Walking and bicycling through Lincoln Park in Chicago is primarily done on the paved (official) pathway that meanders down the west side of the park. There is also this Lake Michigan frontage pathway which is broken up by various harbor entrances for boaters. This rougher pathway is less traveled, so especially on weekends is less of a busy pedestrian highway than the paved route.
For those unfamiliar with Chicago the tallest building on the left is the John Hancock, the middle one is the Trump Hotel, and the one on the right is the Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower). Lincoln Park runs about 18 miles along Lake Michigan’s southwestern edge, north of downtown Chicago. It connects to other lake front parks in the downtown area. The parks of Chicago are part of the treasures that make Chicago such a special city.
I will let you, the viewer, observe the many design elements in these two natural and man-made compositions.
First glance of this white patch of springtime, from my bicycle, looks like a uniform cluster of Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), named by the famed Carl Linnaeus in 1753. Natural diversity is one of the amazing characteristics of a wild, mostly-undisturbed area. Chicago’s Cook Country Forest Preserve is as close as I can get in this urban area to native wildlife.
As I get closer to the Anemone, I realize that other spring blooms are present in this “mostly” Anemone patch of forest floor. Note the Trout Lily leaves in the right and lower portions of the overall image. The fence in the background separates a public golf course from the bike trail. The shrub is probably the invasive Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and its presence reinforces that this is an urban, partly disturbed forest.
This small patch of woodland floor hosts a multitude of plant species; some will become visible in several months. This time my eyes stay focused on the natives.
The forest floor offers many stories. It’s top layer is currently full of nuts, as yet uncovered soon to fall leaves. I do not recall such a nut proliferation in the twenty seven years I have witnessed these Preserves first-hand. My concern is real, knowing that when plants are stressed and in danger their defense is to make many seeds in an effort to ensure survival of their species. This knowledge also comforts me as I realize once again that nature’s abilities to endure are indeed amazing. This has been a year of extremes in the Chicago region. We have witnessed cycles of extreme heat and drought followed by extreme rains; each taking a toll on the plants’ root systems and wildlife. Trees seem to take longer to respond to weather extremes, but the abundance of acorn and other nuts tell me that their roots have been unable to provide enough water for stable health. A story of nature’s struggle to endure.
This patch of forest floor also tells the story of “native versus invasive” or rather “disturbed land”. These images are from the street’s edge where the Forest workers were asked by neighboring residences to control the “weeds” that were growing out into the street, scratching passing cars. The weeds are unwelcome by native forest species as well as the non-native suburban residents; these Eurasian immigrants (the plants!!) have learned to survive and thrive shading out potential growth of native oak and wildflowers while also “volunteering” their presence in adjacent gardens.
Finally there is one more story yet to unfold. Seeds will soon be covered with leaves providing conditions ripe for future growth into new perennial native plants and some may develop into majestic Oak trees as well as more “weeds”. Some will have additional help from the squirrels who are busy establishing their winter food rations; any seeds left uneaten can begin their new stage of life next spring. And the stories continue.
One of two prairie patches in this area of Cook County Forest Preserve, Miami Woods. I’ve seen deer along the bike (and jogger and walker) trail, but never so close to the trail in the prairie area. Yes, they are fairly comfortable with humans passing by; but never tame. I still feel lucky after 27 years of observations when they allow me to watch for a while.
A forest offers many stories. Views offer untold tales of history while foreshadowing future narratives. I invite you to spend awhile with one of this posting’s photographs and try to imagine the story that led to the scene or that is yet to happen.
I will provide a little history of the Cook Country Forest Preserve to set the scene for your story. This part of the Preserve dead woods according to one Forest Preserve employee. An absense of snakes signifies an incomplete food chain which leads to a reasonable inference that the continued survival of this forest is in peril. The urban forest is an oxymoron. “Forest” indicates wild and untouched plants and animals; “urban” indicates people presense and all the man-made unnatural ingrediants foreign to a forest. Telephone and electric wires signal division between forest and residential spaces. Buildings are visible backgrounds in many forest vistas. Traffic noises accompany bird calls. Some residents appreciate the chance to be close to nature; other residents would prefer the “weeds” to be controlled.