From Discovery to Wellbeing: Brushwood Center in 2016

A Look Back at 2016 and a Window Forward for Brushwood Center

The past twelve-months have been a time of reflection at Brushwood Center—and reflection is an easy feat here considering the beautiful natural setting we have in which to meditate. With a new mission statement and new direction, Brushwood Center is ready to begin anew in 2017. Brushwood Center values the basic human need for spending time in nature as it relates to a healthy and happy life, as well as the great role it plays in inspiring creativity, learning, and promoting a sense of wellbeing. Over the years, we have witnessed the positive impact nature has had on the many people who have engaged with Brushwood Center.

In 2016, nature inspired and influenced us–whether in the creative process through the many art programs and exhibits, in education and learning by way of lectures, book talks and community discussions, or through wellbeing as it relates to time in nature and at Brushwood Center. Regardless, Brushwood serves as an intimate and inviting place to retreat to when the world is too busy and quiet time in nature is needed to nourish and refresh. As we considered what Brushwood Center has meant since it was first built as a escape to nature for the Ryerson family in 1942, we felt that wellbeing would represent Brushwood Center’s future. We feel ever more confident that this new focus will honor, even better, the wonderful history of Brushwood Center and all who have walked its wide-plank, reclaimed wood floors. 

Before we look into the future, however, we’d like to take a moment to look back on the good times we had in 2016 and thank all those who made Brushwood Center a happy home in those 12-months.

Art on Our Walls

More than 3,500 art and nature lovers visited Brushwood Center in 2016 to see the eight different art exhibits and the dozens of incredible artists that graced the walls of Brushwood Center:pictureyes

  • Doug Fogelson’s On Climate, a 3-part photographic commentary on
    human action and climate change.
  • Tobin Fraley’s 36 Acres, a photographic exhibit documenting the Reed-Turner Woodland.
  • Donna Hapac’s Constructing Nature, abstract sculptures constructed using materials such as reed and waxed linen.
  • Dave La Forge’s Bird Sanctuaries, unique bird homes constructed using recycled materials.
  • Moments in Nature, an exhibition of photos from the Lake County Audubon Society’s 2015 photo competition.
  • Invasive Species in the Natural Landscape by the Reed-Turner Woodland Botanical Artists.
  • The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators Great Lakes Chapter’s The World of Birds, an exhibit of scientific illustrations of birds.
  • Foliage and Feathers, featuring Tammy Kordik’s 3-d mixed-media                                      foliage paintings and Francis Vail’s watercolor bird-wing studies.

Youth at Brushwood Center

Trail Tales®:                                                   
Brushwood Center’s Trail Tales celebrated the installation of a ttnew storybook, Winter is Coming by Tony Johnston, on October 19th.Trail Tales, in partnership with Lake County Forest Preserves and the generosity of several funders. Trail Tales/Caminando con Cuentos® was first introduced at Ryerson Woods in 2014 and has expanded to Lake County Forest Preserves. A bilingual program that combines exercise and literature to connect children and families to nature, Trail Tales takes nature-themed storybooks and places them on large panels along hiking trails. The panels are in English and Spanish and include “trail time activities,” developed by LCFPD educators, that offer ways to engage with the nature around you while relating to the storybook. Read Winter is Coming at Ryerson Woods and Little Miss Maple Seeds at Greenbelt today and Nippersink Forest Preserve in Spring 2017. Trail Tales is free and open to the public during Forest Preserve operating hours. 

Art and Nature Field Trips at Brushwood Center
High school youth from both Evanston High School and Science First/College First Summer Researchers with Chicago Botanic Garden visited Brushwood Center for field trips in Spring and Summer 2016. These Botanical Photography and Sketching workshops served to inspire the students research and provided them with an opportunity to learn about the history and study of botanical art. Students walked the trails at Ryerson Woods, explored and identified the unique flora and fauna, and captured their subjects on cameras to later use their images as models during the sketching workshop. “This is the first time I feel I actually enjoyed being outside!” stated one of the students from Chicago Public Schools. Brushwood Center is developing more programs like these and are available to any group or school looking to experience nature in a new and creative way.

Utilizing Trail Tales, Brushwood Center developed a two-part nature journaling program in Fall and Winter 2016 with 1st-5th graders from Nuestro Center Afterschool Homework Club in Highwood. The children hiked Ryerson Woods trails, enjoyed the Trail Tales story and trail time activities—trying very hard, as youngft2 children generally must, to develop their quiet observation skills—and sketched natural objects they observed around them along with native animal skins, skeletons, and other specimens provided by LCFPD. Local botanical artists, Heeyoung Kim, Jane Sturgeon, and Dolores Diaz kindly volunteered their time to the program, sharing their expertise, their own drawings and nature journals, and stories of their artistic outdoor adventures. After lessons in science and developing observation skills, dozens of children captured subjects along the trail, and back in the warmth of Brushwood Center, sketching animal specimens they hoped to run into the next time they visit the trail. Through the generosity of the Lumpkin Family Foundation, these children will now have a chance to return in Spring and Summer 2017 to experience all of the seasons at Ryerson Woods.

