Rekindling a love of nature
I have always enjoyed being outside but have really made an effort over the past 10 years or so to spend as much time outdoors as possible. In addition to working and volunteering with the District, outdoor activities for me include gardening, walking our dog and riding my bike.
I am married (34 years!) and the father of one daughter. We have lived in Naperville for 20 years. I retired a little over 18 months ago from a 31-year career with a corporate real estate company in downtown Chicago.
Chuck Kelly (middle) volunteers for an Earth Week cleanup at a DuPage forest preserve.
I remember being outside all the time as a youngster. Although I didn't always “appreciate nature," I have many fond memories of playing ball in vacant lots, playing army in the woods behind our house, riding bikes, etc. As I got older, I spent less time outdoors as I got more involved in indoor sports, school, a career, etc. As I started to consider retirement about five years ago, I decided I would "test-drive” some potential retirement activities.
I knew I wanted to be active in retirement and I knew there was a plethora of great organizations in the area in need of volunteers. The Forest Preserve District appealed to me because it combined two of my interests — being outdoors and teaching. I began volunteering with the District’s Volunteer Ranger program in 2013. I enjoyed that so much that last year I became a part-time seasonal program ranger with the District.
What Brings Me Back Time and Time Again
It sounds trite, but being outside is very calming for me. Regardless of the weather or what I'm doing, I find that I am very calm and happy when I am outdoors. This point is especially driven home to me when I volunteer with the Forest Preserve District.
There have been days that I have definitely not been in a good mood when I showed up for a volunteer assignment but, invariably, 1 1/2 to 2 hours later when I'm driving home, I realize I'm calm and smiling. I get that same feeling whether I'm on a weekend backpacking trip or walking the dog around the neighborhood.
Catching the Nature Bug
I remember enjoying camping as a young boy through Boy Scouts. And I've always been fascinated by the "science" of nature — seeing a hawk soaring, watching fish lazily swimming in a river, seeing bison at Yellowstone National Park. I guess my most recent "attack" of nature-itis came about 6 – 7 years ago when I went on a weekend camping trip. I realized how much I really enjoyed (and missed) being out in nature as opposed to just being outside.
Favorite Nature Activities
My favorite activity is teaching people, especially kids, a new skill. Nothing beats seeing a group of kids show up to an archery program — shy, nervous and tentative — and then seeing their smiles and high-fives when they not only hit the target but get a bulls-eye an hour later. I think sometimes I get more excited by it than they do. On a personal level, I most enjoy hiking in the preserves.
How Nature Inspires
As I mentioned above, being in nature calms me, excites me, inspires me and rejuvenates me — body, mind, spirit and soul.
Tips and Advice for Others
I think my best tip is to just get outside. Nature provides different inspiration to different people. Not only in the form of different activities — hiking, biking, horseback riding, painting, fishing, etc., but also in how an individual participates. Some people enjoy the challenges presented by nature (how big of a fish can I catch today?) while others are inspired by the solitude provided by a long walk in the woods. I believe that man was meant to be outside. We've lost that connection to the natural world and are paying the price in terms of less than optimal health — both physical and mental.
I don't think of it as getting out in “nature.” I think too many people find that concept daunting, like they have to do a weeklong rafting trip down the Colorado River, or hike the Appalachian Trail. I think getting outside — even if it's only to walk around your block — can give you all of the benefits of that extended trip to the wilderness. Just get outside, breathe the air, listen to the sounds, and pay attention to the plants and animals you see. It's guaranteed to put a smile on your face!
Chuck Kelly hikes along a trail at Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve in Naperville, his favorite preserve.