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Walking in Libertyville (Illinois) during a Pandemic - Part I

During this pandemic, I was trying to determine what I can and can't do from a safe and healthy perspective. With limited social gatherings, stores with limited hours, and restaurants with only outdoor seating, I was in the process of trying to figure out how to effectively engage in a hobby or exercise while staying safe. Over several months, I've found my niche -- walking the various neighborhoods around downtown Libertyville and surrounding neighborhoods that extend a mile or two from the city center.

Shady parkways means shade tolerant plants may be the way to go.

Typically I park at the Cook Memorial Library near downtown Libertyville, where to the length is typically determined once I begin my trail. It's never less than 40 minutes and seldom more than 60. As some may know, the four lanes of Milwaukee Avenue are nearby so for those who are averse to traffic and noise pollution, avoid it like the plague (probably a poor choice of words in today's world) if you can. If I could digress for one moment, all motorists should spend an hour every so often walking up and down Milwaukee to get a real sense of the noise level through downtown. Am I too hopeful to think exposure to one's noise and carbon output may help to ultimately reduce a little traffic? At the very least, allow some motorists to be more aware of their actions.

I'll usually walk late afternoon when the sun is almost finished dispersing its strong rays for the day. I'm also hopeful at that time the outdoor breeze acts as a fan and cooling agent during my wanderings. Regardless of the times, shaded streets will always determine what side of the street I choose. I'm sure my dermatologist would be encouraged by how I approach potentially damaging sun rays. There's limited hospital capacity without adding heat stroke or sun poisoning as other conditions. During really hot days with much moisture in the air will dictate my walk will occur closer to dusk.

Sometimes I walk for conditioning and a raised heartbeat and other times I casually walk to explore. If I walk to elevate my heart rate, I forgo taking pictures and trying to discover the little things one might find while casually walking. When I explore, things that pique my interest in a given neighborhood include lawn signage, landscaping, home architecture, etc. To quickly digress for a moment, years ago, I'd ask my dad for landscaping ideas and he'd recommend just walk through various neighborhoods to get some creative landscaping ideas.

Every so often, I'm not properly hydrated pre-walk, and initially, I'm not aware of this fact until my legs feel I'm dragging 16-pound bowling balls on both of my lower extremities. Needless to say, when this occurs, it only means I'm hurting a bit and all my focus is on simply putting my next foot in front of the other -- just grind away in order to finish my walk. Because I travel light and rarely carry water, I need to engage in self-examination to not let this occur again -- especially walking in hot and steamy weather.

Suburban homes and landscapes.

A few days ago I parked my car at the Cook Memorial Library (near downtown Libertyville) and decided to walk to Condell hospital which is about 1 mile away. I was just curious how things had changed for hospital visitors since the "new normal". Once inside, a female employee waved me over to the front of the atrium where I was asked the purpose of my visit – and at that point, I didn't think I needed to say anything as I presented myself in quite a disheveled manner. Any, water and a use of the restroom were what I was after. Again, with limited social activities and a lack of public restrooms, I could count on Condell for clean and safe restrooms. Before admitted, they checked my temperature and provided me with a free mask from a very large pile of masks. Afterward, my wife suggested that I always have a mask to have the flexibility of going inside a store or restaurant. In other words, be prepared during your walk as well as anytime someone gets in a car.

As I left the hospital, I walked across several fairly empty parking lots to the fitness facility (Centre Club), where I'm a member. I hadn't been inside since mid-March and wanted to assess how things had changed with how they were handling this during this "new normal."

The masked woman provided me the new hours, explained how social distancing was being done during aerobic and anaerobic exercise and said the sauna and steam room areas were temporarily closed. She explained early afternoon was the best time to visit to avoid most other members. Masks were on sale for $5 at the Centre Club and I avoided mentioning to her that you could get a free mask at the hospital. Note taken -- if I ever forget my mask coming here, I could walk across the parking lots to get one free from the hospital.

While casually walking, I notice most homes with a well-manicured lawn and a nice garden have a well-maintained house. I rarely see a front-yard filled with crabgrass and dandelions as a well-maintained house appears in the background. On the other hand, I rarely see a well-manicured lawn at a home with missing roof shingles or a home that has been screaming for white paint for about 10 years.

Again, shady parkways means shade tolerant plants may be the way to go.

Some more seasoned neighborhoods contain mature oak, maple and linden trees. Many of these trees line the parkways and if I have the opportunity, will enjoy free shade no matter the time of day.

In my mind, there are at least two schools of thought when it comes to trees. Some look at these species with the glass half empty -- too much maintenance, you sometimes have to water them, they are messy, especially after a storm and capturing all those wayward leaves in late autumn is annoying. Others, where the glass is half full, see trees as wonderful creatures. Providing privacy, shade, and carbon-reducing species. If I could add a piece of advice to homeowners who need landscaping advice, plan, plan, and plan some more when it comes to planting trees. We're not talking about hostas or daylilies that can be dug up and moved anywhere at any time without a significant impact on their health. Most trees (especially hardwoods like Oak or Maple) take a long time to grow so it's critical you factor in soil conditions, amount of privacy desired, type of tree, location of future shade, etc. I've planted arborvitaes years ago in my backyard primarily for privacy but prior planning made me realize they don't thrive overnight. While I purchased many of these arborvitaes, a gardener told me that there's a process with these that goes like this: sleep, creep, and leap. In other words, it may take 3 summers before they grow 8 to 12 inches each season. That sort of plan could apply to deciduous trees too. Again, planning is important to ensure how and where your plant will produce dividends a few years down the road.

For very shady areas, many homeowners go low-maintenance and plant ground cover such as ivy or wintercreeper along with hostas in their parkway and sometimes in their front yard. Low maintenance doesn't mean any maintenance – homeowners still have to prune and weed these shady areas several times during the growing season. There are some front yards that are turned into a small prairie area in the midst of a neighborhood. I understand the eco-benefits of doing so but if it's not properly maintained, it becomes quite crowded with perennial plants you may like and don't like and it sometimes looks unsightly. And it goes without saying that crowded prairie gardens in a suburban setting may not put you in good standing with your neighbors.

For those residents who can maintain an attractive lawn, especially in Northern Illinois, Kentucky bluegrass provides the best quality turf grass for this climate.

To be continued next week...


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