4-H Art and Nature Spin Club                                                                                          Brushwood Center hosted two 4-H Clubs in 2016. During Summer, a group of 8-12 year-olds met to study photography along the trails of Ryerson Woods. These students were joined by a naturalist as well as expert photographer, Emma England, to learn camera use and techniques. This pilot 4hprogram was such a success that Brushwood Center launched their own 4-H Art and Nature Spin Club, October.  The youth voted to focus on both visual arts and photography. Their visual arts creations relied on found natural objects and, under the instruction of artist and Brushwood Center Director of Arts, Julia Kemerer, created both individual and collective ephemeral art. The youth also took to beautifying dry, crunchy leaves with bright paints, evoking their glory days of color in Spring, Summer, and Autumn. Going into 2017, the club will begin photography projects, using beautiful Ryerson Woods and its natural treasures as their subjects. We look forward to seeing the incredible work these talented youth will continue to produce.


Smith Nature Symposium                                                                                                    On May 14th, 2016, Brushwood Center hosted the 33rd Annual Smith Nature Symposium. The keynote speaker, Dr. J. Drew Lanham—an academic, naturalist, writer, and birder—presented to a large group, gathered at Ryerson Woods.  Dr. Lanham share a poignant message on the journey of examining and broadening our own personal Range Mapping, a concept that discusses the far-reaching social and scientific implications of the shared habitats snsof birds and humans. The Symposium began with Dr. Lanham leading a morning bird walk with 30 Science First/College First students and their families at The Magic Hedge at Montrose Beach. The Symposium’s dinner and keynote address that evening was well-attended by more than 200 guests, including the family and friends of Edward and Nora Ryerson (founding members of Brushwood Center), volunteers and representatives from the Lake County Forest Preserves, a wonderful contingency of Abbott representatives (our principal sponsor), and many friends and partners including: Chicago Botanic Garden, Center for Humans and Nature, Environmentalists of Color, Faith in Place, The Field Museum, Liberty Prairie Foundation, Openlands, and Outdoor Afro, among others.

Illinois Young Birders Symposium                                                                                    In August 2016, Brushwood Center and the Lake County Forest Preserves hosted the Illinois Young Birder’s Symposium. More than 30 birding youth and their families, from all throughout the United States, gathered to discuss and img_3815present their involvement, passion, and techniques. Following youth presentations, a panel of birding experts—Brushwood Center’s own board member and acclaimed author, Joel Greenberg, aspiring professor, Sulli Gibson, Field Museum artist-in residence, Peggy Macnama, and zookeeper, Vickie Igleski—had an open dialogue with the attending youth, sharing their career path, experiences and practiced advice. A keynote address by Field Museum research assistant and tropical bird expert, Josh Engel, inspired youth to “pursue childhood passions,” as he had with birding, turning them into joyful careers.  Keeping things light, Engel reminded the youth that Illinois Young Birders was founded to give kids a chance to share their interests with other “bird nerds.” Engel’s talk was followed by a tour of Brushwood Center’s art gallery, filled with beautiful work from Illinois Young Birders.  Brushwood Center will host the second Annual Illinois Young Birders Symposium in August 2017.

Nature and Wellbeing

Serving Veterans at Brushwood Center                                                             Partnering with Thresholds—a mental health support agency —Brushwood Center hosted a nature photography workshop for military service members. The service members involved in the workshop came from Threshold’s Veterans Project, a program that provides therapeutic opportunities and activities for veterans with post-traumatic vetsstress and other traumas. The 8-month program, beginning in September 2015, brought veterans to Brushwood Center each month to learn foundational skills in art, photography, as well as observing and experiencing nature. Led by photographer Tobin Fraley and arborist and educator John Eskandari, the photography workshop was designed to allow veterans with PTSD, a chance to experience the healing qualities of being in nature as well as participating in the creative process. Veterans studied technical instruction, artistic reflection, and nature exploration in the safe and inspirational outdoor setting of Brushwood Center to much success. Brushwood Center will continue to offer groups like Thresholds workshops that encourage people to find their creative side through the inspiration of nature.

Brushwood Center thanks the following for the success of the veteran’s photography workshop: Chicago Community Trust; John Eskandari from Urban Plantsman LLC; Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market; Ted Jung and Nancy Fitzsimmons from Gemini Moulding, Inc., in Elgin, Illinois; Barbara Kreski, Director of Horticultural Therapy Services at the Chicago Botanic Garden; and the National Veterans Art Museum.  Special recognition must be given to Tobin Fraley, the photographer whose vision and mentorship inspired everyone involved with this program. 

Soundwalks                                                                                                                      swAcclaimed audio artist and professor, Eric Leonardson, led two soundwalks— drawing 40 people—around Brushwood Center in 2016. Each walk was an entirely unique experience that allowed attendees to practice being in nature in a new, special way. Under Eric’s guidance, every sound becomes significant and connected to an orchestra of natural and man-made utterances. Further than just hearing, we learned of the positive and negative consequences of sound—or a lackthereof—in nature.

