Jill Spealman recently retired from 33 years of corporate IT training and 4 years of public school teaching. But she’s not done teaching yet!
A volunteer at St. James Farm Forest Preserve in Warrenville, Spealman is an instructor for a variety of programs at the DuPage forest preserve, from Fresh Air Friday to Marvelous Monarchs to Wintertime Stroll and Story.
"I’ve enjoyed my time creating manuals, videos and e-learnings, but it’s time for something new!” Spealman said. “I look forward to spending more time at St. James Farm, where I’ve been a volunteer since 2013. My passion is to turn people on to nature and help them understand how we can coexist with it. Nature is our home, after all.”
At St. James Farm, Spealman has developed and presented a few programs for the past 4 or so years. The most successful has been “Marvelous Monarchs,” which she had to adapt to be 100% outdoors due to COVID-19.
“I’m married to my soulmate, Kevin, for almost 38 years,” she said. “We love to hike and travel and we hope to do more traveling once the pandemic is over. Our most exotic destination so far is Iceland.”
She’s also interested in writing poetry and woodblock printing and has been known to make a quilt or two.
Here’s her story.
Jill Spealman, a volunteer at St. James Farm Forest Preserve in Warrenville, talks to participants in one of her recent programs.
Discovering DuPage Forest Preserves
I’m not sure I was conscious of “discovering,” but when I was about 7 years old, my dad took me fishing at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve in Wheaton. We used cane poles and I caught a few perch. I also went to Herrick with my Brownie troop. Back in 1970, it was our closest DuPage forest preserve. There we grilled hot dogs and sat on our “sit-upons.” The trails were not so developed back then, and one of my troop mates fell into the lake!
In high school, Blackwell Forest Preserve in Warrenville was a favorite hangout for our band picnics and volleyball games.
Favorite Forest Preserve and Time to Visit
Well, of course I love St. James Farm; I feel it’s like my home. But for spiritual beauty I love Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve in Warrenville. It’s just a small place, but I really love the sound of the river rushing over the rocks and the peacefulness of the bridge early in the morning.
A few years ago I took my nephews on a DuPage River kayaking trip (a partnership between the DuPage Forest Preserve District and Warrenville Park District) and we went right through the “rapids” and under the bridge. It was extraordinary!
The bridge over the West Branch DuPage River at Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve in Warrenville.
What Brings Her Back Time and Time Again
A sense of peace is what brings me back, especially early in the morning. I really need that time to unplug and reflect.
Catching the Nature Bug
I always liked playing outside. Decades before I-355 was built we had a creek and fields near our house in Lombard and we all played there. But maybe before that my Grandpa took me to the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center in Cook County. And both of my Grandpas had binoculars and never missed a bird on their feeders. Even during dinner!
My other grandparents lived on 5 acres near Barrington and I was allowed to just roam around. Also, while growing up I traveled to many national parks in the west with my family in our RV. I loved those trips—nature was right out the door every day. When I think back now it was such a luxury.
Never underestimate nature, ever! Once Kevin and I were hiking on the Na Pali coast trail in Hawaii. It started to rain and we contemplated turning back, but I said, “We can do this, we’re from Chicago.” At that instant the mother of all downpours began and never let up. The trail soon turned into a muddy rut. We had to backtrack a slippery mile or two along ocean cliffs to get back to the car. It was scary, and we were shivering and covered in mud. I respect Mother Nature.
Favorite Thing to Do in the Preserves
I love to walk at St. James Farm or Hidden Lake in Downers Grove. However, I hope to spend more time birding soon.
Favorite Nature Quote
“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” Gary Snyder has many great quotes, but this one is simple to remember and makes you think about how we are all connected. I’ve used this quote at the end of some of my nature walks.
How Nature Inspires
Nature inspires me to be more creative. I dabble in poetry, drawing, quilting — probably too many things, but I find that nature is often the base for my efforts.
Advice to Others
Try to find time to be outside for a few minutes at least a few times a week—even in winter. Not everyone can do it, but I usually take a 30-minute walk after breakfast and before work — just listening to the birds and being alone with my thoughts. No phone, no earbuds, no texts or email. Just soaking in my surroundings.
I live in an average subdivision, but the sounds, sights, and smells I find daily are amazing. Did you know that sycamore trees give off a sweet scent in summer? Detach for a few minutes and slow down. I am much more mentally prepared to begin my day after even a short walk.