Kankakee

See that flower? It’s the Kankakee Mallow (Iliamna remota), and it’s one of the rarest plants in the world. Its species is only found on a single, 700m-long island in the middle of the Kankakee River here in Illinois. Today, I got to be one of the first people in over a decade to see it in bloom. New video coming soon! (at Kankakee River State Park Illinois)

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The Brain Scoop:
Restoring Habitats with Magic Beans 

145 years ago, a botanist collected some leafy prairie clover (Dalea foliosa) from Langham Island in Illinois. Today, that plant is federally endangered. 

Introduce Robb Telfer: poet, and plant enthusiast. He’s working with folks at the Chicago Botanic Garden to regerminate those same centuries-old seeds in order to reintroduce the plant back to Langham Island. Habitat restoration isn’t as easy as pulling invasive weeds and hoping for the best, so Robb and his team will need to closely monitor the island and continue working out other ways to repopulate the area with the native plants that had been there for hundreds and thousands of years. Museum collections are helping to make this happen!

I am SO excited by this stuff – and if you’re in the Chicago or Calumet region, you can help out! But even if you aren’t, look for opportunities in your own area to help restore native habitats. We need all of the help we can get!

Apparently I’ve a bit of a Frank Lloyd Wright obsession this morning, as the news of Taliesin’s Centennial made me recall another design by the architect from my childhood.

When I was very young, I remember my parents taking me, rather frequently, to a restaurant called The Yesteryear, on the banks of the Kankakee River in Kankakee, Illinois, some distance south of Chicago. My memories of it are very warm, dark, and close: of rich, polished woods; of the warmth of its fireplaces during the chills of Chicagoland winters; of my first taste of lobster, dipped in melted, herbed butter; of hearing, tangentially, of the kidnapping and murder of one of the property’s post-Yesteryear owners, a business acquaintance of my father’s.

Shockingly, none of these memories were products of my overactive childhood imagination: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bradley House actually exists, and appears to be alive and well.

Sometimes, memory can be a very delightful visitor, indeed.

[Image via Richard Cox]

The Captain's Room

My grandmother had this room in her apartment complex called the Captain’s Room. You could rent it, or reserve it, for big blow out parties, such as my 8th birthday party. It had quintessential 1980s decor, and as you can imagine, items that contributed to the captain/seafarer ways of Kankakee, Illinois. There were cheap faux wood panels, a ship’s wheel hanging above the bar, and just outside a deck with an underground pool. This was my heaven.

I imagine that pool had infinite amounts of chlorine that would challenge an Olympic sized pool anywhere else in the world. But that tiny little pool turned my sun-bleached tow-headed blonde hair into a shade of green that only resembles Elphaba or pond algae.

I would spend at least a week with my grandmother in the summer. Here, I learned the finer points of how to make paper plate mail holders, how to peruse finds at the Seconds to Go thrift shop where she volunteered her time, and went with her to the beauty shop where she got her hair done every week (a wash every week, a perm every other, and a dye job, golden blonde, once a month). She told me her mother, my great-grandmother, wasn’t ever allowed to dye her hair and went grey very early. She said that back then women who dyed their hair were considered “painted ladies” and that her mother always told her to never let herself go grey. And that I should also take that advice. I’ve been dyeing my hair blonde to match my childhood color for years. People would often say to us, “She looks so much like you, that blonde hair and all.” She would laugh because she knew her blonde locks never were natural, and that she was a born brunette.

A few times that week, when I was staying with grandma, she would take me over to my grandfather’s house to spend the afternoon with him. They were divorced, but still remained friendly, though my grandfather had left her for another woman after she bore 4 of his children, lived through his service in WWII while he was off fighting Nazis, and through his alcoholism and rehab to get sober. But nonetheless, she somehow found it in herself to forgive him. We once took a trip to the big city of Chicago, the four of us, grandma, grandpa, and my step-grandmother, who we called only by her first name, B—. We took an architecture boat cruise, and ooo-ed and ahhh-ed at the skyscrapers along the Chicago River. This was one of my first introductions to the big city of Chicago.

So my grandmother would drop me off with my grandfather, a retired judge with lots of cats (I never grew up with cats and have never been fond of them). He was one of those men who wore a fedora with a feather in the ribbon and a trenchcoat and donned wingtip shoes. Everywhere we went, he knew everyone. He’d take me to have ice cream at Jaffe’s Drugs, an actual old-fashioned soda counter, which even by then, were mostly extinct. He was well-known at the Little Corporal, a 24-hour diner that hadn’t been updated since 1965, where after retirement, he would spend most of his days shooting the shit with the rest of the regulars and the waitresses who all knew him well. “Judge!” they’d all yell whenever he came into a place.

My grandfather would also be there in the Captain’s Room during my birthday parties, along with my aunt Mary, my grandmother’s sister, a few years younger than her and would never her let her forget those 4 years of youth that remained in their age difference. “Oh Helen, I must not remember that, I was just too young,” she would declare. My grandmother would later tell me that she knew Mary remembered whatever the particular incident was as clear as day. My grandmother would make my special birthday cake, white cake with butterscotch frosting. I swear she made the tastiest cake in the land, though I’m pretty sure she used a box of Duncan Hines. The cake was always a layer cake, round, which to me made it special enough and even better. There were no sheet cakes involved, no. This was my favorite type of cake because it was her favorite type of cake, and I emulated her.