Field Museum Lecture Series                                                                                 Partnering with the Keller Science Action Center (KSAC) of The Field Museum, 2016 saw the start of a new set of quarterly presentations on KSAC environmental field work and research around the world and in the Chicago Region. The presentations, attended by more than 100 people, provided a great opportunity for the public to engage with the scientific community on how to locally and personally work to mediate the effects of climate change. So far, Brushwood Center has hosted four brilliant KSAC folks, all on the front lines of hands-on environmental action, conservation, and education:

  • fmlsDr. Nora Bynum presented recent conservation efforts locally and internationally
  • Dr. Mark Bouman spoke on “The Field Museum and the Changing Landscape of the Chicago Region”
  • Dr. Diana (Tita) Alvira discussed “Community Well-Being and Conservation in South America”
  • Dr. Nigel Pitman shared “The Chicago 40: Forty iconic species that every Chicagoan should know.”

We are thrilled to begin hosting 2017’s set of KSAC talks beginning in March!


Bbhilingual Hikes                                                                               Brushwood Center’s Community Engagement Specialist, Marcela Alva, and Lake County Forest Preserves, partnered to lead hikes for 364 Spanish-speaking residents of Lake County in 2016. The guided hikes gave attendees detailed facts and information about local flora and fauna in both Spanish and English, giving everyone an enhanced opportunity to connect to the nature around them in a hands-on way. This family-friendly program will begin again in Summer 2017.



Ryerson Reads and Author Talks                                                                                      For 13 years, Professor of English and expert in American literature at Lake Forest College, Dr. Benjamin Goluboff, has led captivating discussions on environmental literature at Brushwood Center’s Ryerson Reads. Dozens of books have been covered and the topics span multi-faceted aspects and eras of the environmental literature movement. Ryerson Reads is an opportunity to gather with other book and nature fans to learn through scholarly discussion and debate while enjoying the historic and natural setting that Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods provides. In the 2016-2017 series, Ryeson Reads covered H is for Hawk, Man and Nature, The Seed Underground, and Half-Earth. The 2017-2018 series begins this Spring! Click here to register!

In April 2016, Brushwood Center hosted Helen Macdonald—author
of best-selling novel, H is for Hawk—in partnership with Lake Forest Book Store. 
Macdonald spoke to a crowd of 100 on her development as a writer in conjunction with her experiences in life and how she weaved her experiences and growing talents together to create an award winning book. Many thanks to all who attended, the volunteers who helped, and Lake County Forest Preserves for partnering with us on this great literary event!

Brushwood Center is working on a set of new author talks for 2017, stay tuned for authors and books to be announced!


Film Festival in the Woods                                                                                            Partnering with Lake County Forest Preserves and Heller Nature Center, Brushwood Center hosted its 5th Annual Film Festival in the Woods on the Lawn at Brushwood. The festival featured short, nature-inspired films. The festival’s tffheme, Impact: People and Nature, examined the impact humans have on nature, as well as the impact nature has had on people, inspiring art and expression, and much more. Featured was award-winning film: Moving the Giants as well as Everglades of the North: The Story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh, How Wolves Change RiversNaturalists and environmental organizations were on hand at the festival, giving attendees opportunities to supplement the films, answering questions and providing hands-on educational activities.  An exciting new line-up of films is planned for August 2017.

Holiday Open House and Carol Sing                                                                                 15492478_10154834574277002_7080452858393129370_nOn December 10th, Brushwood Center joyfully opened its doors to celebrate the holiday season, inviting the public in to enjoy an extensive selection of holiday treats, caroling, and a fun craft. Attendees started the event at dusk with a snowy luminary-lit hike along the trails. This beautiful walk was followed by cocoa, cookies, and crafts inside historic Brushwood Center, where the halls were fully decked with holiday decor and historic photos of family holidays from a time when Brushwood was Ryerson family’s home. After gathering for caroling, led by the great-grandchild of the Ryerson’s and Board Chair, Ellie Ranney, guests wandered the halls of Brushwood Center, enjoying the art exhibit, Foliage and Feathers by Tammy Kordik and Francis Vail.

We had a great time in 2016 and are so grateful to all who made the year a wonderful success. We look forward to continuing the fun in 2017! 

Check out our 2017 program line-up here!

May nature be with you! 

Brushwood Center Announces Return of Shakespeare Outdoors July 23-26

Brushwood Center announces the return of Shakespeare Outdoors, July 23-26, 7pm, with the Bard’s As You Like It, performed by Citadel Theatre. This popular summertime event in Riverwoods, will be performed in Ryerson Woods, near Deerfield.  “Our mission is to connect people to nature through the arts and environmental programs,” said John Barrett, Executive Director of Brushwood Center.  He continued, “Shakespeare Outdoors is a chance for us to connect the community to nature in a unique way.”

as you like itShakespeare’s As You Like It is a favorite of audiences everywhere.  Recognized as his pastoral comedy, it is perhaps known as much for the famed soliloquy “All the World’s a Stage” or “The Seven Ages of Man” as for its storyline.  In the play, a duke’s court is usurped by his brother and he and his followers flee to the nearby forest.  There, his supporters; including his jester, other courtiers, his daughter Rosalind and her friends, camp out among the country folk and make do with their banishment. In hiding, Rosalind has adopted the visage of a young man, and a new name – Ganymede – and this new appearance leads to a comedy of mistaken identities as a country girl falls for her. “The show has a little bit of everything: comedy, love and romance, mistaken identity, and even chase scenes. It will be fun to watch,” said Scott Phelps, artistic director of the Citadel Theatre.

