Natural Approaches to Bountiful Health

A Guest Article from Dr. Stephen Devries
Why would a successful cardiologist at a university medical center with a 9 month wait-list for patients leave his practice to start a nonprofit? That’s the question we put to Dr. Stephen Devries. Dr. Devries is the director of the Deerfield-based nonprofit Gaples Institute, and our upcoming speaker at our Brushwood Healthy Happy Hour scheduled for May 26th.

In over 25 years of practice I’ve seen too many patients with serious heart conditions that could have been avoided with greater attention to nutrition and lifestyle. The problem is that physicians just don’t receive the training they need to effectively guide patients toward healthier lifestyles. Unfortunately, the emphasis is on high tech procedures and medication — that was true when I was in training and it’s still the case today.

That’s why I left the practice that I loved to make an even bigger difference in my work as director of nonprofit Gaples Institute (named after our co-founder). The mission of the Gaples Institute is to advance the role of nutrition and lifestyle through education and advocacy. We are supported in our mission by our Gaples Institute Advisory Board that consists of nationally recognized leaders in education, science, and policy, including Adele Simmons.

The Gaples Institute has two target audiences:

 1) Health professionals: the Gaples Institute developed an award-winning nutrition continuing medical education course, now with more than 1200 registrants, that recently became a required course in its first major medical school;

2) Community members: we developed another award-winning nutrition learning program provided as a service by the Gaples Institute, used by adults as well as secondary schools, and soon to be released in Spanish.

My work focuses extensively on community education to help promote awareness of the untapped power that individuals have over their health, which is the theme of my upcoming talk for the Happy Hour Brushwood presentation on May 26, “Natural Approaches to Bountiful Health.

You can learn more about Dr. Devries, as well as the mission and activities of the nonprofit Gaples Institute here.

Featured Artist: Peggy Macnamara

At Brushwood Center, we are responding to the COVID-19 crisis by doing what we strive to do year round: build a community around nature and the arts. To help lift up the struggling arts community during this difficult time, we are highlighting a different nature-inspired artist each week and sharing their story with you. We encourage you to reflect on the impact of art in your life, and look for ways to support artists in our community.

This week, we are featuring Peggy Macnamara – an artist who combines a loose, vibrant watercolor style with a scientific study of insects and animals. Serving as the Artist-in-Residence at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History since 1990, Peggy has traveled with scientists all over the world to paint nature and illustrate conservation efforts. Through this work, she has published 4 books in collaboration with museum scientists through University of Chicago Press. Recently, her eye has turned to creatures living under the water, resulting in gorgeous depictions of sea dragons and fish. When the world reopens, you can enjoy Peggy’s paintings at the Field Museum, where they are on display as part of the permanent collection. For now, we are delighted to bring them to you here.

Peggy Macnamara on her work:

“My work is about the study of nature. I hesitate putting myself in such a grand tradition, but there it is. I admire those that have gone before and find myself studying old techniques while pushing in new directions. Like the scientist, who builds on the knowledge discovered before him, artists seem to emulate and eventually grow into the concerns of their time. I believe that by looking carefully at the entirety of nature I will learn to see better and gather an understanding of how things work. And hopefully pass on this wonder in my work.”

“Thirty years ago, I went to the Field Museum in Chicago to draw the Hoffmann Sculptures in order to improve my drawing skills. There I found endless subject matter, a community, and a purpose for my work. I moved from Oriental artifacts, to birds, mammals, reptiles and insects, drawing daily from the exhibit areas. I wandered through hidden areas of the museum painting oddities like tiny Tibetan statuary and the South American Shrunken heads. I eventually moved behind the scenes into the collection areas where I did the “Illinois Insects” and “Architecture by Birds and Insects”, “Migration” and “Peregrine Return” books with University of Chicago press. This adventure carried me outside the museum to collaborate with scientists in Madagascar, Africa, Central and South America, Alaska and other places enabling me to contribute to conservation efforts.”

Get Peggy’s COVID Coloring Book

Peggy created a Complimentary Coloring Book to help you get through this difficult time. Paint while you stay at home. Art is Meditation. You can download it here.

Watch Peggy in action as she paints “Three Owls”

Follow Peggy Macnamara Online

You can learn more about Peggy’s artwork and books on her website or watch her draw and paint on her amazing YouTube channel. You can also keep up with her by following her on Facebook or Instagram.

