I have lived in Warrenville in DuPage County since 1982, raising two children with my husband Michael. We board horses and have chickens, dogs and multiple garden areas. I love my wildflower garden in the spring, cultivate perennial veggies as well as the traditional annual varieties in the summer, and enjoy awesome autumn color in my native prairie area in my front yard.
I taught at all levels from preschool through high school in the Chicagoland area and ended with District 200 in Warrenville. Now I’m retired and spend a lot of time as the chairperson of the Illinois chapter of Sierra Club working for healthy habitats, clean energy, air and water.
The DuPage forest preserves have been a huge part of our lives for many years. We can walk to Blackwell Forest Preserve and were lucky to be able to introduce our children to camping there. It’s close enough so one of us could run home and feed horses or let dogs out without breaking up our “wilderness experience” for the kids.
Connie Schmidt rides her horse with a friend at Blackwell Forest Preserve's McKee Marsh. Photo courtesy of Connie Schmidt
As our kids grew, we gave them a mandate to choose a volunteer experience, and they chose to help out at Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago. Dressed in 1890s garb, we worked in the kitchen garden, gave house tours, and helped out with the chickens.
As my children grew up and moved on, I continued riding my horse on a regular basis in DuPage forest preserves. I also love the DuPage River and kayak regularly. This year I am super-excited to own the first permit to enjoy standup paddleboarding at Silver Lake in Blackwell!
What Brings Her Back Time and Time Again
With our busy schedules in today’s world, unplugging and escaping to a natural setting helps ground me in my mind and in my relationships with others. I am equally happy to be all by myself, viewing wildlife in peaceful quiet, as I am with sharing the experience with a friend or family member and chatting without interruption from phones or obligations. We are fortunate that early DuPage citizens had the foresight to set aside tracts of land for all residents to enjoy.
Catching the Nature Bug
Until second grade, my family lived in a little townhouse in North Riverside. I have fond memories of climbing a crabapple tree in a wild strip of land next to our house and reading while cradled in her branches. I remember butterflies and grasshoppers galore in a prairie across the street, getting my fingers stained from the tobacco spit on me from the unhappy hoppers. My favorite memory, however, is wandering down to the Des Plaines River and sitting quietly on her banks as she flowed by. The smell and sound of water, spotting a turtle or frog before they see you, watching a bird flit about in search of insects, and even seeing the squirrels or chipmunks scamper across the downed limbs — all gave me my first taste of true joy in the outdoors. I wonder if my mom even knew how far I wandered on those early days.
Favorite Nature Activities
I cannot pick a favorite thing to do in the outdoors. As you can see, I just love any opportunity to be out in the preserves. Each of the things I love to do gives me a different perspective. From on top a horse, I look across and down at the world. I think of early explorers and how I’m experiencing the same view they had. My favorite is being in a field of tall native grasses blowing wildly in the breeze and really seeing the “amber waves of grain!” From my kayak or paddleboard, I can peer down into the water and see the stones, shells, fish and critters scurrying away as I pass over.
My favorite experience in a kayak was rounding a bend to meet a handsome buck taking a drink from a sunlit stream. I froze, as did he. Not until I passed and tried to spin around for another look did he bolt to the shoreline.
How Nature Inspires
It is in nature that I feel most mindful. I love having the moment-by-moment awareness of my thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. My thoughts tune into what I’m sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. I think it’s easiest for me to be my best self when I include my feelings of the natural world. I smile to think of the way being in nature builds loving relationships, such as walking hand in hand with my husband over familiar paths for the many years we have been together. My dedicated volunteer work with the Sierra Club is inspired because of my desire to leave a natural environment for generations to come to have these same glorious experiences.
Advice to Others
Like Nike says, “Just do it!” There are many, MANY ways to get out in nature. I believe occasional solitude is a gift that we don’t frequently give ourselves. Blend time alone and time with special people in your life with nature as your backdrop for an awesome heartwarming experience.
Connie Schmidt rides her horse at St. James Farm Forest Preserve in Warrenville. Photo courtesy of Connie Schmidt