The most musical of Shakespeare’s plays, As You Like It features a number of songs which highlight the pastoral atmosphere and the changing of the seasons.   As You Like It is directed by Frank Farrell. Farrell performed as an actor in Goodman Theatre’s As You Like It years ago; and directed Citadel’s outdoor A Midsummer Night’s Dream last summer.

Sitting outside and listening to Shakespeare’s words in a wooded setting harkens to the early days of theater.  Phelps said his performers are really looking forward to returning to Brushwood.  “They love the intimate connection they can make with the audience,” he said. Last year was their first year at Brushwood and it was so successful that they are added a fourth performance this year.

As You Like It is a 90-minute performance including guitar, violin and vocals.  Barrett suggests arriving early for a hike on one of the many trails of Ryerson Woods or to take a tour of Brushwood Center to view the art gallery before finding a spot of the lawn.

Tickets are available for all four shows which begin at 7 p.m., July 23-26. Tickets:  $15 or $10 for Brushwood members.    Register at:  www.BrushwoodCenter.Org or call 847-968-3344.

Ryerson Reads takes on Harrison’s “Gardens”

Gardens largeOur most recent session of the environmental literature discussion group, Ryerson Reads, was about Robert Pogue Harrison’s Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (2008). Harrison’s Gardens is not the sort of work we generally discuss. That is, it is not a work in the broad tradition that begins with Thoreau’s Walden and includes the many American books that connect a meditation about a particular place with a meditation on the subjective experience of a sojourner in that place. These books – let’s call them what Thoreau once called Walden, “a meteorological journal of the mind” – include such very different texts as Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge and Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, and constitute something like the mainstream of American environmental writing. Neither is Harrison’s Gardens a traditional work of garden writing that might belong in the tradition that stretches from Gertrude Jeckyll to Michael Pollan, or the traditional academic monograph that one might expect from Harrison, the Rosina Pierotti Professor of Italian Literature at Stanford University.

Gardens, which Harrison calls an “essay,” recalls the root meaning of that term: a try or an attempt. Harrison attempts to delineate some of things that the ancient human imperative to order outdoor space for aesthetic purposes suggests about human nature. The attempt, necessarily partial and incomplete, is undertaken with all the resources of a master teacher of the humanities. Dante, Boccaccio, Italo Calvino all figure in Harrison’s bibliography, as do Plato and Epicurus, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and many more in many languages. The difficulty of the book – its many references and subordinate texts – is part of the pleasure of reading Gardens: you admire the reach of Harrison’s learning even as you work to keep up with his argument.

Central to Harrison’s argument is the idea of care (cura), which Harrison defines, learnedly, by telling the story of Homer’s Odysseus stranded on Kalypso’s island of earthly delights. Kalypso has offered the hero immortality if he will only stay with her in her garden of perfect beauty, but Odysseus spends his days there pining for Penelope and Ithaca. But what he also pines for is the human world of mortality and imperfection where care and cultivation are possible:

Had Odysseus been forced to remain on Kalypso’s island for

the rest of his endless days, and had he not lost his humanity in

the process, he would most likely have taken to gardening….

For human beings, like Odysseus, who are held fast by care

have an irrepressible need to devote themselves to something.

A garden that comes into being through one’s own labor and

tending efforts is very different from the fantastical gardens

where things preexist spontaneously. For unlike earthly

paradises, human-made gardens that are brought into and

maintained in being by cultivation retain a signature

of the human agency to which they owe their existence. Call

it the mark of Cura.

Harrison extends this claim in a striking feminist adaptation of the Christian felix culpa argument by asserting that Mother Eve, an apostle of Cura, redeemed humanity from the idleness of Eden by delivering us into the world of labor and care.

The gardens Harrison surveys in this brief and crowded book are many. Plato’s academic grove is contrasted with Epicurus’s kitchen garden as divergent expressions of the Greek idea of civis virture. Harrison analyzes the temporary gardens of homeless people in New York City as exemplary of human biophilia or, as he wittily calls it, “chlorophilia.” He writes of Versailles as the monument to a suite of regal vices. And there is a lovely interlude on Kingscote, an out-of-the way garden on Stanford’s campus, which is one of several places in the book where Harrison insists that to be a garden there must be a wall enclosing it, but that the wall must have openings to people and polis: “Gardens are vital to the degree that they open their enclosures in the midst of history, offering a measure of seclusion that is not occlusion.”

In the final chapters of Gardens, with the help of a cast of sources that includes Ariosto, Pound, and the Czech modernist writer and gardener Karel Capek, Harrison launches an attack on modern Western restlessness and consumerism. Our manic modern energies, and the environmental destruction they have wrought, are for Harrison a renunciation of Cura in quest of a dehumanizing Eden of creature comforts. Modern westerners live in “the expectation of an Edenic condition, in which the sole higher purpose, if not obligation, of the citizen is to enjoy the fruits of the earth in an increasingly infantilized state of sheer receptivity.”

A bracing and challenging book, Harrison’s Gardens provoked a rich discussion among the group at Ryerson Reads. Consider joining us next season, when we will discuss Berndt Heinrich’s Life Everlasting; Terry Tempest Williams, An Unspoken Hunger; E.O. Wilson, The Meaning of Human Existence; and T.C. Boyle, A Friend of the Earth.