Earth Day Video Contest

Congratulations to our Video Contest Winner: Braden Wallenkamp

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Brushwood Center invited our community to share their gratitude for nature during COVID-19 through our Earth Day Video contest.  Our team was delighted by the submissions we received, and are so excited to share the winning submission “Earth Day Gratuity” by Braden Wallenkamp.

Braden is an Environmental Studies student at Lake Forest College. Her video includes footage from her family’s travels abroad in Ireland, Scotland, and Ecuador mixed with views from the woods near her family home in Wisconsin. This creative project was a way for Braden to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day with her family and share those joys with everyone who loves the outdoors. 

Special thanks to the runner-up submissions from Hannah Matthews and Jessamyn Lopez, both of whom created wonderful videos exploring the peace and joy we can find in spending time outside in nature during quarantine.   You can view Braden, Hannah, and Jessamyn’s beautiful tributes to Mother Earth through our YouTube playlist below:

Watch the Earth Day Video Finalists

Thank you to our contest sponsor:

Christmas Bird Count

On Saturday, December 21st, Brushwood Center partnered with Nuestro Center and Audubon Great Lakes’ Wild Indigo program to participate in a Christmas Bird count at Ryerson Woods. Forty families from Nuestro Center’s program came out to Brushwood Center to conduct the count, and celebrate afterwards with crafts, hot cocoa and pan dulce.

With clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid-forties, it was a perfect day for a hike. Staff from Audubon went through some common species in English and Spanish with participants, and instructed students on how to properly use binoculars. The fifth grade students had done bird identification activities with Wild Indigo the week before, and were eager to put their newfound knowledge to the test.

Everyone split up into three different groups for the hike, each led by an Audubon staff armed with identification guides and binoculars for students to share. Almost immediately, it became clear that the students were taking this mission very seriously. Pausing often, students slowly raised their binoculars up as they squinted at the tree tops. Every few seconds, silence broke as they excitedly reported their discoveries:

“American Robin!”

“Blue Jay!”


After some double-checking with staff and the ID guides, the species was recorded. Students got more and more excited as they discovered rarer birds, and even other animals they had never seen before. One group caught a rare glimpse of a double-crested cormorant soaring overhead. Another group walking along the Des Plaines River was lucky enough to spot a beaver slipping back into its den.

The students were excited as they explored these new dimensions of nature, and very determined to count every bird they could. They shushed one another when conversations got too loud, worried that birds might be scared away. They cooperated on identifications, and eagerly showed their parents their findings. After about an hour on the trails, everyone headed back inside Brushwood Center for hot cocoa and conchas, and a craft activity making paper Cardinal ornaments.

In total, we recorded 18 species and 98 birds during our hike (detailed in table below). Students were emphatic as they identified species they had never seen before, and parents enjoyed the quality time outdoors with their kids. Topped off with delicious snacks and a fun craft, it was the perfect way to end 2019 programming!

“At Ease” in the News

Brushwood Center’s At Ease Program is an innovative approach to empower military veterans’ wellbeing through a series of nature-based art and photography workshops.

Over the past few months, the program has been picked up by several local new stations. Click below to explore the different coverage and learn more about At Ease!

Fox 32: ‘At Ease’ program uses Mother Nature to heal the wounds of war

ABC 7 Chicago: Riverwoods program helps veterans heal through nature photography

NBC 5 Chicago: Group Offers ‘At Ease’ Photography Workshop to Help Veterans

Guest Blog: Somewhere Outside of Saigon – Trauma, Violence & Prevention

By Lukan Paulus


“I was born in the 40’s, grew up in the 50’s and DIED in the 60’s.” These are the words of a Marine veteran who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. The trauma he experienced and the moral injury he suffered have been his daily companions for almost 50 years. In the following pages I will delve into the issues that both trauma and moral injury create, including suicide, and the methods being employed to help heal those who are suffering the effects of these injuries, often decades later.

The Vietnam War

The War fought in Vietnam from late 1955 to the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975 was a long, costly armed conflict pitting the communist regime of North Vietnam and its southern allies, known as the Viet Cong, against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. The divisive war, increasingly unpopular at home, ended with the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973 and the unification of Vietnam under Communist government control just two years later. More than 3 million people, including 58,000 American soldiers, were killed in the conflict over the course of those 20 years.

