Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

R.I.P. Jon Mendelson

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For much of my life, I've remembered November 22 as the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. From this day forward, that event is dwarfed by a more recent loss--the day the world lost Jon Mendelson.

I just learned of his passing. I am profoundly saddened for his family, especially his wife Judy who was in every way his soul mate. This is such a loss not only to Jon and Judy's friends, and everyone who knew him but to those who hadn't yet had the pleasure. 

Jon Mendelson was a retired biology professor at Governors State University, University Park, IL. He was a teacher who embodied the true meaning of the word--as both the noun and the verb. Everyone, with whom he came in contact, was better for it. He exuded knowledge like no one else I've ever met. He easily shared what he knew. Moreover, he not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk. 

Jon was a driving force, not just for education, but for conservation, preservation, and the very connection of man to nature, obvious in the nearly 1,000 acres of Thorn Creek Woods in Park Forest. Jon was personally acquainted with the trees, bushes, ponds, streams, native wildflowers and wildlife within the now-preserved forest. Jon and Judy followed in the footsteps of the late Jim and Mary Lou Marzuki, who were instrumental in the early protection of this unique urban sanctuary. Jon was not just knowledgeable about the gullies, ridges, and waterways created thousands of years ago; he was the expert.

I first met Jon when I was studying the environmental effects of the proposed airport development near Peotone. Though we were just acquaintances, I felt a profound connection to him and all he stood for. Jon was inspiring. He made me want to know more about the environment. He was a good man who cared about all the right things. He was humble, brilliant, and hard-working. Nature was his passion. In my view, he represented the very best of the human race. 

I specifically remember one year in the mid-90's. It was Earth Day. I had recently been awakened to global environmental issues such as destruction of habitat, oil spills, and potential nuclear calamity, to name a few. I felt a need to renew my own connection with nature, so I decided to go for one of the many walks/tours Jon conducted through Thorn Creek Woods. I was so impressed by his knowledge and mesmerized by the way he communicated with the mid-sized group on the tour, especially the children. He changed my own focus of individual destructive acts by mankind toward the larger, more serene picture of the earth and its life cycle. He pointed out rocks that have stood for centuries, since the glaciers dropped them right where they stood. He spoke of oak and hickory trees planted in the 1800's. He spoke of the flora and fauna as if they were his dear, old friends. I left that day feeling exhilarated and anxious to learn more about the world around me. 

I no longer live in the area. I haven't seen Jon in years, but I will always remember the sound of his voice, the way he laughed. I will forever be touched by the fact that I knew him, a fact that makes me proud. 

It is with great sadness that I recognize his passing. Rest in peace Jon. We are all better for having known you.
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Sunday, March 23, 2014

'Everglades of the North' inspires hope

"All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes." - Winston
 Churchill


CHBlog: my trip to the marsh
One of many trips to the marsh
When it comes to man's relationship with nature, it seems the same mistakes are often repeated. There has been too little interest in protecting natural areas and making sure that development does the least amount of harm to the environment. That may be changing as awareness grows about the myriad environmental degradation that occurs on almost a daily basis. Isn't it time we begin to learn from our mistakes, to exhibit the kind of wisdom of which Churchill referred? 

Awareness has to begin with simply telling the story. That was done well by the award-winning documentary, "Everglades of the North - The story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh," (see excerpt below:)



This story reveals a detailed view of man versus nature strictly for man's benefit as he gives little or no thought to the potential harm caused by his actions. It is a tale of how a once spectacular natural phenomenon--the Grand Kankakee Marsh--could have sustained a population with its vast diversity of species and unique benefits in the thousands of acres of wetlands it contained. Left intact, it would have held such an advantage to the region, not the least of which include flooding prevention, cleansing and filtering water, and providing a habitat for plants and animals, now extinct.

Yet the marsh was nearly decimated. Its natural benefits and potential to provide for a healthy, sustainable future were squandered for reasons as petty as political advantage and personal fortune. Those who understood the value of the marsh and lived in kinship with this spectacular natural spectacle, were simply disposed of.

As I watched the story of the marsh, I was saddened by the realty of what mankind has done to nature. These stories are too common as headlines every day reveal a new environmental horror at the hand of man.

Not only was I saddened by the big picture this film provided, but for me, this is a much more personal story. 

I know the Kankakee River and its marsh lands. I've traveled on the Kankakee in a boat; I've swam in its water. I know several of the people associated with and shown in this film. 

I once considered the area along the Kankakee as my own personal respite, a place I could go for solitude and to be one with nature. I believe that to be a necessity for us all. Unfortunately some don't realize the peace that can come over you as you gaze out over a marsh teeming with life. I can only imagine what it must have been like in those early days when wildlife was so abundant. For me, it was a thrill when any animal revealed itself in the woods, air, or water. I loved the beauty of the area, the sounds of birds' whistles and calls to one another, the splash of a fish jumping, the ripple of a breeze playing on the surface of the water, or a boat motor humming in the distance. I reveled in the peace it held for me personally. Naively, I was fond of the area, unaware of how grand it once was. It angers me that this place had not been cherished and protected.

I no longer live in Illinois, but the scenes depicted in the film were as familiar as my own reflection in the mirror. I now live in a beautiful area of the Ozarks, where it is easy to appreciate nature just outside my own back door. But I miss the grasslands, the wildflowers, the gentle flow of the waters of the Kankakee. As sad as it was to learn the fate of this magnificent place, I'm grateful to have learned some of its history.

As the film points out, there is so much more known today about the importance of wetlands. This film does an excellent job of reconciling what has been done in the past with what can be done in the future. While there is no turning back the damage, there is a potential for the future as nature does her best to reclaim the marsh. This film left me with hope.

Copies of this excellent film are available for purchase at: http://www.kankakeemarsh.com/buy-the-dvd/.