It’s come to my attention (thanks Dad!) that many of you may not know that I was fortunate to spend two years documenting the prairie restoration project at the Chicago Botanic Garden. David Sollenberger, one of their naturalists would walk the prairie with me each month and teach me the difference between native plants and invasive species which were primarily from Eurasia. I would then spend wonder-ful hours creating photographic portraits of native prairie plants, while soaking in the sounds, smells and moods only found in uninterrupted nature. Dave and I would meet up the next month and go through the images and “weed out” any images where non-native species had snuck into the view. I learned to identify plants from their leaf structure, their bloom and their seedheads. Then we’d head out to their prairie areas and see what had changed and what new native species would be worthy of documentation. I learned that north east Illinois (Chicago area) has SEVEN different types of prairie land. Yes, as most of you, I always thought that a prairie is a prairie. But prairies are specific to moisture and soil and sun ranging from a fen (with slow constant moving water) to a dry mesic prairie (the ones we usually recognize as prairie). I learned that my find of a lady’s slipper orchid was only possible through the garden’s restoration efforts since it is an endangered speices.
I also became skilled at being the domineering creature when in a nesting geese territory (without ever harming their nest). The redwinged blackbird was constant security alarm wherever I ventured; making it impossible to capture undetected portraits of wildlife. Later I learned the male will protect up to twelve ground level nests! As the tall bluestem grasses grew taller than my five foot four inch stance I often thought of Grimm’s fairy tales….. it was scary walking off the pathways (I had special permission) through the grasses not knowing what was ahead or aside of me. Only once did I and a sleeping coyote scare each other; we both parted quickly never to meet again.
What I remember the most were the sunrises and sunsets. I had permission to visit at any time of day/night that I wanted; what a treasure that was for me! And approaching storms were not to be missed for their impending dramatic lighting but also the winds, noises of scattering wildlife and sweet summer rain perfume.
So know that my move from nature to a specific focus on prairie portraits was due to this special opportunity to work with a naturalist as I created a portfolio for the furture exhibition at Chicago Botanic Garden and other locations in the midwest. The majority of the images in my two prairie books are from this collection and grand experience.