In 1968 the US Troop strength peaked at 543,482 as a result of President Johnson’s troop escalation. The number of soldiers and the degree to which they suffered PTS and moral injury is a subject that has been studied for decades. Many of these soldiers returned to the US and got on with their families and careers. It wasn’t until they started to retire in the last decade that many long-buried issues arose and the scars they created on their psyche became evident. Of the reported suicides within these last 10 years among veterans almost 70% are within the age of having served in the Vietnam War. This is not to say that the wars since have been less damaging, just that the full effects can take decades to surface. The author Penny Coleman addresses this in her book Flashback:

In a discussion about the war in Vietnam and PTSD, we must also address a separate aspect of postwar amnesia: the relationship between PTSD and suicide in combat veterans. Once again, in history we find the origins of American attitudes toward suicide, which help explain the silence and shame that surround the act, silence and shame that have colluded in the official denial of the relationship of suicide to PTSD, thereby allowing an epidemic of self-inflicted deaths to go unseen. (p.3)

Silence and especially shame will be issues I will address a little later but I believe it’s important to look a little more deeply at PTSD and its relation to suicide. Bob, an Army combat veteran, wrote: “My PTSD is a vicious, terminal parasite…Its darkness began to advance, ravaging me, especially emotionally, robbing me of any ability to exist. Hopelessness, helplessness, and utter defeat of all that was human inside of me followed….PTSD took away the only life I knew. All that remained was my excruciating, inescapable mental agony and an insatiable search for any means to arrest it.” (Beder, p.157) Just after writing this he attempted to take his life but thankfully was not successful.

It is no wonder that those who have been to war, seen death and destruction and been a part of 3 that would see that the only way out of those horrific memories was through their own violent end. The depression, anger, sleeplessness and anxiety the trauma creates can lead a strong-willed sane person to suicide – a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But by addressing the trauma we can work towards a meaningful and lasting solution.

Moral Injury

Growing up we learn certain values, ethics and standards that help to form our morality. When a soldier goes to war those morals are challenged by the acts he is asked to commit and witness. The difference between PTSD and Moral Injury (MI) is “…sorrow, remorse, … bitterness, and moral confusion—What is right?—signal moral injury, while flashbacks, loss of memory, fear, and a startle complex seem to characterize PTSD” (Wood, p.17). I like to think of it as similar to the difference between shame and guilt. Guilt as PTS is something “I did or experienced” whereas shame and MI are “I am”. Not that both don’t haunt the body and soul, it’s just that MI seems to dig deeper into the sufferer and require different approaches to treat. Timothy Wilson in his book, Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By, writes about the father of positive psychology Martin Seligman who with his “colleagues developed a program to increase resilience among soldiers using the principles of positive psychology, which attempts to increase human strengths and flourishing, rather than waiting for mental health problems to develop and then treating them” (p.244). These programs work for both PTS and MI but are better utilized as preventative measures before the symptoms set in. David Wood describes in the beginning of his book What Have We Done the story of a chaplain that utilized a baptismal font to do a symbolic warrior cleansing before the soldiers in his unit returned home to Pennsylvania from Iraq. They wrote on a piece of paper what they wanted to leave behind – “Things you have done and left undone…things you have seen.” Then their papers were set aflame. This was his adapted ceremony of healing and forgiveness so they could leave behind the moral wounds they had suffered. (Wood, p.5)

When soldiers returned from Vietnam they were met by a public largely against the war that they had been drafted to go to. Very few volunteered and so I believe the moral injury was not only doubled but buried deeper. Recently at a screening of a documentary called “Almost Sunrise”, which documents two Iraqi veterans’ healing trek from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, one of the veterans told a story to the Marine I quoted at the beginning of this paper, about the great encouragement the two of them had received from Vietnam vets during their journey of healing. The Vietnam vets understood how important it was to unearth the issues as soon as possible so that the younger vets wouldn’t have to suffer, as they had, through decades with the PTS and moral injuries. This was a touching moment and a cross-generational healing moment I was honored to be witness to.

