In his 2015 book, “My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders,” photographer Mike MacDonald explores a different side of the Windy City and its surrounding suburbs. Complete with gorgeous photography and informative essays and captions, MacDonald’s coffee table book will inspire you to get out and discover the Chicago area’s natural wonders.
Bluff Spring Fen
Soft sunlight, diffused by morning mist, filters across the preserve. Gathered at the base of the kame, fire-resistant bur oaks hover above a colorful caboodle of Joe-Pye weed and tall goldenrod.
Pearl blossoms of foxglove beardtongue catch the morning rays and a new day awakens — one as splendid and picturesque as any place on Earth.
Shoe Factory Road Prairie
Hoffman Estates, Illinois
Atop this hill prairie, deep-rooted leadplants combine with the happy yellow faces of coreopsis as they shine through the dissipating fog. On this moody morning, the white beyond acts as a veil, concealing rows of rooftops from the nearby subdivision.
Lake Forest, Illinois
As summer progresses, most prairie plants grow ever taller in a battle for the sun. Like elegant dancers, they always want their moment in the spotlight. Here, in the morning stillness, blazing star, compass plant, and prairie dock stand adorned and erect. In perfect dancing posture they wait for their partners to arrive.
Soon, a feathered friend may be the first to show — possibly a bobolink moving from one bloom to another. A flighty partner, in a flash, it shares a fast flamenco with each awaiting dancer. Next on hand might be a soft morning breeze or a brief breath of wind. In the tentative hold of these reluctant leaders, the stalks sway like green children at their first dance.
Later comes the firm embrace of an afternoon gale when the tall dancers twirl and waltz. And then comes you. As you brush past their slender torsos, they can’t help but do a little disco.
Somme Prairie Grove
It was a very dry year in Chicago, yet you wouldn’t know it from looking at this scene. The purple plant in this panorama is leadplant, which can search for water fifteen feet below the arid surface. Other drought-tolerant species seen here include prairie dropseed and wild quinine, in the front; and farther out, prairie dock, compass plant, and rattlesnake master
Here, the plants at Somme Prairie Grove are resilient. Over the millennia, they’ve grown accustomed to Chicago’s climate. During the driest summers, they are able to flourish — thanks to deep roots, and thanks to the foresight of Stephen Packard and the caretakers who saved and restored this special place.
Illinois Beach Nature Preserve
The turning earth is the dimmer switch, gradually recasting every dim dewdrop, petal, and blade of grass into a galaxy of blazing bulbs and lustrous lamps. On this morning in late May, blooms of golden coreopsis and New Jersey tea are set aglow alongside shimmering spider webs that cling to last year’s grasses.
Biodiversity is about the many, not the few. Here, it’s springtime in the savanna, where blue lupines share precious space with hoary puccoon. But, as the season advances, both will fade, making room for an array of other species, in a cycle where each has its time in the sun and then returns to the soil.
Photographer, author and conservationist Mike MacDonald.
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