developed a relationship with some of the cranes, one even danced for her; she knew which cranes had been imprinted and thought they were humans, which cranes were living side by side, so they could get to know each other so they might mate some day, and which crane pairs had been together for over 20 years. It was so interesting and exciting and the cranes were gorgeous! Savanna ended the tour only 5 minutes before we had to get back on the bus for our ride home, but some members found time to peruse the gift shop for treasures. We stopped at a funky rest stop before we left Wisconsin where we loaded up on cheese, beer, and the usual tourist items; others got coffee and ice cream – yum. No one even suggested singing on the way home. We arrived safe and sound at the church at 5:45ish and it was sunny and hot for the rest of the evening.