A walk on the wild’s side at Eggers Grove
BY DALE BOWMAN For Sun-Times Media October 5, 2013 6:00PM
Updated: November 7, 2013 6:35AM
John Vukmirovich flipped a piece of trashed carpet on an electric-line right-of-way near Eggers Grove, but no blue-spotted salamanders squirted off — though he has seen that rarity and the more common yellow-spotted salamander.
On Friday, I joined him on his morning perambulation: a circle around Eggers Grove, the old Nike site, the Wolf Lake Overlook and mysterious odds and ends.
Eggers Grove is a holding by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County on the Illinois-Indiana state line. It’s on the edge of wild and urban, too.
That intersection drives Vukmirovich to madness, action and writing.
He wants the wild to hang on in urban areas. He watches the patch he knows well.
Of all my readers, Vukmirovich is my favorite writer. Any conversation with him is an adventure in language, history, modern culture, observation and the outdoors.
At one point Friday morning, he dropped ‘‘copse of cottonwoods’’ on me, a first.
This is a man who rescued snapping turtle eggs, raised them in his family’s garage on Chicago’s Southeast Side, then released them into the Eggers Grove marsh.
He’s been around long enough — his father bought their house off 112th in 1953 — to know the history of the Southeast Side.
‘‘This whole area used to be the industrial dumping ground for Chicago,’’ he said.
So he worries about the new bike path coming right on the Indiana border. Will it again allow dumpers access?
Remnants of roofing materials and old concrete are plainly visible from illegal dumpings over the decades. Illegal plantings of marijuana patches are routine. We found bottles, tires, busted glass, remnants of bonfires and spent shotgun shells.
Yet the wild pokes through. There are still oaks — though something is killing many — walnuts, mulberries, wild grape and cottonwoods.
‘‘When we were kids coming across on our bikes there, we would always scare up a handful of ringnecks,’’ he said.
Pheasants are long gone.
So he knows the challenges and promise of the area.
The biggest challenges, he thinks, are coming from illegal off-roaders, spinning ruts into existing trails and ripping new trails through underbrush. There are right-of-ways, bike paths and an underpass under the Indiana Toll Road that allow access. He has been fighting to get construction cement blockades to stop them.
We wandered through areas Big and Little Round Top (a reference to Gettysburg). We cannot get to Area 51 because it is too overgrown. He drops a reference to the late Loren Eiseley, wondering about him wandering around New York, and to William Holden in ‘‘The Bridge on the River Kwai.’’
But he has solid ideas for the real world, to save the real wild.
‘‘With a little work, you could cut a hole through the concrete at the old Nike site and plant trees,’’ he said. ‘‘If they did something with the Nike site, began a nature walk, it would get people out here, and the right kind of people, not the off-roaders.’’
I don’t know whether he is the right guy to go through officialdom.
He gave a deadly accurate verbal self-portrait.
‘‘Official people in helmets don’t like to be asked questions by strange people who come out of the woods,’’ Vukmirovich said.
His own hat — a celebration of the ivory-billed woodpecker with ‘‘Follow me to the swamp’’ — is a wicked piece of irony and a backhanded swipe at what may be the great natural fraud of recent years.
Another day, we will get to Vukmirovich, pawpaws and Oja Kodar, Orson Welles’ muse and mistress.