But along with peer to peer support I believe we need to do more than just a “thank you for your service” token appreciation. I agree with Brene Brown who writes in Daring Greatly: “What I am advocating is a kinder, gentler public, one willing to embrace, support and reach out to the men and women we pay to be invulnerable on our behalf.”(p.156) Yes, war is inherently a divisive issue but respecting and honoring those who have served with methods to heal their wounds, I believe, is crucial to creating peace. While this quote references a child’s trauma, I believe it speaks too much of what Vietnam veterans experienced. Bessel van der Kolk writes in The Body Keeps the Score, “It is one thing to process memories of trauma, but it is entirely an different matter to confront the inner void—the holes in the soul that result from not having been wanted, not having been seen, and not having been allowed to speak the truth.” (p.298) We have done a great deal of the work necessary towards helping veterans speak their truth, for as Shakespeare writes in Macbeth, “Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break.” Too many Vietnam veterans have had their hearts broken and worse. The years they have suffered like the Marine I quoted at the start have many roots, but resolving moral injury issues is crucial.

What of shame and its relation to finding forgiveness to heal the Moral Injury buried deep. Thelma Bryant-Davis writes in her book Thriving in the Wake of Trauma that “shame is the feeling of internalized ‘badness’ and general negative self-concept that the survivor has. It is not simply guilt over doing something wrong. Instead, it is the belief and feeling that at the survivor’s core that something is wrong. Shame creates feelings of embarrassment and causes the survivor to feel the need to hide.”(p.61) This is yet another aspect of how MI gets repressed, over decades, and requires years of effort to resolve. Shira Maguen, a therapist in San Francisco, has a program she calls “impact of killing” therapy. In it she explores with her “patients the emotional and physiological impacts of killing, then deals directly with self-forgiveness. Many veterans are resistant, believing that to forgive is dishonorable, dismissing a wrong they had committed.” She states that an important “part of self-forgiveness is understanding the context in which this happened, usually a situation where you are constantly making life-and-death decisions quickly without having all the information.” (Wood, p.253) In coming out of the shadows and finding their freedom from the shame and buried MI that they have lived with for decades, they are able to find their peace in self-forgiveness.

Finally, there are a number of additional therapies being utilized with veterans in the search for healing and wholeness. Every week I attend an outpatient PTS “Expressions Group” where veterans read poetry, tell jokes, play musical instruments, talk about their healing journeys, sing or paint beautiful pictures. Many also find healing in just attending the group and being of service to those in the group. There is also an inpatient unit in the same building and they have a recreation therapist who utilizes art and equine therapy to help clients find healing. I do a weekly “garden group” where we practice horticulture therapy in the service of finding their soul in the soil. Additionally, I offer them information about education and careers in agriculture because it has been demonstrated that veterans are a great fit for farming. It can become their new mission to work towards greater food security in our country while also discovering the healing they find in the act of planting, caring for and harvesting locally grown food.

Our war in Vietnam is over 5 decades old and has left us many wounds in need of healing. Issues of PTS and Moral Injury are crucial to address not only for those who acquired them in that Southeast Asian country but for the more recent veterans who have the opportunity to find health and healing now. Michael Castellana, a therapist at Camp Pendleton, says of veterans:

These are remarkable, courageous men and women. We should laugh with them, grieve with them, and most of all, empathize and inject a human perspective on the terrible experiences these service members have endured. We must bear with them, the distressing and challenging events they have lived through, and accompany them as they make their way to a new, fuller understanding and appreciation of their role in war and as fellow human beings in the world. (Wood, p.268)

It is crucial that we as individuals find ways to accompany them in their quest for healing, not only to stem the tide of trauma and violence already inflicted, but as acts of prevention so that the wounds suffered don’t beget new ones. With compassion and understanding, we can work to unravel both the PTS and Moral injury that many veterans have known for far too long, and in turn learn how to better address these issues in the future.


Beder, Joan ed. Caring for the Military: A Guide for Helping Professions. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Brown, Brene. Daring Greatly. New York: Avery, 2012.

Bryant-Davis, Thelma. Thriving in the Wake of Trauma: A Multicultural Guide. Westport, CT.: Praeger Publishers, 2005.

Coleman, Penny. Flashback: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide & the Lessons of War. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.

Levine, Peter A. In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma & Restores Goodness. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2010.

Meagher, Ilona. Moving a Nation to Care: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder & America’s Returning Troops. Brooklyn, NY: Ig Publishing, 2007.

