This is an online archive of the history of natural events, ecologies, and any experiences with nature in the DeKalb region and people connected to it.

As part of the Unpacked/Offset Exhibition, I am giving "free" massages every Friday (except April 25th) during the duration of the exhibition. I have been giving free massages as part of performances for over five years. I was taught by his family in Japan who give massages as part of their barbering practice. I extend this into the gallery as an exchange program, trading free head, neck, arm and hand massages for a story about nature in the DeKalb area.

Please e-mail with a desired time for a massage and/or a nature story. You may also choose to dictate an audio recorded story on site.

Thank you,

Gabriel Bizen Akagawa

  • The 2007 DeKalb County Spring Bird Count
Derek Strom and I rolled slowly into Chief Shabbona Forest Preserve about an hour before sunrise. Within a few minutes we had attracted a couple of Eastern Screech Owls who in turn seemed to wake some Robins, who are notorious early risers anyway. Then we heard something we didn’t expect - a staccato “Whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will”. The call of the aptly named Whip-poor-will; an uncommon nocturnal bird neither of us had encountered in this county before. But then again we aren’t usually out in the woods before sunrise.
Why were we doing this? Every spring, on a day in early May,birders across the country have 24 hours to see as many birds as possible. Then they report their sightings to the National Audubon Society. Why? To get a snapshot of bird populations; to take the environment’s pulse. We wanted to get an accurate reading, so we were putting out a little extra effort.
All day long, we walked, drove, looked and listened. We didn’t want to count anybody twice, and we didn’t want anybody to slip by unseen. We had to be good – able to recognize and identify shapes as they rocketed past, or songs from unseen birds deep or high in the foliage. So we had been studying. We had to go where they liked to be, at the times the like to be there.
Throughout the day, we felt ourselves drifting from the concerns, pace, timing, and locations of the human world and into the realm of birds.
By sundown, we were rewarded for our efforts with an impressive tally for the day – 120 different species! Ten years ago I didn’t think that many kinds of birds existed on earth, let alone in a single county in northern Illinois (and that you could see in one day).
It was an uncommon experience – a new record for DeKalb County. That experience led to the birth of an art project – my attempt to convey the richness and diversity of the world of birds by drawing every one I saw in a year. The resulting 12 drawings (one for each month) can be seen on my website, __www.peterolsonbirds.com__, under the heading “The Birds of...”
Here are some excepts from my Artist's Statement:
As the most common wildlife presence we experience, birds are a gateway to the natural world.
They are, as naturalist Roger Tory Peterson has asserted, the most vivid expression of life.
Birds define and animate the spaces they inhabit.
Their mystery suggests a forceful yet unexplainable spirit in nature. Indeed there is much about birds that will always remain elusive and unknowable. --Pete

  • When my husband, son and I moved to our home over 20 years ago, the entire yard (90' x 160') was house, garage and grass, plus one old cedar tree. My husband grew up in a small village in Greece where his family farmed. He has a love of and incredible talent for growing things so our yard now has: four large and several smaller pine and spruce trees; several oak, ash, and other assorted deciduous trees; twelve fruit trees and several grape vines; a number of shrubs; flower beds with perennials and annuals; and a vegetable garden. And our yard is not a "House and Garden" manicured affair - no, in keeping with advise I read many years ago, we have a "little bit of wild" in our yard, dark overgrown places with tangled underbrush with nowhere to walk or sit (ie, not for people). Aside from the tremendous pleasure and beauty, not to mention food, that our yard provides to our family, the wildlife that visit our yard is incredible. It's amazing to me that such a small change on such a small plot of land can make such a huge difference. In the winter we have cardinals, blue jays, sparrows and mourning doves, as well as snow birds (juncos), and a bird my husband insists he used to see in Greece and that they called a pigeon (but much larger than the pigeons I know, and with distinct black markings). Hawks come to our yard in search of prey (and I wonder what they're not finding outside of town, that drives them into town for a meal). In April and May we are visited by migrating birds that include rose-breasted grosbeaks, a variety of warblers, indigo bunting, Baltimore orioles, and more that I can't identify. Wrens and robins arrive and all of the birds compete for tree space for nesting. In the summer, bats wheel back and forth overhead looking for mosquitos, hummingbirds sip nectar from the showiest flowers, and we have red-headed woodpeckers and flickers. Late in the summer the monarchs journey through on their way to Mexico, and we see other butterflies as well, and hear the din of crickets and cicadas. Small piece of earth - big impact.


