Rachelle Bowden had seen the flier for the Outdoor Toasting and Gratitude Event in Kilbourn Park with the illustration of a fiddling cricket and the toad playing the viola, the legend “Here’s to the Memory of Ourselves Without Regret,” the promise of “music, art, snacks, and activity stations.” “Write a Toast to a Tree!” the flier suggested. “Make a Flower for a Friend!” Bowden had posted about the event in the Kilbourn Park Connection Facebook group. But she still wasn’t sure what to expect when she brought her grade-school-age son, Makai, on Tuesday night.

“I was like, treats and stations,” Rachelle said. “We only live a block away. It was low risk.”

Plus, it was Kilbourn Park. When you live near Kilbourn Park, there’s not much else to do but go to Kilbourn Park, an eleven-and-a-half-acre wedge of grass on the Northwest Side, whose eastern edge is defined by the Union Pacific-Northwest Metra tracks.

“We lived in Logan Square for ten years in a condo,” Bowden said. “We were half a block from the Blue Line at California and Milwaukee. We thought we could buy in Avondale, but we couldn’t, so we just kept going up Milwaukee Avenue. Now, I walk a mile to Starbucks. When we were signing the papers, they said, ‘Welcome to the suburbs in the city.’”

Once Bowden moved in, she signed Makai up for Garden Buddies, the toddler gardening class at the Kilbourn Park Greenhouse, one of the Chicago Park District’s three greenhouses. The Lincoln Park and Garfield Park conservatories are the others. Kilbourn Park’s is a lot smaller, with a few plants labeled “Tall Agave” and “Caution: Hot Peppers.”

The gardening program is “something you can’t get in any other park in the city,” Rachelle said. “They had a cocktail party with Revolution Brewing.”

Rachelle and Makai checked in for Outdoor Gratitude and Toasting at a folding table set next to a hawthorn tree. A sign hanging from the branches read “HERE’S TO THIS TREE/SALUD A ESTE ARBOL.”

Saluting a hawthorn tree in Kilbourn Park. Edward McClelland

“We’re inviting people coming today to, say, give thanks to this tree,” said Robin Cline, a member of Opera-Matic, the public art organization throwing the event. “I would give them an opportunity to look at the objects around us and say, ‘Thanks to this tree’; ‘Thanks to this water fountain.’ We want to feel grateful to the people who have helped us make it through the last two or three years.”

Rachelle and Makai each filled out a slip of paper. Rachelle gave thanks to her son Makai: “You are smart and loving and HANDSOME,” she wrote. Makai gave thanks to his dog, KC, “a small, cute, lovable doggo.” The slips were handed to two guitarists and a banjo player sitting under a tree. They were making up gratitude songs on the fly. 

KC, it’s good to know you, doggie,” sang the lead guitarist, Mr. Nick Davio. “You’re so cute and lovable. You’re on a leash, you can’t be beat. KC, one, two, three, I love this dog, oh, can’t you see.”

“Makai, they’re singing about KC!” Rachelle called to her son. She stood in front of the musicians and recorded the song on her phone. It wasn’t going to be released in any other format. 

“I liked it!” Makai said, giving a thumbs up.

The woodchip-covered enclosure between the fieldhouse and the tennis courts was crowded with children from the neighborhood. Opera-Matic members, brightly dressed in pinks, yellows and oranges, helped them construct paper flowers, color a forest scene, and decorate plastic cups full of apple cider.

“This is a toast to somebody’s son, Makai,” said Mr. Nick Davio, introducing the next song. “A toast from your mom, Rachelle.”

Rachelle aimed her camera at the band and pressed “Video.”

You are so smart and caring and handsome,” Mr. Nick Davio sang, off the top of his head. “You know how to dress the best. Got a dog named KC and you’re eating some Chex Mix. We’re just sittin’ around singing a song about Makai, my guy.”

Makai gave that song a thumbs up, too.

Making up songs on the spot — including about a special doggo. Edward McClelland

Makai’s friend Cooper was grateful for his favorite video games: Fortnight, Minecraft, and Grand Theft Auto 5. So the musicians sang about those.

“I was boss of the song,” Cooper bragged. “My friends were just helping me.”

The crescent moon rose over the Metra tracks. The sun set behind the houses on the western edge of the park. The few remaining children gamboled through the Tunnel of Joy — pastel-colored cloths held aloft by the Opera-Matics. The band ran out of toasts and started in on Latin jams, with the help of a late-arriving conga player.

Since it was sponsored by Night Out in the Parks, the Outdoor Toasting and Gratitude is coming soon to a park near you — if you live on the Northwest Side. Next Tuesday, October 11, at 4:30 p.m., it’s happening in Simons Park, 1640 N. Drake Ave., in Humboldt Park. On Tuesday, October 18, it will be in Mozart Park, 2036 N. Avers Ave., in Logan Square. We are grateful for autumn, but after that, the evenings may be too cold to toast the season.