Van der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Viking, 2014.

Wilson, Timothy D. Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By. New York: Back Bay Books, 2011.

Wood, David. What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars. New York: Little Brown, 2017.

It’s A W.I.N.: Building a “Forest of Health” through Community Partnerships

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee
    One clover, and a bee,
        And reverie.
The reverie alone will do,
    If the bees are few.

    -Emily Dickinson

It is no secret that the world’s pollinators are currently in trouble. From fruit bats to the rusty-patched bumblebee, many of our vital fuzzy friends are endangered due to habitat loss and human development. At Brushwood Center, we believe that creative thinking and collaborative community efforts have the power to help.

This summer, Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods launched the Forest of Health or Bosque de Salud youth program.  Forest of Health aimed to educate youth and families about the importance of pollinators and forests through community partnerships with Cool Learning Experience, Foss Park District, Nuestro Center, Roberti Community House, and the Round Lake Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee.

Participants in Brushwood Center’s PLT Certification Workshop

Forest of Health kicked off with a Project Learning Tree workshop.  Project Learning Tree (PLT) uses trees and forests as windows on the world to increase students’ understanding of the environment and actions they can take to conserve it. This workshop certified staff and volunteers from the five partner organizations in PLT’s curriculum, and provided tools to incorporate environmental education into formal and informal classroom settings.

In June, Brushwood Center followed up this training with site visits to each community partner. This was done in partnership with the innovative Filament Theatre group, a Chicago-based organization specializing in interactive performances for young audiences.  These site visits had two components: an exciting theater workshop led by Filament, and a visual arts activity led by Brushwood Center.  Teaching artists from Filament helped students embody native pollinators through music and movement-based exercises. As they explored the history of prairies in our state, students were challenged to think of solutions to declining pollinator populations. They broke up into teams to write small skits demonstrating an environmental issue, and their solution. The creativity and knowledge of the students was impossible to miss, as they intertwined sustainable concepts with goofy interpretive performances, bringing some much needed lightness to heavy topics.

Participants from Roberti Community House’s Junior Green Youth Farm building their city block.

In the visual arts activity, students took this problem-solving a step further. Using up-cycled cardboard and craft supplies from BASE (Brushwood Art Supply Exchange), students envisioned a city block with space for people and pollinators alike. They worked collaboratively to retro-fit “buildings” with green roofs and community resources, and reconstructed the “grounds” with nature-play areas and edible gardens.  Students not only created eco-friendly cityscapes, but also tackled difficult socioeconomic injustices in their creations.  Students from Roberti Community House’s Junior Green Youth Farm program, for example, included an adoption center with a nature play area, an underground public transit system to keep more cars off the road, and multi-unit subsidized housing for citizens in need.  With almost no instruction or rules from facilitators, the students became empowered by their complete control and ownership over this activity, and found equitable solutions to the woes of pollinators and people alike.

A “Pollinator Promise” that reads “I will help my grandma plant some flowers and I will leave water for hummingbirds”

On field trips to Brushwood Center, groups delved deeper into the world of pollinators and plants.  Students dissected flowers, exploring complex communication and reproductive systems. They engaged in PLT activities outside, where they learned more about human interdependence with nature, and ecosystem functionality. They also flexed their creativity again by creating pollinators out of up-cycled materials from BASE. Each pollinator was coupled with a “Pollinator Promise”, simple things that each student felt they could do to positively impact the pollinators in their communities, like not stepping on ants, and planting native flowers around their homes.

Families from Round Lake BPAC and their sustainable city block

Emily Dickinson’s poem about prairies and reverie advocates for the power of daydreaming to create something beautiful. There is immense power in giving yourself the space to think creatively and imagine a better world without limitations. This empowerment is what we aimed to do through our programming this summer. During these various trips and activities, these students not only became more familiar with the natural world; they became its caretakers. They took on roles of investigative problem-solvers and community leaders, working together to dream up creative and equitable ways to help all creatures in need.

Through the Forest of Health/Bosque de Salud program, Brushwood Center has reached over 400 students so far from Highwood, North Chicago, Round Lake, and Waukegan communities. The outreach and relationship building will continue with the program’s culminating event, the Forest of Health Family Festival, on September 14th from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm for the students and families from these participating organizations. The collaborative streets and creative pollinators made by students will be displayed as a testament to the intelligence, power, and creativity of Lake County’s young minds. As long as these kids have a say, our future will be bright.