  • Here's my nature story. There's a maple tree next to our house that has a hole in the crook that is invisible to us. Over the years, we've seen birds fly into and out of the hole, but in the last two season, it's been taken over by squirrels who are using it as a nest. Last fall, I was using a piece of the lightweight fabric designed to protect plants from pests (like squirrels) and the fabric disappeared. Recently, we went out for a walk and noticed that the cloth had settled on the trunk of the tree, as though it had blown there. But it hadn't blown there - it had been carried by the squirrels for their nest. How did we figure that out? The fabric was pulled into the hole, and was only partially visible when we returned from the walk. The next time we looked - completely gone!
    Thank you!

  • I have been driving to DeKalb as a student and to work for fourteen
    years (I don’t even want to begin to calculate that offset). Before
    that, I would occasionally make the trip out to either meet friends at
    Rosita’s when you could still walk in through the back kitchen door or
    to attend performance art happenings at Punto Cinco when it was still in
    the old Fargo Theater, so that puts this back to at least 1984. One of
    the joys of the drive westward along Route 38 for me has always been the
    celebration of the eternal youth of Jennifer who at least by 1984 had
    turned 21 and whose admirers had recognized this momentous occasion and
    prominently marked it in white paint on the broad side of a barn. Over
    the years, the barn had been repainted red but a ghost image of Happy
    21st Birthday Jennifer was always evident in big five foot tall letters.
    Just this last year, Jennifer, (who is at least 45 now) took a turn for
    the worse – most of her landmark has been covered over by a
    professionally printed red, white, and blue billboard declaring that
    there is a ready-to-be-moved-into housing development straight ahead and
    to the right on Somonauk Road. A sign of our times.--Jo

  • Here's my story,
    though it is more about Wisconsin than DeKalb:

    My grandfather, in lieu of owning some kind of beach house or time
    share, purchased a farm of a few thousand acres in 1963. He bought it
    on the cheap because the man was in some dire financial straits.
    Although his family - that is, my grandmother, my father and some
    aunts - lived in Chicago, he bought a plot about 4 hours north in
    south-central Wisconsin. The enormity and vast emptiness of the
    landscape has always been both daunting and impressive to me; I have
    always found the fact that I never seem to be in the same place twice
    somewhat disturbing.

    Three years ago, I was on a walk through some of the woods when I
    stumbled upon a dead deer in a snowy bank a few hundred feet from a
    highway. I assumed it had been hit by a car and then stumbled until it
    got to this point, where no one ever found it and it suffered a slow,
    painful death. Its belly had been split open and was covered with dirt
    and mud. Other animals had clearly been feasting on its innards. I had
    never been so close to so large a dead animal. It was, frankly, very
    disturbing. I didn't want to leave the corpse there, but I didn't want
    to call animal control or actually touch it. Instead, I took pictures
    and video of the body - I had a digital camera on me at the time. I
    still have the media and I look at the photos often, but I wish I had
    never taken them. Really, I wish I had never seen that deer. --Jonathan

  • When I was in second grade, I would try to climb the trees around our house. We lived on a wooded Oak lot. There were alot of trees but only the young ones had limbs that I could reach. I climbed a tree in the front yard, I don't know what kind. I got pretty high up and sat there awhile and then had the idea to rock back and forth. I started swaying the top of the tree as hard as I could and the top of the tree was bending side to side like some kind of carnival ride. It felt great. Then I must have reached the tipping point because the top of the tree started bending me toward the ground as if to say, "that's enough of that, little one." I held on so that my arms were reaching overhead and my feet were heading toward the ground. The tree lowered me to the ground and my feet touched. I let go of the tree and it snapped back up, violently whapping side to side rapidly until it became still again in the center. I felt complete elation as I screamed to tell my mother what had happened. Nobody witnessed this event, which in some ways makes it more special to me.--Lynn

  • Upcoming Audio file from Missy, "I would love to tell you my story of 8 baby bunnies being born in our yard under my daughter's swing set and how we watched them grow and come out of the little hole they were born in. They still come back to our yard, the carrots probably help.