Ben GoluboffWritten by Benjamin Goluboff, professor of English at Lake Forest College and an expert in American literature. Ben has led Ryerson Reads for the past eleven years and is now preparing for an exciting 2015-16 season.

January’s Ryerson Reads gave us a chance to delve deep into Abby Geni’s “The Last Animal”

by guest blogger, Benjamin Goluboff

The-Last-AnimalOur January meeting of Ryerson Reads, the environmental literature discussion group, was focused on Abby Geni’s The Last Animal (2013). Geni’s debut volume, this collection of short stories explores the troubled, sometimes contradictory relationships between humans and the natural world, specifically our interactions with animals — wild, captive, and domesticated.

Perhaps the most striking thing about these stories is Geni’s mastery of various voices and various modes of prose fiction. In “Terror Birds” Geni writes in a gritty naturalistic vein about a child growing up all but feral on an Arizona ostrich farm.  In “The Girls of Apache Bryn Mawr” she spins a brisk New Yorker-ish social satire that turns alarmingly dark as the kids at a Wisconsin summer camp for Jewish girls discover that one of their counselors may harbor a kind of inner beast. And “Captivity,” possibly the finest story of the collection, is a comic tale that owes something to the Magic Realist tradition, and describes, among other things, an Octopus and his (or her) relations with the keeper of the cephalopod wing of the aquarium where they both spend their days.

One of the pleasures of Ryerson Reads is that no matter how carefully I prepare for these discussions the group’s talented readers always surprise me, taking the discussion in directions I could not have foreseen. As we discussed “Captivity,” for example,  collating the story’s two intertwined plot lines about different sorts of captivity, the group engaged in a rich (and unresolved) debate about the ethics of keeping animals captive for scientific or educational purposes. Does the scientific mission of institutions like the Shedd Aquarium (where Geni’s story seems to take place) redeem those institutions from being what “Captivity” suggests they are: prison camps for animals?

Ryerson Reads 1491One of the stories that provoked a particularly rich discussion among the Ryerson group was “Dharma at the Gate,” a story of social realism roughly in the Raymond Carver tradition. This story features an ill-starred high school romance, and a golden retriever who acts as a kind of tutelary spirit to the young woman of the pair. I believe we found the story so engaging for at least two reasons. First, the story is about social class, and like Americans in general we take a kind of illicit pleasure in talking about class because it is one of our democratic culture’s dirty secrets. Second, the story explores the unique bond that has obtained, since our species hunter-gatherer days, between people and dogs. Geni may have gone somewhat out of her depth in “Dharma at the Gate” in advancing a particular hypothesis about Homo sapiens and Canis lupus familiaris as coevolutionary partners, and then offering that hypothesis — tentatively, ambivalently — as a template with which to understand her characters’ troubled romance. What the reader is left with — opinions varied among the group — may be a startling insight into her characters’ motivations, or may be a richly readable muddle. Read “Dharma at the Gate” and decide for yourself.

GardensThe Ryerson Reads selection for March is Robert Pogue Harrison’s Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (2008). This is a challenging academic book that endeavors to find in gardens — real and imaginary — clues to what makes us human. Harrison ranges from Epicurus to Bocaccio to the gardens of the Manhattan homeless in this learned study that is anchored in what he calls the ethics of care. Join us in March as we take up this rich and difficult book.

Ben Goluboff

Ben Goluboff, professor of English at Lake Forest College and an expert in American literature, has led Ryerson Reads for the past 11 years.  He will be revealing the book selections for the 2015-16 season at the Spring session, to be held on March 11th.

For more information on Ryerson Reads, visit our website.

Listening for the song of the Chickadee at Ryerson Woods

chickadee2On a cold winter day, if you listen closely while walking Ryerson Woods, you can hear the unmistakable call of the black-capped chickadee. “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” it calls, perhaps to connect with its brethren at a good feeding spot or alarm them of an intruder, possibly a predator. Both male and female chickadees give this call throughout the year.

Chickadees live at Ryerson year-round – they can survive the winter because of special adaptations that other birds living in cold climates possess: by fluffing their feathers to trap warmth, by growing more feathers, and by shivering as a way to regulate their body temperature. They also seek tree holes and other crevices on the coldest days to protect themselves from the chilling wind.

Chickadees have other special techniques that help them during the coldest time here in northern Illinois. First, they can hang on the undersides of branches to retrieve hidden larvae and eggs. Yes, the insects that will come this spring are waiting there for just the right moment to emerge. Chickadees help keep the population in check.

Chickadees also feed on seeds – as you know if you feed the birds in your backyard.  Have you ever watched them at your feeder? They sometimes take the seed and fly off with it in their bill – they’re hiding it for future retrieval. They actually remember where they hide the seeds – usually underneath tree bark.

In January, the cheerful sound of the black-capped chickadee’s call brightens anyone’s spirit. And when February comes, you can hear a new sound from these hardy birds – their spring song. They start early. Listen for “fee-bee” or “fee-bee-bee” or “hey, sweetie” with the first syllable higher in pitch.  Click here to listen to the song:

That means they are starting to think about raising young, establishing territories and finding a cavity in which to nest. Sometimes one will even sing in January.

While out at Ryerson Woods, take a walk and listen for the chickadee’s calls and songs – then step inside to warm up and view the art exhibition featuring sculptures and drawings of the birds you love. You also might hear chickadees when you’re on the free Soundwalk scheduled for Jan. 25 at Brushwood Center.

