We continue with another “natural selection”  from the Oak Park Public Library.  I would be remiss if I did not mention Of Prairie, Woods, and Water: Two Centuries of Chicago Nature Writing by Joel Greenberg.  I feel this is a book that should be in every home – not just the public library.

This collection of essays, articles, and the like are divided into sections titled “Botany” or “Mindscapes” and provides glimpses into a world that is largely gone.  Some of these recollections date back to the 18th century, and Greenberg also gives brief biographies of each author, giving each piece greater historical context.

Opening these pages invites a journey of exploration. We see old camps along prairie rivers. We see clouds of waterfowl over the old Calumet wetlands. We walk along the Illinois Central railroad line clear out to Kankakee to camp for few days.  We see intact dunescapes in Indiana. We see hundreds (yes, hundreds) of Cecropia moths swarm lazily on a summer evening.

It is a good reminder, via this book, to see where we were.  These sights weren’t that uncommon, and it changed in a hurry.  This book sets a benchmark, not for the past but for the here and now.  For example, I have maybe seen ten Cecropia moths in my life, and most of those were before age 18. Where are they now?  Where am I now?  

If you are at all fond of the nature of the local terrain and waters this is required reading. I can assure you that it will help fix your time and place in the grand sweep of a changing natural world. With it as a guide you can calibrate your compass and move forward.          


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Dave Coulter

I have been a horticulturist for thirty years working in the Chicago area and beyond. I have lived in Oak Park for over thirteen years. My writing has recently appeared in the journal Ecological Restoration...