“…. Keep your eyelids up and see what you can see.” —- from And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss
I wasn’t on Mulberry Street today, but I was on the Naperville Riverwalk. After I got my Diet Coke from Subway, and directed a couple of ladies to Einstein’s, I headed past Talbot’s and the Gap, and started my walk at the horse trough fountain. I nodded at the bronze statue of Jim Moser and Charles George, the two visionaries who are forever in the midst of their confab. Could they have imagined that their ideas would blossom into this? As it should be on a day like today, the Riverwalk was bustling with couples pushing strollers, sweaty spandex-clad runners, strolling pairs of women deep in conversation, Napervillians of all stripes, and day-trippers who’d heard about our gem of a spot.
On the sidewalk near the dandelion fountain, a small assembly of 99%-ers held up their “Occupy” signs to mostly indifferent passers-by. Some moms and dads lolled on the benches and sipped their Frappuccinos while their little kids leaned their tummies on the fountain’s edge so they could splash their hands in the water. Dog-lovers ambled along with their faithful companions, breeds of all sizes and shapes. Out-of-towners sought guidance from the map on the signboard, while locals like me let our feet lead us down the path we knew well.
The river was shallow near the amphitheater and labyrinth today, and in some spots its rocky bottom was exposed. Some geese and ducks hung out on the dry patches in the middle. One or two stood ankle-deep in the water and watched their buddies paddle around. I was pleased that no one was throwing bread at them today; not everyone observes the “Do not feed the wildlife” signs.
I crossed the street and passed the big red metal freeform sculpture. Under the rooftop of a riverside shelter, a cluster of boomers reliving their hootenanny days strummed guitars and belted out “Good Ol’ Mountain Dew”, a song that’s been around since before the soft drink. A big family group overdressed for a morning walk gathered for a family photo shoot. On the covered bridge, a photographer armed with a massive Nikon and a silvery screen was posing a pretty high school senior for her graduation picture.
I passed Centennial Beach. Often it’s a noisy place, packed with shrieking kids and shrill blasts of lifeguards’ whistles. Not today: it was an Adult Float morning. No one splashed, no one screeched, no one even swam. Instead of fitness buffs churning up waves, a blissful-looking older crowd drifted along in tranquil water, soaking up the warm sunshine while plopped in fat inner tubes or squishy blow-up rafts.
The playground past the volleyball courts was packed today. Lots of little kids ran around from one slide to the next, and their exuberance and the groaning of the in-need-of-oil swing chains created a cheery cacophony. Past the playground, a bustling crew was setting up the finish line for tomorrow’s Naperville Sprint Triathlon. Bubbly teen volunteers were zip-tying the sponsors’ banners to the temporary fencing. Tomorrow this place would be swarming with athletes and their fans.
Over in the water, a fisherman in waders wet only to his knees flung his line into the shallow water. Was he practicing his fly-fishing techniques, or was he really trying to catch his dinner right here in the little DuPage River? I tried to recall if I’d ever seen a fish big enough to eat emerge from these waters.
As the river bends, the path gets woodsier, and the damp, rivery aroma is most noticeable. I know that a gray heron lives on the riverbank at this end, but this morning I didn’t see him. A couple of months ago, the new growth allowed walkers to see into the midst of the little forest. Not anymore. The foliage is taller than I am, and in some spots it’s even hard to see the river. This part of the Riverwalk is my favorite, a scene right out of The Wizard of Oz, with the brick path, albeit not yellow, winding around a shadowy expanse of old trees. When it looks like the Cowardly Lion might pop out at any second, could it be possible that a people-packed retail center is just a short stroll eastward?
Today, I didn’t turn around when I hit Jefferson Avenue. Instead, I kept going past the Firemen’s Memorial, where a couple sat spooning on the bench near the memorial rock. I crossed the road and followed the river through the Wil-O-Way Commons Park, much wider than the narrow path I’d come from. Here, there are broad lawns and a playground nestled under octogenarian oaks. Bikes are allowed on this path, and a few riders passed me by — a mom towing two toddlers in their snug yellow carrier, a couple pedaling along at an easy pace.
Eventually I turned around and headed back to downtown. Near the Carillon, some tourists were eying the sign announcing “Tours Today”. Outside the Riverwalk Eatery, a dad was helping his three tweens chose their life vests for a paddleboat ride. Paddleboats full of happy pedalers along with two or three kayaks dotted the quarry. When I passed the amphitheater again, the 99%-ers were now seated on the steps, strategizing, it seemed. The folk musicians under the shelter were still going strong.
If I could bottle this day, I would. To my Naperville friends, I suggest you take this piece out and read it again on Groundhog Day. Then, take heart. August will return.