Have any questions about chickadees? Let us know.

– Sheryl DeVore

“Hear the Rhythm of the Birds” opens at Brushwood Gallery this weekend

Two important qualities unite very different artistic approaches in “Hear the Rhythm of the Birds,” the exciting new Brushwood exhibition of paintings and sculpture. Painter Kimberly Beck and sculptor Don Rambadt, are both passionate and knowledgeable about birds and they are also both extremely skillful in their chosen medium. Nature lovers and art lovers equally will find much to appreciate in this major exhibit of new work inspired by birds.

The concept for the exhibit was the brainchild of Beck. “Birds connect us to the rhythms of nature. They help us understand the changing seasons by their comings and goings. They soar above us and around us and live amongst us in our backyards. We learn about beauty, grace, persistence, hope and ourselves when we take notice of the rhythm of the birds.” Beck spent the twelve months of 2014 creating the thirty paintings in this show, preferring to work in the field from life to directly experience the changes in the landscape and light as the birds moved through their year.

“I have observed them through the four seasons, taken note of their daily behaviors, routines and habits. I watched them nest and faithfully care for their offspring, I learned about their preferred trees and perches…I listened and learned to recognize their song…I missed those that departed in the winter, and rejoiced at their return.” This intimacy is conveyed in her paintings through a deep knowledge of her materials and is supported by her past experience as a professional illustrator. “I want the paint to participate,” she says with strong conviction.

Beck describes her creative process as beginning with an internal dialog based on an experience. That experience grows into a concept and then, through the artist’s rendering, tells a story. For example, the concept for her painting titled Graziozo (the musical term for gracefully) emerged from her emotional response when a great blue heron rose up languorously and flew off as she approached it. Musical terms provide titles for many of her paintings as befits art exploring rhythm.

Don Rambadt is also exhibiting almost entirely new work. Rambadt’s personal statement declares “I sculpt because I enjoy the challenge of manipulating space. I choose birds as my subject matter because they fascinate me to no end.” A birdwatcher, falconer and former taxidermist he knows birds extremely well, but his work is more stylized than Beck’s. The species are recognizable, but the forms are “distilled like a haiku”, a liberty that is only possible when an artist is completely familiar with the natural form.

Rambadt expresses delight at being a returning artist to Brushwood and to provide sculptural support to Beck’s theme of Rhythm. About Rambadt, Beck says “He’s fabulous! We are fortunate to have a nationally recognized sculptor whose work adds so much to the show.”

It should be noted that the leadership role for the art program at Brushwood Center has recently changed. This is the final exhibit curated by former Executive Director Sophie Twichell. Long time Brushwood staff member Julia Kemerer was promoted to the position of Director of Arts and Administration last fall and is looking ahead to creating other exhibits to fulfill the mission of Brushwood.

“We will continue to focus on art that explores the themes of nature and the environment. It’s a great way to make people think about their relationship with the natural world.”

An opening reception will be held from 1-3pm on Sunday, January 11. Exhibition runs January 11 – February 26, 2015.​​For more information visit

Ryerson Reads celebrates 10 years

Ryerson Reads 1491

New season starts September 10

For 10 years, book lovers with an interest in ecology have enjoyed lively discourse at a unique book club held at Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods. The 11th season starts this fall.

Longtime participant Dick Ettlinger of Highland Park said the leader Ben Goluboff guides the group in a thought-provoking way that stimulates fascinating discussions. Goluboff is a professor of English at Lake Forest College.

“He asks questions and invites responses,” Ettlinger said. “He gets the discussion going. He doesn’t want to make a lecture out of it.”

Goluboff said that’s his intent: To invite comments and encourage readers to delve into issues and themselves.

“I really try to make it a dialogue, like a good literature class,” he said.

One of Goluboff’s selections this season is Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition by Robert Pogue Harrison.

Ben Goluboff - Ryerson Reads
Ben Goluboff, a professor of English at Lake Forest College, leads the Ryerson Reads book discussions.

“This is a powerful book, a delightful, challenging wonderful book, “Goluboff said. Participants will likely discuss whether the author is truly talking about gardens or something else, he said.

Over the years, Goluboff has been fascinated and excited about what participants say and observe about themselves and the environment.

“One book, The Creation by E.O. Wilson, elicited a wide-ranging discussion,” he said. “One participant talked about how Wilson’s writing caused her to re-examine her faith,” he said.

“I thought that was extraordinary. It makes people around the table recognize the power of the writer. It’s been one of the many experiences in my life that reminds me how literature can make a big difference in peoples’ lives.”

Brushwood Center Executive Director Sophie Twichell said, “We are thrilled Ryerson Reads has thrived for 10 years. This is a truly wonderful way to discuss literature in a beautiful setting with a thoughtful, knowledgeable and well-read leader.”

Copies of the books chosen for the 2014/15 season of Ryerson Reads will be set aside and available at the Deerfield Public Library, 920 Waukegan Road as well as the Vernon Area Public Library, 300 Olde Half Day Road, Lincolnshire. Books are also available for purchase at the Lake Forest Book Store. Limited copies are on hand at Brushwood Center. The fee is $15 per session, $10 for Brushwood Center members. The entire series is $45 or $30 for members. Discussions are held from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. on the dates below.