This programming was made possible through funding by Abbott, Chicago Community Trust, Gorter Family Foundation, Lake County Health Department, Lumpkin Family Foundation, Morrison Family Foundation, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and U.S. Forest Service International Program.

If you are interested in becoming a community partner or participating in Brushwood Center’s programming, contact Dani Abboud at

It’s A W.I.N.: Art and Wellness in Nature

Multiple studies have found that spending time recreating in nature not only improves physical fitness, but can also have numerous positive impacts on mental health and development.  In children, these impacts can include: decreased feelings of stress and aggression, increased focus, and improved relationship skills.  Time in nature can also help stimulate creativity, and artistic outlets can have similar beneficial effects on mental health. But access to nature and the arts is not universal, and is often restricted by income and class.  Here at Brushwood, we have been working to increase access to nature and the arts for children through its new program, It’s A W.I.N. (Art and Wellness In Nature).

It’s A W.I.N. aims not only to impact individual children’s access to the health benefits of nature, but their surrounding ecosystem of care as well, including parents and teachers. Brushwood had the honor of running a pilot of the program this summer with Nuestro Center in Highwood.  After a training with staff and volunteers in June, Brushwood hosted over 60 summer campers from Nuestro Center on July 14th.  These campers spent a day learning all about monarch butterflies, their life cycles, and their migration pathways.  Students returned the following Saturday with their families to show them what they had learned, and look for monarch eggs and caterpillars along the trail.

In early October, Brushwood staff made a trip to Nuestro Center to partake in the Symbolic Migration Program through Journey North.  Each student decorated their own paper monarch to send to a classroom in Michoacán, Mexico, the region that the monarchs migrate to in the fall.  Students were told that their monarch should serve as an ambassador of their town and themselves.  One student chose to draw their favorite athlete’s jersey, while others decorated their butterfly’s wings with hearts, or flowers, or in one case, a pepperoni pizza.  Two wrote a special message in Spanish for their new friends: nunca se rinde—never give up.  In the spring, the students will receive a different packed of butterflies from their friends in Michoacán, and the migration cycle will be complete.

Brushwood Center Garden Overflows with Supporters at Smith Nature Symposium


The 2017 Smith Nature Symposium’s  MC, NBC 5 reporter & journalist, Art Norman, poses with keynote speaker–journalist, and author of The Nature Fix–Florence Williams.

Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods held their 34th Annual Smith Nature Symposium on May 20, 2017. Celebrating a break in the weather, more than 200 supporters spilled outdoors, enjoying farm-to-table food and drink while touring Brushwood’s blooming native gardens. Inside the historic Brushwood home, friends of Brushwood strolled the gallery adorned with Carol Freeman’s Endangered Beauty photography exhibit. As the sun set, participants made their way to the tree-lined presentation tent to hear about Brushwood Center’s new mission, celebrate the 2017 Leadership in Nature Awardee, and hear the keynote address mediated by the symposium’s MC, Emmy Award-winning NBC 5 journalist and reporter, Art Norman.

Florence Williams delivers the keynote address.

Brushwood Center’s Board Chair, Ellie Ranney-Mendoza, welcomed the crowd and announced the recently adopted mission, which links this long-serving art and conservation organization to wellness. She also introduced the new Interim Executive Director, Catherine Game, formerly of Chicago Wilderness, who thanked the many partners and supporters of the organization. With this new compass direction, the organization reached out to author, journalist, and editor, Florence Williams, whose writings focus on the health benefits of spending time in nature. Williams’ inspired attendees during her keynote address, sharing the research behind nature’s effects on human health from her latest book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.


The Smith Nature Symposium also serves as a chance to honor outstanding conservation leadership in our community. This year, Brushwood Center’s Award for Distinguished Leadership in Nature went to Deborah Lahey, president and chief executive officer of Chicago Academy of Sciences and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. The award recognized Ms. Lahey for her work as a leader in the promotion and protection of nature. She was presented with an original botanical painting created by Brushwood’s artist-in-residence, Heeyoung Kim.