  • I live rurally, in a large drafty farm house, about 35 minutes directly west of DeKalb. We purchased the house because of the trees and the potential to plant more trees. There are five acres, 3 and 1/2 of them were fallow corn fields, with little top soil remaining. The rest of the property was typical barn yard, with outbuildings and grassy areas.
    We left the 3 1/2 acres alone, as we were very busy with our children and wanted to see "what would happen". The first thing that occurred, of course, was the riot of what farmers in our area called "weeds"--and what I learned to identify and enjoy; especially the wild strawberries and wild roses. The birds came to eat the strawberries and their droppings gave birth to an abundance of juniper saplings. I like to walk, my boys began to walk "down to the creek" to sort problems, my husband and I would walk in the evenings to gather our thoughts back to home. We mowed a wide path through the middle of our 3.5 acres of "happening" habitat, then up the north edge, giving us a "track" for walking without disturbing what was happening to the rest of the area. We purchased "wildlife food packet" tree bundles and planted them in the middle of the path. As more and more birds visited our area, the juniper trees were joined by wild berry bushes, a small grove of nut trees, dogwoods, milkweed, canadian thistle, an abundance of wildflowers that change with the seasons, goldenrod.

    Over the years, this has become a place of abundance. It is melodic with birdsong, in the late summer, it is a place for Monarch butterflies to plant their seed on the mature milkweed plants. There is so much to see. After a rain, it is fun to check tracks for local wildlife. In the mornings, there will be deer at the mouth of our pathway, mostly on mornings when there is just a bit of fog and lots of dew. it is a remarkable place. The topsoil that blows across the plowed fields settles onto our small place and there is at least a 9 inch difference between our naturalized plot and the fields that border it.

    When a tree falls, we carry it to an edge of a path to provide more wildlife protection and habitat. We have a "wood pile" at the very end of the property, with kindling and so on. Some of this kindling has sprouted into more trees, and there is a lovely willow on the edge of this wood pile.

    Our yard has been planted through the years with many trees, as we respect shade and always want more habitat. It is quite lovely, a perfect entry way into our acreage of naturalized wildlife haven.

    As an aside, our relationships seem to maintain and resolve as we walk our pathway, we are always aware of season changes, and my sons have strong "calves" from their frequent walks. When they have a new girlfriend, the path is one of the first things they visit, as it has a calming beauty, yet is exciting to see what animals are visiting. There was one day when I had to carry a camp stool out to the middle of the habitat, as there was a VULTURE visiting, and I had never seen one.

    Interestingly, when one looks at an electronic platte map, our property stands out from the others, as it is abundant, and the surrounds are plowed fields.--Ruthann

  • Aix-en-Provence, France
    It is my 5th month of a 6 month study period at an art center/stay with a french family. There is much kissing in the air and fuss over greeting and departing, cheek to cheek...kiss, kiss... almost touching, but not touching. kiss...kiss. I miss hugs. I miss squeezes. I miss body warmth. More than my lover, I miss my mother's big breasted bear hugs that would wrap around me and comfort me and protect me and just oozed with love. I am alone up in the woods sketching near Mont Ste. Victoire. I hug a tree and have a cry.

    Dingle Bay Peninsula, Ireland
    My mother and I are on a two-week painting holiday in Ireland. We have ventured to the scenic west coast and have planned a day's drive from end to end along the beautiful Road of Tralee that loops the length of the famously picturesque Dingle Bay peninsula. We are in a small rental car. My mother takes up a little more physical room than the economy rental car seat allots per person. She tends to encroach the space of the gear shift. It is incredibly foggy on the peninsula this day. I am driving on the "wrong side" of the road in pea soup thick fog just barely able to see more than fifteen feet past the bonnet of the car. I have to periodically push my mother out of the way so that I can shift. I keep waiting for the fog to clear. It does not. The Road of Tralee tour takes us five hours in the fog. It is not being "scenic." I am not being very pleasant company at this point. Eventually we come to the mainland again. We get off the road and walk through a dense wooded park. Almost immediately I become less pissy. My mother notices and comments on the trees being healing for me. --Jo