By Dave Coulter
One of my favorite nearby hidden rough patches - that has probably been unknowingly glimpsed by thousands - is located in Cummings Square. Where is Cummings Square? It is that parcel of land on the northwest corner of Harlem and Lake Street that is owned by the Cook County Forest Preserve. Most everyone has seen that old brick shelter on the corner by the stoplight, and probably a few more have noticed the barren, but classically styled memorial to Mr. Cummings deeper within the grounds. But I’m thinking of the overgrown and anonymous portion on the northwest corner behind the parking areas . I have walked or biked past it many times over the years. It is one of those green patches in the middle distance, background to a busy intersection.
It’s a curious space to me. It is fenced off on all sides so it does not readily invite further investigation. I have hopped the wooden fence once or twice to shoot photos, but that’s as far as my interest has led me thus far. Over the years I have noticed the standard mixture of native and invasive plants at the woods of Cummings Square.
If it’s trees that catch your eye you’ll see that there are some old oaks that will surely outlive the handful of dying ash trees with their barren crowns. Without poking around further I’m not sure what trees will be growing fifty years hence, but I did see some adolescent Black Locusts and Trees-of-Heaven around the perimeter.
Closer to the ground there are patches of native Elderberry and Joe Pye Weed that are surely a delight to our local bird and butterfly populations. Virginia Creeper vine - another food source for wildlife - twines up tree and fence alike. They all share the square with giant ragweed and bindweeds.
I’m not sure what plans the county might have for this odd little botanic backwater, but I‘m not so sure I‘d want to change anything. I think in many ways it’s a microcosm of the forces at play in the natural world here in the Chicago region. Perhaps it’s greatest value is in its location: across the parking lot from the Forest Preserve HQ. It may act as a living reminder to the many assorted environmental pressures that they have to manage in our preserves.