The river is a song in the solitudes of winter

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

By Brett McNeil


The trail is a crystalline symphony.

Down the hill at Swan Pond, the Des Plaines River turns east near the library and off toward Lockport. But right at the bend the river pools and calms off the main channel and the water, up after Christmas rains, laps at the bank in quiet, chiming splats of overlaid chords. 


The lowland floodplain of the park is full of geese and frost and a red-bellied woodpecker works a trunk overhead. But the bird life is limited and the river is the show -- its range of sounds in a cold and naked season when the water runs through a landscape of skeletal trees and stiff, gray, crusted grasses. 

There is less to see and more to hear in the absence of leaves and sun and the distractions of more verdant seasons, just the river and its tintinnabulations. 

No patterns at the bend pool, just random tinkling microtones. 

Down the path and upriver the channel is coursing and the sounds are more expansive with different colorations across the river's width, an astounding breadth and variety of constant and constantly varying acoustics.   

On the far side, near the banks of Riverside Lawn, the Des Plaines moves with a jagged, rougher rush, like a rolling, muted dirty maraca. The river water passes with speed over gravel and rocks and is audibly faster and splashier than in the center of the channel, which is just a series of disconnected burbling accents. 


On the near bank, the limbs of a downed tree drag in the river and play its shallow current like competing styluses -- four droning tones in the foreground, each defined by the depth of the current passing by and the diameter of the branch dipped into the flow. Bass and mid-range to thinner, more attenuated vibrations. 

Further yet upriver the near bank features several sizable rocks that form obstacles around which the current flows and then folds back on itself. The rest of the river rushes by in a wet white noise …


… while the small pockets behind these stones play a different note, off-tempo and softer and more audibly liquid. 




The deeper of these pockets, formed behind the largest of the riverine rocks, has a slight wobble and drip and it's hard to hear these sounds as words or letters. They are more fluid and abstract than that. The entire river is more fluid and abstract than that.

Its passing by is a musical performance of infinite depth and width, without pause. Song on song on song -- heard most clearly in the cold, in the solitudes of winter: 

The river gone as it arrives, its sounds played for no one or for anyone who will stand and listen.

Trail Conditions explores the woods, waters and trails out our back doors. Brett McNeil lives in North Riverside. Write to him at

Love the Landmark?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Riverside Brookfield Landmark and We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

Reader Comments

No Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Facebook Connect

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Riverside and Brookfield.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad

Classified Ad