Ryerson_Reads_Fall_2014_final_frontSept. 10, 2014:            When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle
Nov. 12, 2014:             The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders
Jan. 14, 2015:              The Last Animal by Abby Geni
Mar. 11, 2015:             Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition by Robert                                                                Pogue Harrison

To register for Ryerson Reads or for more information, call 847.968.3308 or visit

Brushwood Center is located at: 21850 N. Riverwoods Rd., Riverwoods, IL 60015.


Ryerson Reads is partially sponsored by a grant from:





Views from Brushwood Farm

Morton B Ryerson_at_the_Des_Plaines
Des Plaines River at Ryerson cabin. Brushwood Farm, 1938. Photo by Edward L. Ryerson.


The Photographs of Edward L. Ryerson

and Edward Ranney, 1937 – 1974


 OPENING:  Sunday, September 7 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

RUNS:  September 7 – October 30, 2014

Nationally renowned photographer Edward Ranney, known for his artistry depicting the remains of ancient Peruvian cultures, spent many happy days during his youth at his grandparents’ summer home called Brushwood, at what is now Ryerson Woods.  Back then, his grandfather, Edward L. Ryerson, who donated much of his property to the Lake County Forest Preserves, took black-and-white photographs of family gatherings inside the house and nearby outdoors.  The landscape familiar to us as Ryerson Woods was known to its owners then as “Brushwood Farm.”

When Brushwood Center’s executive director Sophie Twichell asked Ranney to show his own works at an art exhibition at Brushwood Center, Ranney thought of another idea. Why not create an exhibit showing his grandfather’s and his own photos of the family’s times spent at the property?

The result: Views from Brushwood Farm: The Photographs of Edward L. Ryerson & Edward Ranney, 1937-1974, which opens Sunday, September 7 and runs through October 30.

Ranney recalls watching his grandfather take black-and-white photographs and then go into the dark room to print them and create albums still in the family’s possession today. After recently pouring through some several thousand negatives and family albums, Ranney selected some 30 photographs his grandfather took, and then selected 14 he himself took in 1972, the year after both his grandfather and grandmother, Nora Ryerson, died.

Edward Ryerson Ranney
Edward Ryerson Ranney

By then, Ranney had become a well-known photographer who had photographed extensively in Peru. But Ranney said he wanted to get back to Brushwood to take some photographs.  “It was clear to me that the house would be changed, and the furniture would be distributed. So I wanted to make a record for the family of how it looked,” he said.

“I had spent so much time there. Evoking it photographically came rather easily. I knew what elements I wanted to pick out and emphasize – the big parlor room, the sitting room used for gatherings and lectures, the relationship of the house to the surrounding landscape and the woods.  These photos convey what this place meant to us and my grandparents. The photographs show the human context of that period in life – which is very much worthy of preservation. It will help the public know the personal side of Edward Ryerson, Sr.”

Brushwood Farm, 1972. Photo by Edward Ranney.
Brushwood Farm, 1972. Photo by Edward Ranney.

Twichell said the exhibition will serve as a reminder of the Ryersons who donated their land to the forest preserve districts.  “Because of the Ryerson family, we have this beautiful space where we can present programs including art exhibitions and musical performances, as well as the outdoors where visitors can enjoy the protected native landscape and wildlife.”

Brushwood served as the Ryerson family’s summer house from the 1942 until 1972, when 279 acres of the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area were dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve.

Celebrating_30_years_logo_final - cropped

“Brushwood Center is celebrating 30 years, and it is a fitting time to reflect back on the Ryerson family’s relationship with this special landscape. Without visionaries like the Ryersons who valued the protection of this incredible high quality woodland, Ryerson Woods might not be here today for all of us to enjoy.  We are delighted to feature historic photographs taken by conservation leaders of the past,” Twichell said.

Edward Ranney has been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe and other museums.  Books of his photographs include Monuments of the Incas, Prairie Passage (about the Illinois and Michigan Canal), and The Lines (about the Nazca Lines in South America), just published by the Yale University Press.

Ranney will join Brushwood Center for the opening reception of the exhibition from 1 – 3 p.m., Sept. 7. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, visit  Brushwood Center is located at: 21850 N. Riverwoods Rd., Riverwoods, IL 60015.


Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods
Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods

About Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods

Through innovative programs presented against a backdrop of stately woods where pre-settlement flora and fauna still linger, Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods seeks to build an environmental ethic in our region by offering multiple points of entry for the public to connect with nature. Brushwood Center is a nonprofit organization.



Monday to Thursday, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Sunday, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Or by appointment, 847.968.3308.


Views from Brushwood Farm is partially sponsored by a grant from:






A Midsummer Night’s Dream

"Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing" by William Blake.  c.1786.  Source: Wikipedia,'s_Dream.
“Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing” by William Blake. c.1786. Source: Wikipedia,’s_Dream.


Shakespeare comes to Brushwood Center:

A performance in the woods with Citadel Theatre

Shakespeare aficionados and neophytes alike can relax among the lush vegetation and sound of crickets at Ryerson Woods on August 1, 2 and 3 when Citadel Theatre performs “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” outdoors.

