South Central Wolf Lake • January 2023

A boat launch at Wolf Lake and a hydrological connection to Powderhorn Lake are new initiatives by the Forest Preserves and State Park. The connection between these bodies of water is an important one in reconstituting the wetland complex that has characterized the Calumet Crescent in the last 10,000 years.

Looking south towards Powderhorn, this new naturalized channel was constructed in an empty, perennially flooded lot. This green infrastructure is beneficial to the surrounding human community (decreasing local flooding) and connecting the animal communities.

Walking north, a buckthorn protected path affords coverage for waterfowl hunters (remember there is a gun club close by and hunting is legal in William Powers) or coyotes, flanked by the transition zones between land and lake.

The real action though comes from the beavers. We’ve seen beaver dams around Powderhorn Lake in the past – I wonder if these beaver clans were already connected overland, or if the coming months will be first contact between the populations! I hope someone is using this behavioral, range, and host tree preference data to learn lots about these local ecosystem builders!

With no one else around, there was a liminal feeling to the masses of Phragmites topped with a cloudy gauze covering the winter afternoon sun.


Slag Cliffs/Vet’s Park, Chicago, IL • September 2022: revisiting an orchid hypothesis

Remember earlier this year when I mused on whether the slag depression with Phragmites and grasses west of the slag cliffs might foster a Spiranthes population? MY FRIENDS, IT DOES.

I parked across the railroad tracks and walked in near the hay bales. I audibly squealed when I saw the first orchid! Check out the video below where I get very excited and wax romantic about this little mesic slag landscape.

Slag Cliffs, Chicago, IL • March 2022

I’ve been eyeing this site for a few years, never confident to visit it the first time alone. Who knew what was behind the overgrown tree-line at the edge of the lot?

We went together and it turns out that in late winter, perennial plants are greening up and glowing among the dreary cottonwood leaves. It’s a well-used place with past attempts at structures and social gatherings strewn about. No one else was here today though.

There’s a giant slag heap, one of the few in the area (but also: Shroud site, some parts of the old USX site). Holmes and Kubbing (2022) find slag heaps with ecosystems in Pittsburgh; in the Calumet Crescent we mostly see slag-filled depressions with slag as ground-level substrate. Remember that the Calumet was a vast wetland complex, yielding pockets in the landscape that were convenient to fill with steel production byproducts (e.g. slag) and other industrial waste.

The slag pile, or slag cliffs, rose up out of the woods of neighborhood volunteer junk trees: Ailanthus, ash, elm, cottonwood, a few juniper. The heap had clearly been used as a raised railroad spur, a way to transport in and out whatever was made here. To the east, these woods spread out and made way for big openings that have been used for ATV trails and bike jumps.

From the top of the slag cliffs, turning to the west was a delightful area with real promise: an ecosystem that grew up on slag and has created its own islands of organic material. A light canopy of slag-stunted rugged trees poked through diverse grasses. It looked like a slag savanna that may potentially be comparable to the high quality slag complex we see at Big Marsh and Marian Byrnes Parks?

It’s winter now, but this seems like a mesic area that might be wet enough for orchids?! I’d expect Liatris, hopefully Spiranthes, some sedges and rushes. We’ll revisit at the end of summer.

–> Revisit of this site in September 2022: orchids!

Made it back from 2021

I’m pretty sure most of 2021 just didn’t happen. As you can see, the last post here was in early 2021. Where did all this time go? Through a black hole to the upside down and certainly not recorded on this blog.

But you are in luck. I will be backfilling with the irregular CRAC excursions that happened over the past year. The non-linearity of time will be evident as more and more of 2021 is actually filled in here, as though it didn’t happen unless it was recorded and put out into the world. Stay tuned.

Railroad Marsh • November 2021

The bright blue sky and faded green of a warm early winter day. This place is wholly constructed now, atop swampy former wetland surrounding Lake Calumet – is there any remnant soil from that ecosystem? Or are all sediments so polluted it is unrecognizable beneath Phragmites and slag and a dune + swale landscape made from construction debris.

Sand Ridge • early 2021 triptych

Early in the year yields many trips to the Sand Ridge complex in Calumet City – for wetlands with the year’s earliest flowers, skunk cabbage, and sandy woodland openings with the beginnings of spring ephemerals.

February 28

April 4

April 11

Brownell Woods, IL • January 2021

We go to the part of the Salt Creek complex in the northeast corner, often, but here, we approached Brownell Woods from the east side of 394! following the equestrian trail under the freeway.

First you walk through an old plantation,

under the freeway,

and back out on the west side, to some strange sights,

but also some familiar ones.