Wander Woman: Backyard tourism is a cure to boredom

As a kid, telling Mom I was bored was a tricky business.

“There’s nothing to do,” I would gripe.

To which she would respond, “I can give you something to do,” and name a chore.

Those tasks kept me busy, but they didn’t solve the boredom. If there’s a way to make folding towels and dusting lamps enjoyable, I never mastered it.

I did, however, learn to go outside when I felt aimless. The backyard was beyond the reach of chore assignments, so I would loiter there instead of inside the house. Our rural Grundy County yard seemed dull during blase moods, but eventually – inevitably – I would find something to do. Shooting free throws, playing keep away with the dog, photographing butterflies. Home wasn’t so boring after all.

A few decades (more than I care to admit) have passed since childhood afternoons. However, boredom isn’t age-specific. Among adult friends I occasionally hear someone complain, “There’s nothing to do around here.”

“Around here” is an expanding area. In grade school, the geography of “around here” was the backyard, or the few blocks surrounding our homes. As a teen, that area stretched to include next-door communities – my Seneca High School classmates and I would wander to Morris, Marseilles and Ottawa.

Now, “around here” means anything within a 45-minute drive from home.

When I hear peers lament about the lack of activities, I understand how my mother felt. She must have looked around our house full of books, videos, games and toys and wondered, “How can this child find nothing to do?” Likewise, I look around a region filled with theaters (of the film, drive-in and stage performance variety), festivals, restaurants, breweries, state parks, guided tours, boutiques, arcades and other recreational destinations, and I wonder, “How can they find nothing?”

It’s tempting to take a page from Mom’s book and assign a chore to complainers. There are plenty of surfaces that need dusting and towels that need folding at my house. Want to do that?

Unfortunately, they’d probably say no. So Option B is to do my own dusting and towel-folding (alas), then offer friends and neighbors a few recreational suggestions.

In 2013, I joined the staff of Starved Rock Country Magazine. The quarterly publication highlights the culture, attractions, history and personalities of our region to serve as a guide to visitors. Ten years ago, I might have lamented about a lack of things to do, but writing for the magazine challenged me to view our communities through a different lens. How would an out-of-towner perceive these communities? If I were a tourist, how would I engage here?

Taking a step back and surveying the region with a wide-angle lens opened my eyes to the opportunities.

Starved Rock Country is a region that spans from Morris in the east to Princeton in the west, reaching as far north as Mendota and as far south as Streator. In the 10 years of publishing the magazine, I’ve developed a renewed appreciation for everything this area offers.

I’ve adopted a mission of experiencing firsthand the activities, destinations, dining and recreation within SRC’s boundaries. The region is packed with scenery, entertainment, adventure and stories. In this twice-monthly column, I’ll bring you along for the exploration.

It’s like being a kid again, stepping into the backyard when I’m bored. These days, the backyard is just larger by a few hundred square miles.

Inevitably, I will find something to do.

Julie Barichello is the editor of Starved Rock Country Magazine and is a graphic designer for Shaw Media’s niche publications. She can be contacted at jbarichello@shawmedia.com.