“The hour-long performance is perfect for those who already know and love Shakespeare as well as those who want to enjoy theater in a beautiful setting,” said Heather Meyers, the show’s production manager. “It’s a great introduction to Shakespeare, and we’re making it accessible to a modern audience.”

All the audience needs is a blanket or lawn chair, and a picnic if they like, as they watch a fully costumed production of Shakespeare’s bewitching tale of fairies, enchanted forests, and of course, lost lovers.

“The show has a little bit of everything: comedy, love and romance, mistaken identity, chase scenes, the magic of the fairies. It will be fun to watch,” said Meyers.

Sophie Twichell, Executive Director of Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods, said she encourages families to attend. “Because it’s only an hour long, and because of all the fun characters in the play, it is a wonderful introduction to magic of theater,” said Twichell. “Attendees will revel in the outdoor experience, which ends just before sunset.”

Brushwood Center, along with the Lake County Forest Preserves, is partnering with Citadel Theatre (based in Lake Forest) for the first time to present outdoor theater at Ryerson Woods.

“This is our first outdoor Shakespeare theater ever, and we’re happy to be doing it at Ryerson Woods,” Meyers said. Meyers said the actors are being directed by one of the best: Frank Farrell, a Chicago director and actor.

“Bringing Shakespeare to Brushwood Center furthers our mission of nurturing art, nature and discovery,” Twichell said. “We are thrilled to be partnering with a theater company based right here in Lake County.”

Tickets are available for three shows beginning at 6:30 p.m., August 1, 2 and 3. Pre-registration is recommended. Registration deadline is July 31. In the case of inclement weather, the production will be held indoors, with limited seating available.

For more information and to obtain tickets, call 847.968.3321 or visit Brushwood Center is located at: 21850 N. Riverwoods Rd., Riverwoods, IL 60015.


About Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods

Through innovative arts programs presented against a backdrop of stately woods where pre-settlement flora and fauna still linger, Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods seeks to build an environmental ethic in our region by offering multiple points of entry for the public to connect with nature. Brushwood Center is a nonprofit organization.

WHAT TO READ: Identifying Plants

Glenn Adelson, PhD, leading an Introduction to Botany class at Ryerson Woods in the spring of 2014.
Glenn Adelson, PhD, leading an Introduction to Botany class at Ryerson Woods in the spring of 2014.

We recently invited our friend and frequent nature seminar instructor Glenn Adelson, chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Lake Forest College, to share his favorite books for identifying plants in our region.  Here are four books he recommends you have on your bookshelf and with you in the field to get familiar with our region’s flora.


PCRjacket_blowupFloyd Swink and Gerould Wilhelm, Plants of the Chicago Region, 4 ed.

We are very lucky to have a book like this dedicated to our region. The habitat and plant associates information is essential. It will be frustrating for a beginner to try to key plants out, but it is well worth the effort to learn. Make ample use of the glossary while learning.


Sunflower-FamilyThomas Antonio and Susanne Masi, The Sunflower Family in the Upper Midwest

The Compositae (also correctly called the Asteraceae) is the flowering plant family with the most species in flower in our area in the summer and fall. This book provides an easy to use set of symbols, based upon inflorescence color and presence or absence of disc and ray flowers to get you to the species you’re trying to figure out. Excellent photographs and nice natural history essays.


wildflowers_of_wisconsin_and_the_great_lakes_region_by_merel_black_emmet_judziewicz_0299230538Merel Black and and Emmet Judziewicz, Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region

A very good companion to Swink and Wilhelm, as you can often talk yourself into believing you have the right plant when using a key. I often check the pictures and descriptions in Black and Judziewicz immediately after keying out a plant in Swink and Wilhelm, because it’s far more difficult to talk yourself into a mistaken identification when you have a picture in front of you.


Carol Gracie - Spring WildflowersCarol Gracie, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast

An astonishingly beautiful and deeply researched book treating many of our woodland spring wildflowers. Its strength is the amount of depth given to each species it treats, which leads, of course to its weakness, which is how few species are accommodated. The macro photography is the best I’ve ever seen in a botany book.


IMG_8376Glenn will be teaching “Flora of the Autumn Prairie” this fall.  Classes will meet three consecutive Tuesday evenings (5:30-7:30pm) starting September 9. Participants will explore the profusion of yellow and purple wildflowers dominating the late summer prairie. We’ll learn plant biology, as we investigate the wide range of aster, goldenrod, mint and sunflower species, as well as the prairie grasses.  We’ll also explore the relationship between plants and their environments. Includes field trips to other preserves.  To register, click here (scroll down to Sept. 9).  Glenn will also be teaching a nature seminar on “Endangered Species & Endangered Languages” in October.



Glenn Adelson leading a Summer Flora class in summer 2014.
Glenn Adelson leading a Summer Flora class for Brushwood Center in summer 2014.

Glenn Adelson is the chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Lake Forest College, Chicago’s national liberal arts college. He teaches several field botany courses, as well as Evolution, Ecology, and Environment; Endangered Species and Endangered Languages; The Environmental Connections between Chicago and New Orleans; Introduction to Environmental Studies; Troubled World Geography; Botanical Imperialism; and Poetry and Nature. Glenn taught for fifteen years at Harvard University, where he became the only Harvard teacher to twice win the campus-wide Levenson Award for teaching. Glenn has a Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.