It barely snowed last winter. It barely rained this summer. And who knows what fall will bring?
Flexibility is key when it comes to autumn in central Illinois. The perfect picnic plan could be scuttled by a surprise storm, a nice sit-down dinner party might benefit from a move to the backyard to take advantage of sunshine that will all-too-soon be gone.
Our money is on a temperate season with a little sun, a little rain and lots of chances for fun, both indoors and outside. Get out while you can, because winter will be here before you know it.
1. The International Route 66 Mother Road Festival runs from Sept. 21 through Sept. 23 in downtown Springfield and offers a great chance to take a trip down memory lane with hundreds of vintage cars that will cruise into town on Friday night. Mustangs, Camaros, Chargers, Darts, Corvettes, even Pintos have been on display in past years. There will also be plenty of food and bands to help make an afternoon of strolling and gawking even more fun.
2. Speaking of downtown, treat yourself and that special someone to dinner outside at Maldaner’s, Augie’s, Andiamo’s or any of the other Springfield restaurants that offer sidewalk dining. It’s a great chance to enjoy good food and watch the world go by. Pretend you’re in Paris, and don’t rush things – spend an hour-and-a-half, even longer, grazing and gazing and sipping – and don’t wait for a special occasion. It’s a perfect mid-week getaway right here at home, even better if it’s spur of the moment.
3. If you eat too much fried food at the car festival and overdo it with the paté and crme brulee during a romantic sidewalk dinner, get back in shape with a rousing game of rugby. Few sports demand as high a level of fitness as rugby, where participants run and run and run some more when they are not busy hitting the dickens out of each other. With no pads or helmets and plenty of making plays up as you go along, rugby is to football as water polo is to synchronized swimming, and the Springfield Celts welcome both new players and fans. So long as you have health insurance, it’s cheap for players, who need only cleats and a protective mouthpiece to join the mayhem. With free admission, it’s even cheaper for fans, who are not discouraged from bringing beverages to watch matches at Kennedy Park near the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. Home games start at 1 p.m. and are scheduled for Sept. 15, Sept. 22, Oct. 6 and Oct. 27. Practices at Kennedy start at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
4. Rugby, however, isn’t for everyone, and that’s why God invented the rumba and other forms of ballroom dancing, another fantastic way to get or stay in shape, but without unsightly bruising, presuming you are coordinated enough that you don’t fall down as you learn to step-step-slide, step-step-slide. Autumn is prime time to start learning the proper way to dance. You’ll never get rained out and you can’t help but smile as you progress from having two left feet to just one. Set a goal of ringing in the new year on the dance floor while jaws drop at your prowess. If former pro football defensive lineman Warren Sapp, no one’s idea of a ballerina, was good enough to finish second on Dancing With The Stars, you, too, can learn to cha cha cha. Several instructors in the city offer both group and private lessons, so get cracking.
5. Something completely different is on the agenda for Sept. 29, when the inaugural Lincoln Heritage Water Trail Classic – a long-winded name for a canoe race – gets underway on the Sangamon River just upstream from the Irwin Bridge east of Salisbury. The event is open to kayakers, canoeists and pilots of wooden historical boats. Both racers and recreational paddlers are welcome. The 10-mile race ends at New Salem; the five-mile recreational course starts at the Gudgel Bridge southeast of Petersburg and ends at New Salem. The race starts at 9 a.m., the recreational procession will begin an hour later, with everyone scheduled to be off the water by 3 p.m. to enjoy food and music that will last until 10 p.m. Registration is $30 for each racer and $20 for slower folk. For more information, go to www.lincolnheritagewatertrail.com.
6. Did someone say “Illinois wine?” Of course they did. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich may have his faults, but it’s hard to dismiss the vision he showed in 2005, when he declared September to be Wine Month in Illinois for as long as grapes grow and the sky is blue. The Land of Lincoln is home to more than 100 wineries, according to the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association, which counts 450 vineyards. That’s a lot of territory to cover, but a good place to start is the Hill Prairie Winery in Oakford, which has live music each Sunday. A fish fry and harvest festival is scheduled for Oct. 6-7 and a chili cook-off will be held Oct. 21. In Rochester, the Walnut Street Winery has daily tastings plus a bocce ball court. But don’t limit yourself: A comprehensive listing of Illinois wineries is available at www.illinoiswine.org.
7. There are plenty of chances for family fun 70 miles east of Springfield in Arthur, where the town known for its Amish farms and businesses will observe the 40th annual Arthur Amish Country Cheese Festival scheduled for Labor Day weekend. Saturday promises to be particularly intriguing, with events that include a parade, a cheese-eating contest (first to down a one-pound chunk of Colby gets the prize, urp) and a cheese curling competition that involves sliding four-pound rounds of cheese in lieu of stones down a makeshift curling sheet with no ice, rinks being in short supply in Arthur. Go to www.arthurcheesefestival.com for more information.
8. Finally, if you’re not up for a road trip, and festivals sound too hectic, take a drive out to Oak Ridge Cemetery and spend an hour or so just walking around. The cemetery is a peaceful place and especially beautiful in autumn. Don’t forget to stop by Lincoln’s Tomb and pay your respects. With tourist season over, it’s a fine time to visit a place every American should see and remember how much there is here that we shouldn’t take for granted.
Contact Bruce Rushton at email@example.com.