While Monte was still alive, it was not uncommon for him to express his interpretation of what was a “quality of life” and how, to him, too often, American society seemed to accept quantity in place of quality.  From time to time, both Monte and Sharyl would seek assurance from their children that the life they provided meant something, even though their economic accomplishments were not as great as what others achieved.

Through their lives, Monte with his passion for art, the natural world and life, and Sharyl, with her untamed personality, compassion and humanistic touch, provided in ways money or property never could.

And qualities like these are the attributes the Thomas Edwards’ of the world carry around with them through their lives.  Sadly, for too many, these qualities aren’t fully recognized until people pass away and in reflection we more fully appreciate the totality of their lives.  These unselfish, tireless advocates for important things we take for granted, appear to effortlessly plod along, their efforts only fully realized when they are gone and we suddenly realize how much weight these few carried for the rest of us.

These people do not seek personal glory for themselves, but instead for what they believe in.  Their concern is not for any platitudes they might receive for their work on behalf  for wildlife, the environment or care of humans.  What they care about is the wildlife, environment and care of humans, not themselves.  Too often, people mistake the two for the same thing, but they really are different animals.

Through Mr. Edwards’ obituary, a letter written by one of his children and the publishing of Mr. Edwards’  last words in the PJS, passions and insight to how people like Mr. Edwards’ felt are illustrated.  Hopefully, when read, people will walk away with some sort of inclination of how these people feel about their passions and also cause more of us to appreciate how important these people are to our world.

Below is re-posting of the photograph of Monte at the observation tower at Big Lake in 1968.  Below that is a more current photograph as how the tower looked a few years ago.

Many years ago when the tower at Big Lake was at its most functional, people standing at the top of the tower could actually see out over Big Lake.  Back then, the silver maple trees and willow trees did not block the view  and when the trees shed their leaves, the tower could be seen from Big Lake if one knew where to look and was in a proper position on Big Lake to be able to see the observation tower.

Since then, the trees have grown too high to see Big Lake and the wood to the observation tower has become to rotten or fallen away and it is no longer safe to attempt access to the top.

Tom Edwards, RIP

July 26, 2010

On Friday, July 23, 2010, local man Tom Edwards was killed in a traffic accident on the McClugage Bridge in Peoria, IL.   Mr. Edwards was 79 years old.

Mr. Edwards will most likely be described as an environmentalist, but he was much more than that.  At one period, he was a writer for the Peoria Journal Star.

Years ago he had several conversations with Monte about nature and man’s role in the world regarding the environment.  One time he stopped by Monte’s house in Banner, IL and spent time with Monte.   Monte was extremely humbled by the visit of a local journalist of Mr. Edwards’ stature and spoke of it many times.

Monte always had great respect and admiration for Mr. Edwards and was in awe of his steady, worthwhile and tireless advocacy for the environment. There is without a doubt, the one thing Monte and Mr. Edwards had in common was their deep, unmatched love of the natural world.

Monte would have been heartbroken to learn of Mr. Edwards’ passing.

Anyone fortunate to know Mr. Edwards knew him to be a charming and gracious person.  The natural world is worse with his loss.  Condolences to the family of Mr. Edwards and all those who knew him.

Here is another wildflower creation by Monte.  So far, this makes the seventh wildflower posted.  There are two more that will be posted later.  The exact number of wildflower creations created by Monte is not known.

Again, except for the brown branches, wooden base and section of drift wood, all parts of this display were made by hand.  The mushroom was made with a lathe, the water drops with clear epoxy and the ladybug with a mold and then painted.

The buildings at Big Lake were mainly accessed by a private dirt road.  Frequently, after times of flooding by the Illinois River, loads of rock by trucks would have to be brought in to shore up the road and fill in areas washed out by the flood waters.  Arrangements would also have to be made to have the road leveled by a road grader.  But until those things could be done, the road would have to be traveled as best that could be.

At different times, Monte would chain large, wooden planks in a cross like manner to both rear tires of a farming tractor to aid in traction to travel the flood damaged Big Lake road.  During these times, Monte also possessed older model, four-wheel drive Jeeps.  Often, the four-wheel drive capabilities of these Jeeps were unable to be used due to rust-frozen hubs.

Below are two photographs from 1975 that capture how badly floods of the Illinois River would damage the dirt road.

From time to time, environmental conditions would make it very hard to stay at the Big Lake site.  One winter during the flooding of the Illinois River and when the Monte Ellis family could not stay at the site, Monte had to walk in to the site to check on the structures at Big Lake.

In writings left behind by Monte after his passing, this particular trip is described in vivid detail.  Water beneath river bottom ice can be deceiving, especially when it involves receding water.  Large trees and saplings can provide support for the ice and cause the ice appear to be level and safe to walk on, when in fact, the water may be lower than the ice surface and give way when walked upon.

In Monte’s writings, he describes mad scrambles from tree to tree, while watching the ice give way behind him.  In one passage he writes of grasping on to a tree while wildly searching for a safe path to continue.   He also wrote about how not only was it unsafe going into the Big Lake site on this day, but that he also had to return.

Below is a pastel by Monte that depicts a small mountain of ice shards that were not uncommon to see down in the Illinois River Bottoms surrounding Big Lake.

Above is an epoxy casting of a mouse sculpture created by Monte.  From time to time Monte would create items out of humor or playfulness.  The inspiration behind this creation probably originated through that of a field mouse rather than a common house mouse.

The image is posted to illustrate how Monte found some sort of interest in almost all of nature’s creatures.  Again, through the years, pets of the Monte Ellis family included creatures such as a pair of flying squirrels, a crow, a deer, numerous cats and dogs, turtles and frogs.

Often, Monte’s interest in Mother Nature would come at the consternation of others.

For example, one time a common house mouse chewed a hole through a ceiling tile in the kitchen of Monte and Sharyl’s final residence.  For a period of time, while drinking his morning coffee and reading the daily paper, Monte would watch with amusement as this mouse would poke its head through the hole in the tile.  Sharyl wanted to immediately kill the mouse, but Monte persuaded her to hold off on doing such a thing.

Other times Monte would refuse to allow fires to be built in the fireplace because chimney swifts had nested in the top of the chimney. For the longest time, he also refused to allow the cutting down of dead trees within the Ellis yard because of the role these decaying trees played in nature’s food chain.

After Sharyl passed away in 2007, Monte expressed a desire to allow his large yard to be allowed to revert to a more natural state and for more than a year, he tried to do just that.  Luckily, most of the yard was secluded from the eyes of neighbors and when it was finally cut and trimmed, it had to wait until after the arrival and passing of the spring’s wildflowers.

At one point Monte started working on a life-sized, clay sculpture of a fawn.  For some reason, possibly Monte’s diagnosis with colon cancer back in 1992, it was never completed.

For a period of time, Monte would travel around to wildlife art shows within the Midwest.  Often times these shows also involved some aspect of hunting or other sportsmen activities.  In these instances, it was not uncommon for husbands to drag their spouses to these shows.  Monte’s son, Eric, at one time encouraged him to come up with some sort of wife-grabber such as life-size fawn that could placed right on top of the family television.  It’s not known for sure if that was the reason Monte chose to start the fawn sculpture.

Close ups of the face of the fawn.