Deborah Lahey, President of Chicago Academy of Science, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, accepts the 2017 Award for Distinguished Leadership in Nature during the Smith Nature Symposium.

Brushwood Center is grateful to all those who made the 2017 Smith Nature Symposium a success, including the principal sponsor, Abbott, and partner, Lake County Forest Preserves, as well as Art Norman, and the many sponsors, partners, and volunteers who supported the organization’s annual event. Mr. Norman delighted the crowd and helped raise more than $30,000 to support Brushwood Center’s programming.

The evening’s MC, Art Norman, leads the paddle raise.

Located in the Ryerson family historic home among pristine woodlands, Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods promotes the importance of nature for nurturing personal and community wellbeing, cultivating creativity and inspiring learning.

To learn more about Brushwood Center, visit the art gallery, or participate in any of their numerous programs, drop in at 21850 N. Riverwoods Road, Riverwoods, IL or visit their website at

“Spring Beauty Arrives! But how?” By Leigh Stewart

Nestled up to the protective base of one of our Tardiva Hydrangeas, a Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) has appeared for the first time in the courtyard bed of our native gardens. None have appeared yet anywhere else in our beds and the nearest ones are tens of yards away; the Brushwood WildBunch didn’t plant it, so how did it get there?

2017-04-14 15.10.24 (1) Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) has appeared for the first time in the courtyard bed of Brushwood Center’s native gardens.

The circle in front of Brushwood Center erupted in Spring Beauties in the last couple of days, literally carpeting the lawn there. And in the woods surrounding Brushwood, these first bloomers of the year are dotted here and there along with Sharp-Lobed Hepatica, Bloodroot, newly launched umbrellas of Mayapple leaves and the spotted tongue-like leaves of Trout Lily yet to bloom. But these areas are yards and yards away from our native garden beds – how did this one, lonely individual Spring Beauty plant come to be in our garden? This question sends me to my books and, of course, Google!

DSC_0413 Leigh Stewart, of Buffalo Grove, is president of Brushwood Center’s volunteer garden club, the Brushwood WildBunch.

On the Lake Forest College website I find:

Claytonia virginica plays a noble role in its natural ecosystem. In order to effectively reseed, Spring beauty subjects itself primarily as a source of food. As mentioned before, insects such as bees and flies frequently visit the flowers seeking nectar and pollen. Small rodents dig up and eat the corms or a system of roots that grow like potato tubers. And as for the foliage, it occasionally becomes a food source for White-Tailed Deer. Spring Beauty acts as a sign that spring has arrived and the woods are filled with diverse wildflowers.”

While seeds may attach to and be spread by the bees and flies, and I’ve certainly seen many ground-nesting native bees around our garden, I find another method of seed dispersal in my brand new copy of the recently published Flora of the Chicago Region by Gerould Wilhelm & Laura Rericha. It informs me that “The seeds are ant-dispersed, as they possess a minute, white-fleshy elaiosome that is embedded within a shallow notch or divot on the seed’s margin. After flowering, the pedicels nod and nearly touch the soil, a behavior that perhaps increases the likelihood of the seeds being collected and dispersed by ants.”

eastern-spring-beauty-543546_960_720.jpg Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica

From the source of all true knowledge, Wikipedia, I find out that “Elaiosomes (Greek élaion “oil” and sóma “body”) are fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds of many plant species. The elaiosome is rich in lipids and proteins, and may be variously shaped. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed the elaiosome to their larvae. After the larvae have consumed the elaiosome, the ants take the seed to their waste disposal area, which is rich in nutrients from the ant frass and dead bodies, where the seeds germinate. This type of seed dispersal is termed myrmecochory from the Greek “ant” (myrmex) and “dispersal” (kore). This type of symbiotic relationship appears to be mutualistic, more specifically dispersive mutualism according to Ricklefs, R.E. (2001), as the plant benefits because its seeds are dispersed to favorable germination sites, and also because it is planted (carried underground) by the ants.”

I suspect that the ants I’ve seen – and on occasion been bitten by! – are the culprits in bringing this wonderful new addition to our native gardens.

Leigh Stewart is president of Brushwood Center’s volunteer garden club, the Brushwood WildBunch.

Click HERE for more information on joining the WildBunch.                                        

Next WildBunch garden workdays: 5/18, 5/25, 6/8, 6/22