Reading on Brown Hills

Reading on Brown Hills

By By Rod Myers, Naturalist

Brown Hills is an old Rockford neighborhood with majestic homes and magnificent trees. I see Brown Hills as a forest with homes. Sinnissippi Park is near Brown Hills’ northern border, Scandinavian Cemetery nears its eastern border, Cedar Bluff Cemetery is part of its southern border, and North Second Street is Brown Hills’ western border.

I grew up just south of Brown Hills, and when I go home to visit my parents, I never miss the opportunity to stroll through the hills. Though sidewalks and curb cuts are rare, traffic is light, so rolling in the hilled streets is relatively safe.

Sinnissippi Park, Brown Hills and the Cedar Bluff have some of the highest bluffs overlooking the Rock River in Rockford. The Sinnissippi area Native Americans frequented all these bluffs.

It is said that because of the ancient ones, Brown Hills has a spirituality about it. “Ancient ones” refers to the long-passed Native Americans who loved the area, and the reference extends to the old oak trees that dominate the hills.

According to one anonymous neighborhood resident, “The ancient spirit stirs the fallen leaves and hums in the treetops in a slight breeze. Hey, I can read things,” she said.

The old oaks were spared death from soil compaction when the homes were constructed because the basements were hand dug. The oaks are a huge part of the Brown Hills picture biologically and aesthetically. Red and white oaks are the most numerous, but there are a number of bur oaks with real character. The oak trees provide the most shelter and food for the hills wildlife, whether resident or transient.

As I write from Brown Hills on May 25, I’m looking into a yard half an acre in size with at least 25 larger oaks, and 50 percent of the lawn is wildflowered. I can see five scarlet tanagers in an oak tree, four of which are females. A warbler is scolding me, and across the street in the Cedar Bluff Cemetery, a red-tailed hawk is calling for its mate from its nest. Jeeze, Louise, I wish I was the breeze around here. Today I will ride the hills and take communion with spring. Today the sky is gray, but it does not dampen the spirit as the greenery looks powerful and bright. It appears even brighter than on a sunny day. Could this be the soul of the tree shining through its leaves?

Scientifically, green is the most intense or brightest color in the spectrum. To know that green is brightest to the eye is mere knowledge. To know that green is the most intense to the soul is wisdom.

Today the feeding migrant birds are flitting about the oak trees like atomic particles. But it’s the dark, rain-soaked oak branches that have my heart and eyes staring. Their branches are many and twisted, gnarled, veinlike, yet directing, pointing out—not up but straight out, telling those passing or resting to move faster, get busy. The sun-drenched days are here!

That’s why the oak leaves emerge late and slow, so all those living can see and read their road map branches. The oaks have a message. In the late sring, at least, that’s my folklore. That’s what I learned from Brown Hills trees. I learned to read life. The book opened for me at the Cedar Bluff Cemetery, then I read northward.

The Brown Hills are a living example of how neighborhoods should be, a forest of native plants with homes. Not 20 feet from me on an oak branch sits a curious Blackburnian warbler, watching me. Shhhhhh, he’s trying to read!

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in nature and the environment. He is a member of the Rockford Amateur Astronomers Club, the Sinnissippi Audubon Society, Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and the Planetary Society.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!