The Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive is about to begin! I challenge you to ignore the crowds and traffic jams and to focus on our beautiful Spoon River Country. As a former guidebook stated, "The Spoon River Valley is filled with woodlands and fertile farmlands that provide both a natural beauty and rich cultural heritage."
During these two weekends, take the opportunity to embrace what we too often take for granted. Don't only look at fall color, but look closer at the colorful roadside plants, local wildlife, water features, and panoramic scenes.
Roadsides are often full of colorful fall plants. Pokeweed is eye stopping with its bright red stem and bright purple berries. Bittersweet is visible among the fencerows (or in crafts) along the drive. Asters are seen in many color combinations. Probably the most common wild aster is a small white flower with a yellow center that looks very much like a petite daisy. Goldenrod creates streams of gold and yellow among the roads and pastures of Fulton County. There are literally hundreds of different types of goldenrod in all sizes and shades of yellow.
Look past the plants and marvel at the wildlife activity around you. Squirrels are busy gathering food for winter. Rabbits hop around looking for food. Listen for the song of our brightly colored birds such as cardinals, blue jays, and finches. You might even take that a step further and do a bird count while on the drive to see how many different birds you can find.
Stop to watch the Spoon River gently flow past you. Bernadotte and London Mills are favorite spots for me to take a moment to relax by the riverside. Take a deep breath and let the river take away the everyday stresses that life can bring. Often when I truly relax and let the moment "take me away" I begin to see all the natural life around me. Cattails and buttonbush grow at the water's edge. An eagle sours overhead. A redtail hawk screams in the distance. Fish swim past me, and if I'm lucky I might even catch a glimpse of an otter or beaver.
Fall colors are a main natural feature of the drive. This summer's drought will likely have a negative impact on our fall color display, but it might also cause plants to change color sooner. You should see brilliant red poison ivy and Virginia creeper climbing the trees. Many oaks turn bright red, although some simply change to brown and hold their leaves all winter. Sugar maple treetops will brilliantly show orange and yellow. Ash trees turn a dark purple.
Finally, pick out your favorite Fulton County panoramic landscape scene. The next time you have a bad day, picture that scene in your mind and relax. Remember, you are blessed simply to be in beautiful Spoon River Country!
What was your favorite natural feature on this year's drive? Let me know by posting on my Illinois River Valley Extension Horticulture Program Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/ILRiverHort. Drive safe!