Nature comes naturally
I've always been interested in nature and wildlife. I've been the videographer at Brookfield Zoo for 13 years, and my husband and I have one dog and four chickens. My husband and I both make costumes, so in our free time, we're usually sewing or building props.
I keep a garden, so I like to pickle cucumbers, make jam, and do other canning and preserving. I recently started making goat cheese and now volunteer about once a month for a goat farmer. I enjoy playing with the goats and cleaning up their stalls, but I especially love milking them! She also has honeybees, so I've been learning a lot about beekeeping.
I'm extremely interested in environmental conservation on all levels, but on a personal level I've recently begun turning my front lawn into a native garden. I also have several small pollinator gardens, and they have been attracting all kinds of native birds I'd never had on my property before! I only water with what I collect in my rain barrels. This was my second summer of raising monarchs from egg to butterfly by collecting the eggs off of my milkweed. I released 75 butterflies this season.
Discovering DuPage Forest Preserves
I used to run with the Leukemia and Lymphoma's Team in Training, which got me into running. I never enjoyed it much, but then I remembered there was a small forest preserve near downtown Downers Grove, and I ran there to see what trail running was like.
That got me hooked on Maple Grove Forest Preserve. I started bringing bags to pick up garbage I saw along the way, and that eventually led to my becoming a volunteer. After finding out about the Woodland Stewardship Program at Morton Arboretum (now the Natural Areas Conservation Training Program,) I took classes there for two years and earned my stewardship certificate.
I’ve been a volunteer steward at Maple Grove for 3 years and lead volunteer restoration workdays at the preserve.
What Brings Her Back Time and Time Again
Nature is my happy place. If I'm having a bad day or feeling down, I like to get close to nature. Whether it's pulling weeds in the garden, chopping down honeysuckle at Maple Grove, or even just sitting quietly and listening to the sounds of the trees and animals, nature centers and energizes me. With restoration workdays, I love knowing that I'm making a difference.
Catching the Nature Bug
I've always loved nature and animals. My family has always been involved in Girl Scouting, so I was camping before I could walk, and started attending sleep-away camp when I was 5 years old. My family has a small fruit farm in Michigan, and I would run around in the woods and fields all summer long.
When I got older, I started helping with clearing out undesirable trees and shrubs like tree of heaven and autumn olive. As a teenager I worked as a seasonal keeper at Brookfield Zoo's Children's Zoo, which continued to foster my love of animals.
Kleisner removes invasive plants at a July 2018 volunteer restoration workday at Maple Grove Forest Preserve in Downers Grove.
Favorite Things to Do in the Preserves
Aside from cutting out invasive species, my favorite thing to do in the preserves is to trail run. I like it so much better than street running because it's challenging and makes me feel connected to nature.
How Nature Inspires
It's hard to say exactly how nature inspires me because I'm connected to it in so many aspects of my life that it's just part of who I am. Beautifully manicured gardens have their place, but seeing dozens of acres of restored prairie or woodland has an effect on me that's hard to explain. My husband says I act completely giddy when I'm surrounded by nature. I can't help but identify everything within arm's reach and lecture anyone I'm with about the necessity of a healthy ecosystem. As a videographer, I often feel an overwhelming need to capture it, whether in video or photos. I can sit for hours trying to get the perfect shot of a bird feeding its babies or a spider weaving a web.
Kleisner talks to a group of volunteer at a restoration workday at Maple Grove in December 2017. She's been the volunteer steward at Maple Grove for three years.
Advice to Others
My advice for finding inspiration in nature is to transfer whatever it is you love to do into a nature setting. If you like to garden, go see what wildflowers you can find in your local preserve. If you go for daily walks around your neighborhood, walk through the woods once a week instead. If you like to work on your laptop at a coffee shop, do your offline work at a picnic table at one of the groves. Photograph and learn how to identify different plants. Most importantly, take your children, grandchildren, or nieces and nephews to the forest preserves and let them discover all kinds of bugs, flowers, and mushrooms.
Kleisner (far right) at a March 2019 volunteer restoration workday with a crew from L.L. Bean in Oak Brook.