Lukie, don’t go into the water, I ask
I am not Lukie, I am a different person,
and I am in research,
I need to go into the water!
My four-year old replies
What a great spring day, the first day of April!
exclaims my six-year-old
And it surely was, 75F, sun and summery wind. We spent the whole day at Volkening Herritage Farm and Spring Valley Forest Preserve. This 135 acres of forests, marshes and streams, smacked right in the middle of suburban sprawl, was a paradise for the little ones searching for frogs. We found our first butterfly of the season, beautiful Mourning Cloak, kids chased and stalked her for a while. Volkening Farm carries on farm activities of the 1880s, volunteers dressed in period clothing performing period chores. Farm house is a restored 1880s house, barn is from 1870s. Two friendly plow horses, Duke and Prince loved to be petted and fed. One year old calf Maria was still nursing and sleeping in the sun. Chickens were out running into the forest digging deep for worms now that the ground is nicely warmed up. The bank barn had a nice second floor full of hay and nooks and crannies to explore, kids hiding there.
The farmhouse was interesting to me, as well as the small laundry house nearby with the root cellar underneath it. Did you know how German women of 1880s made “plastic wrap”? Apparently they preferred to keep most preserved food in clay pots instead of preserve jars. They used paper and yarn to tie up the top of the pot, then would brush a solution of egg white and salt to seal the paper in essence crating a plastic wrap-like seal. Eggs were never washed so that they keep longer. Eggs were also kept in lard to preserve them. Root veggies in moist sand. Meet salted and smoked. Milk was immersed in the spring water. My grandma, as soon as she was done milking, she would strain the milk, poor it into special containers and lowered and submerged it into our cold well water to keep it cold and have cream separate faster.
The farm sells their eggs and honey. Next time we go, the milk cow will be back from her winter retreat and kids can try their milking skills, pigs will also be back with the piglets. We had lunch with the chickens, and headed to the woods.
From the farm, the forest path leads up the hill and to the log cabin in the pine woods. The Merkle cabin was built in 1927 by a hopeful young man, who wanted to establish his peony farm, but died a few years later. His family took care of his cabin and surrounding area, and seven acres of peonies bloomed there at one point. Log cabin now has brick addition and beautiful surrounding woods as well as a pond perfect for bird watching. There is a waterfall so tempting for the little four year old feet to climb in, and a floating deck to walk out to. The maple syrup boiling equipment was still there, left from 2 weeks ago, an event that featured pancakes and fresh hot syrup.
We watched four pairs of ducks doing their mating circles in the water. The path around the lake winds into a beautiful Illinois prairie. Many acres of prairies extend all the way to the nature center, where a green building with grass roof collects water for indoor turtles. The rain water drips from the roof down the chain into a turtle pond inside. Nature center houses a large library of books on nature, Illinois land, and nature education, as well as many hand on activities for kids. There is an old silo next to the center building, and as you climb the winding stairs to the top, you can overlook the whole prairie and the ponds. We stood high up there, in the wind.
We walked and walked and walked, until our dusty feet were blistered and faces burnt in the sun. And drove home, with windows down, catching the wind in our palms, and the little one fell asleep, before the sun hit the horizon. All done with butterflies, all done with chickens, sticks, frogs and logs, saws, and cows, horses and hay, and water. All done with his research for the day.