It was a rough few months recently for your Outdoors Adviser.
Injury followed injury followed physical therapy followed reinjury. Caused variously by overuse, underconditioning, clumsiness (it's hard to walk across the Michigan Avenue bridge on a perfect-weather day without falling) -- by the time I was done with my tour of injuries, I had injured body parts I had never heard of (iliopsoas?).The experience got me thinking. We can all use an occasional helping hand, or vehicle. Whether because of age -- at either end of the spectrum -- injury, disability or momentary disinclination, we may find ourselves in need of a lift.
Isn't there some way to tour the outdoors while sitting down?
Enter Little June and Benny. Actually, it is you who will be entering, and it is a hay wagon you will be entering. Little June and Benny will be pulling you behind them. And at 1,800 and 2,000 pounds, respectively (Little June is named for her youth, not size), the Percheron draft horses, which can pull three times their body weight, will barely break an equine sweat.
They are some of the horses that pull the hayride wagons at Danada Equestrian Center. It is a lovely ride through the 783-acre Danada Forest Preserve, once the private estate of Daniel and Ada Rice.
With its dappled woods and grazing horses, the site itself is an instant cure for stress, if not an ailing iliopsoas. Indeed, my fellow hayrider Kathy Ciorlieri of Wheaton, who manages a nearby retail store, once took a colleague to Danada as balm for a rough workday. It proved so successful that tense days now prompt the colleague to ask plaintively, "Are we going to the horse farm?"
On this day Ciorlieri was at the horse farm with her 4-year-old twin grandchildren, Sean and Clara. They began reducing their stress by tossing hay at each other and another little girl. Meanwhile, we grown-ups sat on our bales of hay as the wagon lurched to a start.
We passed a wetland, flowering apple trees and a restored prairie, pointed out to us by Matt Dehnart, a Danada equestrian assistant who was narrating the tour. Wild geraniums, trillium and the umbrella-shaped foliage of May apple -- we were touring native wildflowers without moving a muscle.
The horses' bells jingled cheerily. Walkers gazed as we trundled past. An Irish setter on a leash eyed the horses uncertainly. A blue heron flapped overhead. Horses munched grass in fields. I was so relaxed that my eyelids started to droop.
Too soon, our driver parked perfectly at the ramp where we had begun. Horse-drawn nature was a confirmed hit. But what about a mechanized version of sit-down outdoors -- the open-air tram?
At the Morton Arboretum, I took in the Acorn Express, the tram that wends through the 1,700-acre property. You don't have to be injured to enjoy it. Jennifer Bruner, 25, of Naperville could have walked or driven on her own through the arboretum with her fiance, Kevin Sobocinski.
But she figured she gets enough running around on her daily commute into the city. "I'm always going," she said. "I'd like someone else to drive me and tell me what I'm looking at."
Tram driver Carol Woods was someone. She began by driving us past the children's garden and peaceful Meadow Lake, and onto the curving road through the arboretum.
"Oh, there's a deer!" she said as one bounded through the trees at a full run.
Woods discussed the arboretum's geological history, the conifers, the rose collection. The tram lent a kind of adventure-ride feel to the outing. When we heard frogs croaking at ephemeral Crowley Marsh, a tram rider sitting behind me wondered, "Is that piped in, like at Disney?"
It was all real, from the wildflowers, prairies, meadows, daffodil glades and stream-sized section of the Du Page River to the turtle spotted at Sterling Pond. We had covered a lot of ground. Or at least the tram had.
The Chicago Botanic Garden is smaller and, being a garden, feels less like wilderness. But it offers two tram rides, a 35-minute Grand Tram around the entire site and a Bright Encounters trip that gets up close and personal with gardens.
The tours are about learning as much as riding. Gail Klingberg of Glenview, riding with her daughter, Kendall, takes the tram every time she visits, and has done so since the garden opened in 1972. "Every single guide gives a different tour," she said.
It was Dick Bolster's turn. Our tram tour guide began with glacial history, then drove us across the water from the Japanese gardens, explaining the art and technique of bonsai. At the gate to site's original garden, he paused.
"I can stop here and let you out," he offered jokingly. Did anyone want to get out and walk through?
Was he joking? The very idea made my Michigan Avenue Bridge-injured knee hurt.
He drove on, past the water where an egret flew in low for a water landing, and across the garden's 15-acre prairie. He explained the differences between the six kinds of prairies the garden has created. He spoke about how John Deere's invention of the prairie sod-breaking plow changed the history of the Midwest. He told how to identify various kinds of conifers.
When it was over, Klingberg headed over to the driver's seat to thank Bolster for one of her best tours ever. Celebrating my recovery, mostly, from my Annus Injurious, I decided to end my tour with a walk -- to the cafe for a cup of tea.
IF YOU GO
*The Danada Equestrian Center offers 30-minute hayrides every 45 minutes on weekends and Wednesday nights in May and June. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for ages 5-12; children under 5 ride free. 3S507 Naperville Rd., Wheaton; 630-668-6012, www.danada.info.
*The Acorn Express tram at the Morton Arboretum operates daily through October. Admission to the arboretum is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for youths 3-17 and free under age 3. The tram tour is $6 for adults and $5 for children. 4100 Illinois Highway 53, Lisle; 630-968-0074, www.mortonarb.org.
*The Chicago Botanic Garden offers 35-minute Grand Tram and Bright Encounters tours daily. The tours cost $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children. Admission to the garden is free, but parking is $15 per car ($7 for senior citizens on Tuesdays). 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe; 847-835-5440, www.chicagobotanic.org.
All three tours are wheelchair-accessible.