We're going with "beatific" today, in part to continue our weaning process from politics every single day and in part because I don't want my head to explode.
I've periodically mentioned the Chicago Botanic Garden, but that name doesn't do it justice. This isn't your standard botanic garden, or even anything close. It's not even your nicer-than-usual botanic garden, or even anything close. I generally describe it as the Disneyland of Botanic Gardens -- and I don't think that's especially hyperbolic as a joke, but pretty accurate. Albeit with a completely natural grandeur and spectacle.
After all, the grounds are divided into different "lands," each creating their own inclusive worlds when you enter, including the Rose Garden, English Walled Garden, Japanese Garden, Waterfall Garden, Island Garden, the Prairie Garden, a Fruit and Vegetable Garden, and the Aquatic Garden (which, for all its simplicity, is probably one of my two favorites, along with the Waterfall Garden, because it wends its way in a zigzag path over a pond filled with fish,) And a wonderful Greenhouse center divided into two areas, among them a Cactus Garden. And more, as well. And a Ddisability Garden, too.
Moreover, there are tram tours, a miniature train exhibit, and the ethereal Winter Lightscape that will remind many of the Main Street Electrical Parade, albeit on a more peaceful level. Along with a restaurant, major educational center and more. Lots more.
As well as restaurant, major educational center, cooking demonstration area and more. Yes, even for all that, lots more. Though all on a peaceful, relaxing, engergizing level.
All that said, I have a fond connection to the place for personal reasons. Though it's called the Chicago Botanic Garden and run by the Chicago Horticultural Society, it's actually located in the northern suburb of Glencoe, where I grew up. In fact, walking distance from our house -- a long walk, probably three miles to the main entrance, though a short walk, probably half that, to its rear. And only about a mile from the Ravinia Music Festival, which I've mentioned here often, and worked at for a couple of summers, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The particular fondness, though, extends beyond just its location and overlaps with its construction. The gardens officially opened in 1972 in an area of the Chicago Forest Preserves, bordered by Green Bay Road and Skokie Boulevard, with the entrance on Lake-Cook Road, dividing the two counties.. However, it took a full seven years to develop once groundbreaking started. But even longer since signs first went up announcing it in 1962, informing passers-by of the "Future location of the Chicago Botanic Garden."
And it was that sign along Green Bay Road that we'd pass all the time in the family car that became a hilarious running joke with me and my older brother when I was just a wee kidling and him only a few years older. When you're a little kid, the structure of time is a flexible thing. So, "The future home" of something means it should be opening soon, and yet six months later the sign is still there. And then a year later. And two years -- and they haven't even broken ground yet. Then three-four-five years. The future home! And we'd pass by that sign, not every year, but several times a week, a hundred times a year. After year, after year, after year. And after five years, there was still no end in site.
My brother and I thought it was the funniest thing. We figured that they weren't probably going to build anything, but that they'd only paid for the sign. I grew up with that sign. Six years, seven years, eight. Still "The future home of the Chicago Botanic Garden." I was finally driving and could pass by it on my own after a while. So funny, seeing that sign. Nine years -- nothing. No Chicago Botanic Garden. Then a full decade!! Ten years of that sign: The Future Home of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
And then finally -- it actually opened.
And it was...spectacular. And it was well-worth the wait. (Now, it was worth the wait. Ten to 15 years after it opened, it was worth the wait. When you're still a youth, having waited more than half your life for the "future home" to open, I can't say I felt it was worth the wait immediately. But even at that, even at that young age, even for all those years -- a decade waiting -- I understood why the wait was so long.
And it really is worth it.
I'm a member of the Garden, even though I no longer live there and live 2,000 miles away. But I go visit it every time I'm in town. And it's glorious wandering through the various lands and hiking in the forest and just sitting and letting it all soak in.
The only "problem" is that it's incredibly difficult explaining to people why it's so special. Photos I've taken and ones they have on their website don't even start to show its scope. Let alone give a sense of the sweetness and fragrance of the air.
I did track down a few videos that at least given a small idea of what the Chicago Botanic Garden is like. And this one, taken and edited by a visitor is particularly good.
(As the whimsy of luck would have it, the freeze-frame image of the video below is one of my two faves, the Aquatic Garden. As I said, it's very simple compared to the rest of the grounds, but -- what can I say? I love walking the crooked wooden path over the water and looking for the fish. Besides which, it's a bit hidden off in a corner, so it's less crowded. It comes on the video at the 3:25 mark for 20 seconds. As for my other fave, the Waterfall Garden, it's be pretty clear when that shows up. Though the don't get the full vista view.
And this is the Winter Lightscape. It's pretty remarkable. (To be clear, as the fellow who made the video says Lightscape did indeed begin in 2019. However, they've had a winter light event for years, just not as substantial.)
Unfortunately, I've never seen the Winter Lightscape in person. By the time they started doing it, I think I had left Chicago. And though I always came back every winter -- yes, I took a vacation in Chicago in the winter. Every year... -- I would avoid the busy holiday season and come after the first of year, and then after the Consumer Electronics Show which I covered. So, by the time I'd get there, Lightscape would be over. But at some point, I'll get there.
(My aunt and cousin did go for their first time this past winter, which it was opened during the pandemic with limited tickets available and scheduled with social distancing. They were both awed by it, and sent me their own videos and photos, which was the first time I'd had a chance to see in detail what it was.)
Hey, just look at this single freeze-frame image alone. I'm telling you -- it is spectacular. When you enter and see more in the video, you'll know.
Finally, I'm going to end with one more video as a bonus. This is an "official" one made by the Chicago Botanic Garden itself. It's very good, though I think that homemade one gives an even better sense of the full grounds. But -- what this does that the other doesn't, and which adds a great deal, is aerial footage of the place, so you get a far richer perspective of it all. And shows it across the four seasons.
So...this is why I love the Chicago Botanic Garden. And why I say it's not even close to just a normal botanic garden, but a world of its own. And why calling it the Disneyland of Botanic Gardens is not an exaggeration. But may not do it justice either.
Not bad for "The future home..."
And yes, it was worth the wait. Funny as it was.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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